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April 23, 2015
by Samantha Jeckewicz

Tips for Dealing With People Who Don’t Know They Have Dementia

Tips for Dealing With People Who Don't Know They Have Dementia

When President Woodrow Wilson had a stroke in 1919 his physical health was slightly impacted, but his mental health suffered. Film director Errol Morris, in an opinion column in the New York Times, wrote, “his close associates noticed a change in his personality. He became increasingly suspicious, even paranoid, without having the dimmest awareness of the fact that he was perhaps becoming a different person.” Edwin Weinstein, a neuropsychiatrist who reviewed Wilson’s case in the 1970s, deemed this a classic case of anosognosia – a lack of awareness that one is impaired.

A Definition of Anosognosia

It is a scary thought to consider. What if we were ill, suffering from dementia, and didn’t know it? How would our loved ones cope?

In fact, it is very difficult for caregivers and family members to make progress with a person’s illness when a loved one is showing signs of anosognosia. Yet, the condition is alarmingly common: After stroke, some studies show up to 77% of patients suffer anosognosia at least temporarily, reports one review of the literature.

It occurs frequently in those with mental illness, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center, and can also affect people who have suffered traumatic brain injury, as well as people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

What Causes Anosognosia?

Anosognosia is still difficult to define, but researchers know it results from physical, anatomical changes or damage to the part of the brain that affects perception of one’s own illness.

Studies suggest that deterioration in the frontal lobes may be involved, which “play an important role in problem-solving, planning and understanding the context and meaning of experiences and social interactions,” according to the New York Times’  New Old Age blog.

To put it another way, our right brain is wired to detect anomalies and new information and incorporate these into our sense of reality, says the neuroscientist Dr. V.S. Ramachandran, also in the New York Times. When something happens to damage that part of the brain – a stroke or dementia, for instance – then “the left brain seeks to maintain continuity of belief, using denial, rationalization, confabulation and other tricks to keep one’s mental model of the world intact.”

Anosognosia and Alzheimer’s

Anosognosia has long been recognized in individuals with strokes, brain tumors, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease, says the Treatment Advocacy Center.  According to the University of Florida’s health resource AlzOnline, the prevalence of anosognosia in those with cognitive impairment or dementia can be very high.

“Some researchers have estimated that as many as 60% of people with Mild Cognitive Impairment and 81% of people with Alzheimer’s disease have some form of anosognosia.”

This is a difficult situation for caregivers, who are trying to help someone who essentially does not and cannot acknowledge they are ill. The anosognosic person with dementia may have evident problems with routine tasks, but they may insist they do not need help, or may even refuse medical evaluation or treatment – treatments which are often key to helping them realize they are impaired in the first place.

Is it Denial or Anosognosia?

To make the situation even more challenging, anosognosia may be complete or selective. They may be entirely unaware of their impairment for instance, or they may even react with anger and defensiveness if confronted about their illness. This makes it difficult to diagnose anosognosia, and tough to differentiate it from simple denial.

Here are some signs you can look for if you’re worried a loved one might have dementia with anosognosia:

  • Not keeping up with regular daily tasks or personal hygiene
  • Difficulty managing money or bills
  • Being more spontaneous or less inhibited in conversation without concern for their own behavior
  • Becoming angry when confronted with forgetfulness, lack of self-care, or poor decision making
  • Confabulation: making up answers they believe are true, though sometimes the details may be imaginary, may pertain to something that happened in the past, or even something they read or heard elsewhere

What You Can Do if a Loved One Doesn’t Know They Have Dementia

Whether your loved one is in denial of their dementia or has anosognosia, the most effective caregiver strategy is one of mitigation of the effects, rather than trying over and over to make the person understand. “Trying to make someone with this problem understand that they have changed and need to accept new limits often is an exercise in frustration,” says the New York Times. The Treatment Advocacy Center agrees: “Nobody wants to take medicine if they aren’t sick, and people with anosognosia are no exception.”

However, if not treated, a loved one could even put themselves and others in danger. AlzOnline has the following suggestions for your loved one  anosognosia:

  • Use positive approaches to communication: be gentle, encouraging and empathetic about necessary tasks
  • Provide a structured schedule of tasks, personal care and down time, and make yourself or another caregiver available to help
  • Downsize any responsibilities that are unnecessary: sometimes a home health care aide or memory care is the answer
  • Work together with the person on necessary tasks such as cleaning or money management
  • Stay calm and focused on the other person when voicing concerns: articulate your thoughts in a subtle and positive light

Lastly, try some recommended reading: I Am Not Sick. I Don’t Need Help! by psychologist Xavier Amador, a professor at Columbia University, provides practical recommendations for those who lack insight into their mental illnesses.  “It’s an excellent place for anyone in this situation to begin,” says Doris Fuller, Director of the Treatment Advocacy Center.


April 21, 2015
by Samantha Jeckewicz

Senior Health: Safety Measures

What are important safety measures for the elderly?

General safety measures both at home, and away from home, are encouraged and recommended to elderly patients and their family members. Falls and injuries, confusion, adherence to medical instructions, and future health and financial planning are among the concerns pertinent to elderly care.

Simple home safety recommendations for seniors include:senior_cane

  • Using canes or walkers and shower seats for fall prevention if unsteady on feet
  • Utilizing assist devices such as walkers, wheelchairs, scooters to promote safe mobility and independence if difficulty getting around
  • Replacing hard wood floors with carpeting for injury reduction in case of a fall (avoid throw rugs on hard wood floors or potentially slick surfaces)
  • Using hearing aids, wearing glasses, and installing good lighting to diminish effects of hearing and visual problems
  • Managing medications by taking advantage of pill boxes when keeping track of medications become burdensome
  • Hiring caregivers or accepting assistance from family members if activities of daily living become difficult
  • Scheduling routine sleep and wake times to improve sleep quality and day time efficiency
  • Subscribing to medical alert systems and programming emergency phone number into cell phones for easy access in cases of emergency
  • Planning regular social activities to improve social interactions
  • Driving with care and recognizing when it may be safer to stop driving
  • Preparing a properly executed advance healthcare directive, living will, and trust to outline decisions and preferences in preparation for the time a person may become incapable of making sound decisions

Another noteworthy concern for the elderly is the subject of medications. With the rise in availability of various medications, naturally a growing list of drugs is offered to the elderly due to their high prevalence of medical conditions. As a consequence, interactions between these drugs and their individual side effects become increasingly more likely. The best approach to address these concerns is a discussion and periodic medication review with the treating physicians or the primary care doctor. If the elderly patient or their caregiver keep up-to-date records of allergies, medications, diseases, medical and surgical history, and advance directives readily available; the patient will have a better experience if they need emergent care or hospitalization. This is especially true if they arrive at a hospital where the patient’s doctors do not practice, or if they have need of medical care while “on vacation” or “traveling.”


April 17, 2015
by Samantha Jeckewicz

Exercise benefits your brain too!

n-FEMALE-RUNNING-large570There are things people can do to preserve their brain function as they age, a report released Tuesday from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) suggests.

“Changes in mental functions and capabilities are a part of aging and occur with everyone,” report committee chair Dan Blazer, a professor of psychiatry emeritus at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., said in an IOM news release.

“The extent and nature of these changes vary widely and are gradual, and aging can have both positive and negative effects on cognition [thinking skills]. Wisdom and knowledge can increase with age, while memory and attention can decline,” he said.

But the committee said there are things people can do to promote brain health. These include being physically active, and reducing and managing heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking.

It’s also important to have regular discussions with a health care professional about any health conditions and medications that might harm brain function, they added.

Other actions that may help protect an aging  brain include being socially and intellectually active, and always trying to learn new things. Getting enough sleep and seeking help for sleep disorders if necessary can also make a difference, the report found.

People should also carefully evaluate any products – including medications, supplements and training programs – that claim to improve thinking, the committee advised.

There is conflicting evidence about the possible brain benefits of crossword puzzles, joining a book club, playing card games or learning to play a musical instrument, the committee found. And there is little evidence that vitamins and supplements marketed for brain health do any good.

“We are only really beginning to understand how the brain changes with age,” Victor Dzau, president of the IOM, said in the news release. “As the population of older Americans grows, so will the effects of cognitive aging on society. By calling attention to this issue, we can learn more about the risk and protective factors and needed research so older adults can better maintain their cognitive  health to the fullest extent possible.”

The IOM is an independent organization that  provides the U.S. government with expert guidance on health issues.

– Robert Preidt


April 16, 2015
by Samantha Jeckewicz

Senior Health: Routine Medical Tests

senior_eye_testWhat are some of the routine medical tests for seniors?

A wide range of screening and preventive measures are available and recommended for people over the age of 65. These guidelines follow the recommendations by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and are based on extensive clinical data.

The following lists some of the important preventive and screening measures for seniors.

  • Influenza vaccination
  • Pneumonia vaccination
  • Vaccination against shingles (60 and older; some doctors recommend starting at age 50)
  • Colon cancer screening for adults between ages 50 and 75 (younger starting age in high risk groups)
  • Breast cancer screening with yearly mammogram for females between 40 and 75 (younger starting age for high risk groups)
  • Prostate cancer screening with annual rectal exam and PSA (prostate sensitive antigen) in males above age 50
  • Osteoporosis screening with bone density scan in women above age of 65
  • Lipid disorder screening yearly for men above 35 and women above 45
  • Diabetes screening in people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, or previous high blood sugar levels with or without symptoms of diabetes
  • Blood pressure screening at least once a year
  • Smoking cessation counseling

Other screening tests may be recommended by doctors are:

  • vision and hearing exams
  • skin cancer screening
  • cardiac stress tests
  • thyroid function tests
  • mental status exam
  • peripheral vascular disease screening

It is worth noting that even though these are general health maintenance guidelines, primary care doctors may draft an individualized plan for each person based on their personal history.

Many of these tests are recommended to be performed periodically. As people get older, the benefits of detecting certain diseases may diminish, obviating the need for further screening. Accordingly, the patient’s primary physician may help guide patients with their decisions regarding recommended health screening tests.

Sometimes the possible risks associated with certain tests may outweigh the potential benefits. Therefore, there are times when the right decision for an individual is to not have further testing for certain conditions.



April 14, 2015
by Samantha Jeckewicz

Many U.S. Shoppers Choose Low-Salt Fare

too_much_salt_360About a third of Americans say they specifically buy foods labeled “low” or “reduced salt or sodium” when they’re grocery shopping, a new study finds.

The results are encouraging, nutrition experts say, because too much salt in the diet can raise heart risks. However, more must be done to educate consumers on smart shopping and eating when it comes to salt.

“Despite what you might think, use of the salt shaker is not the main cause of excess sodium in the diet — in fact, the majority of sodium consumed from the US diet comes from packaged and restaurant foods,” said Danielle Staub, an outpatient clinical dietitian at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

“This tells us that we need to be savvy consumers when purchasing food away from the home,” she said.

Another expert agreed.

Consumers “need to understand that they should be trying to keep their intake to roughly 2,000 milligrams [about a teaspoon] daily, and they need to then interpret label information based on number of servings per container, number of servings consumed, etcetera,” said Rebecca Blake, director of clinical nutrition at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in New York City.

“This can definitely be a daunting process for the average grocery shopper,” said Blake, who was not involved in the new research.

The study was led by Jessica Lee Levings, who’s with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. Her team looked at data from a survey of more than 3,700 adults conducted in 2010.

The study found that more than half of shoppers said they knew how to use the information on food nutrition labels to keep track of salt intake, and that nearly half checked the labels for sodium content to lower the salt in their diet.

About one-third of shoppers said they specifically bought foods labeled low or reduced salt or sodium, the study found. Nutritional Facts Label, Close-up

However, just under one-fifth of shoppers said they were confused trying to figure out how much salt is in the foods they eat, according to the report, published April 9 in the CDC journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

“Food manufacturers can meet this demand [for low sodium foods] by producing food items that are lower in sodium and including this information on the front of their packages,” Levings’ team wrote.

Educating consumers will help, too.  When it comes to lowering the amount of salt in people’s diet, “we have more work to do in providing education to school-aged children and teens, older adults, and in minority populations,” said Jill Ashbey-Pejoves, lead clinical dietitian at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y.

She believes that “increased availability of lower sodium foods would be a huge step in the right direction.”

But Blake said food labeling must be clearer, too, and she offered up tips for consumers.

“It is always a good idea for food manufacturers to provide easy-to-understand labeling,” she said. “Consumers must always keep in mind that just because a food is labeled “lower sodium” or “25 percent less sodium” — this does not make it a low-sodium food.”

Blake noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has published guidelines for industry that define how salt-oriented terms can be used.  These include:

  • salt/sodium-free: less than 5 milligrams [mg] of sodium per serving,
  • very low sodium:  35 mg of sodium or less per serving,
  • low sodium:  140 mg of sodium or less per serving,
  • reduced sodium: at least 25 percent less sodium than in the original product (keeping in mind the original product may be extremely high in sodium, as in soy sauce and many soups),
  • light in sodium or lightly salted: At least 50 percent less sodium than the regular product (again, keeping in mind this may still leave you with a “high sodium” product, depending on the content of the regular product),
  • no-salt-added or unsalted: no salt is added during processing, but not necessarily sodium-free.

“The bottom line is that consumers need a context for these numbers,” Blake said.

– Robert Preidt


April 9, 2015
by Samantha Jeckewicz
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Senior Health: Social Issues

senior_citizens_in_india_lonely_and_resigned_1358494845_540x540How can social issues affect the life and health of seniors?

Social issues can have a significant impact on life and both physical and mental health of seniors. Some of the major contributors to social and psychological problems for seniors are as follows:

  • Loneliness from losing a spouse and friends
  • Inability to independently manage regular activities of living
  • Difficulty coping and accepting physical changes of aging
  • Frustration with ongoing medical problems and increasing number of medications
  • Social isolation as adult children are engaged in their own lives
  • Feeling inadequate from inability to continue to work
  • Boredom from retirement and lack of routine activities
  • Financial stresses from the loss of regular income

These factors can have a negative impact on overall health of an older individual. Addressing these psychosocial problems is an integral component of seniors’ complex medical care.

What are lifestyle changes seniors can make to lead a healthy life as they age?

A balanced diet and participation in regular exercise are paramount in maintaining a healthy life for people of all ages. Routine exercise and healthy diet in seniors can have an even more noticeable impact in their general well-being.

Many diseases in seniors may be prevented or at least slowed down as a result of a healthy lifestyle. Osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressures, diabetes, high cholesterol, dementia, depression, and certain cancers are some of the common conditions that can be positively modified in seniors through diet, exercise, and other simple lifestyle changes.

In addition to diet and exercise, other important life style modifications to lead a healthier life in seniors include:

  • Limiting alcohol intake to one drink daily
  • Smoking cessation
  • Using skin moisturizers and sun protection
  • Brushing and flossing teeth once or twice a day
  • Staying proactive in own healthcare and participating in decision making
  • Going to the primary care doctor routinely
  • Reviewing list of medications with their doctor(s) often
  • Following recommended instructions for health screening, preventive tests, and vaccinations
  • Visiting a dentist annually or biannually
  • Following up with eye doctor and foot doctor, especially for people with diabetes
  • Being aware of potential medication side effects anddrug interactions including over-the-counter drugs, herbals, and alternative medicine
  • Adhering to routine sleep schedule and using good sleep hygiene
  • Engaging in routine and scheduled social activities
  • Taking vacations


April 7, 2015
by Samantha Jeckewicz
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The top 6 types of activities for seniors to maintain healthy living

seniors_get_social_t670x470There is an old saying: “Youth is wasted on the young and retirement is wasted on the old.” Well, whether you were active in your youth or not, there is no excuse to be inactive as you age into becoming a “senior.” In many ways, age can become as much a battle of your will as it is your body. One of the quality of life factors that can have an impact on the quality of your aging years is what, if any, activities you are doing.

Previously, we pointed out that an object in motion tends to stay in motion. An active lifestyle consisting of hobbies, work, volunteerism, family and friends, culture, and nature is more meaningful and healthy than being a couch potato. One of the keys to people who live long lives is that their life continued to have meaning. Staying engaged in activities and bringing meaning to others will help bring meaning to you. Many people continue to work or take on second careers in later life. Hobbies, volunteer work, learning new skills, or getting more involved with your family are all paths to an active and meaningful life.

Here are six categories of activities ideally suited to promote a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle as we are aging:

1) Physical activities that will keep your body on the move and allow you to engage nature on your own or in the company of others

  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Fishing
  • Golf
  • Tennis
  • Sailing
  • Dancing
  • Exercise

2) Games that will help keep your mind sharp, your competitive juices flowing and you socially engaged

  • Cards
  • Chess
  • Backgammon
  • Cribbage
  • Bingo

3) Technical pursuits that keep your mind engaged, your eye-finger coordination strong and can keep you both socially connected and possibly even making some spare money

  • Wood working
  • Mechanical tinkering
  • Writing
  • Computer skills (and staying connected through email and social media like Facebook)

4) Clubs with a purpose that will keep you socially engaged, mentally stimulated and learning new information or skills

  • Book clubs
  • Movie clubs
  • Investment clubs
  • Scrap-booking (cropping) clubs
  • Gardening clubs
  • Coffee clubs
  • Card and Game clubs

5) Mindful activities that can uplift your spirit, mind and body

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Tai Chi
  • Fly Tying
  • Dating/Romance
  • Religion

6) Lifestyle activities that will enrich your life that you can engage on your own, with your spouse, or with family and friends

  • Travel
  • Cooking
  • Academic Classes
  • Gardening
  • Volunteerism
  • Art
  • Music

Now take the Active Lifestyle Test by circling which activities you are currently pursuing in your life. If you score one or more in at least half of these categories you are fairly active. If you score in more than half of these categories or all of them, congratulations you are very active and it will contribute a great deal towards your continued healthy living.



April 3, 2015
by Samantha Jeckewicz
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Senior Health: Diet

What role does diet play in senior health? healthy-senior-living-diet

A good and healthy diet has numerous potential benefits in the health of  seniors.

Heart disease, vascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, strokes, memory problems, osteoporosis, certain cancers, skin, hair and nail diseases, and visual problems are examples of conditions which can be impacted by diet.

Proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water are all essential nutrients that make up most cells and tissues in human body. Thus, these essential components need to be provided in moderation through the diet for maintenance of good health.

A balanced diet consisting of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fiber is generally recommended to provide these necessary nutrients. Avoidance of saturated fats (animal fat), supplementation with minerals and vitamins, and consumption of plenty of fluids are considered an important component of a healthy diet.

Although the quality of food is important, its quantity should not be overlooked. A large portion of a very healthy diet can still lead to a high caloric intake. Moderate portion sizes to achieve daily caloric goals of 1500 to 2000 are generally advised. Avoiding empty calories are also important. These are foods which lack good nutritional value but are high in calories. Examples include sodas, chips, cookies, donuts, and alcohol.

Special dietary restrictions for certain conditions are also important to follow. Restricted salt and fluid intake for people with heart failure or kidney disease, or carbohydrate controlled diet for people with diabetes are general examples of such guidelines.

Is exercise important in health of the elderly?

Benefits of exercise in disease prevention and progression cannot be overemphasized.

Regular physical activity and exercise can help manage or even prevent a variety of health problems in the elderly.

Heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, certain cancers, depression, and stroke are some the common medical conditions which routine physical activity and effective exercising may greatly benefit the patient.

Some of the numerous health benefits of exercise for seniors include:

  • Weight maintenance and burning excess calories
  • Improving the ratio of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol
  • Building up physical endurance
  • Optimizing health of the heart, lung, and vascular system
  • Better delivery of oxygen and nutrients to tissues
  • Maintaining bone and muscle health
  • Reducing fall risks and arthritis
  • Mood enhancement
  • Better sleep quality and duration

Regular exercise 3-5 times a week for at least 30 minutes is strongly advised for seniors. An effective exercise is one which would increase the heart rate adequately to about 75% of maximum heart rate. A person’s maximum heart rate is roughly calculated by subtracting age from the number 220.

Walking, swimming, and exercise machines are generally safe and can help achieve these goals. Balance exercises, flexibility exercises, and resistance exercises (weight lifting) can also be beneficial.

As a general precaution, if symptoms such as chest pain or tightness, shortness of breath, or fainting or dizziness occur during or after exercising, it is important for the individual to stop the exercise and notify their physician promptly.


March 31, 2015
by Samantha Jeckewicz
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How to Spot Signs of Elder Abuse


Five million Americans are affected by some form of elder abuse each year, according to The Elder Justice Roadmap, a report by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Though the government has focused attention on the issue, abuse of the elderly may be difficult to pinpoint. That’s because its signs could appear to symptoms of dementia or the natural results of frailty that come with age.

In fact, many of the warning signs do overlap with symptoms of mental and physical degeneration. Additionally, seniors may be hesitant to talk openly about abuse, especially if it is coming from a loved one. (Contrary to popular belief, elders are more likely to be abused by their loved ones than by paid workers.)

Keep in mind, elder abuse does not have to be physical. Other categories are sexual, psychological, financial, and abandonment and neglect. Any time a senior is not being treated correctly constitutes elder abuse.

So how do you know when abuse is happening, and what can you do about it?

Recognizing The Signs

Pay attention to the elderly people you know. Be on the lookout for some of these common signs that abuse may be happening:

  • Frequent arguments between caregivers and the patient, whether they are professional caregivers or family members
  • Changes in a senior’s personality or behavior
  • Unexplained injuries such as burns, bruises, welts, cuts or scars
  • Broken bones, dislocations and sprains
  • Failure to take medication or overdose of medication
  • A caregiver’s refusal to let you see the patient alone
  • Appearing disheveled, in torn or soiled clothes or not appropriately dressed for the weather
  • Appearing hungry, malnourished, disoriented or confused
  • Unexplained charges or a suspicious drain of money beyond daily living expenses
  • Unexplained weight loss that could indicate lack of proper nutrition or neglect

It’s important to be an advocate for the elderly people you’re close with. As people age, they become more physically frail and less able to stand up to bullying. Waning sight, memory and hearing can allow seniors to be easily taken advantage of.   The same ailments and conditions that make seniors frail can also create stress for caregivers, who may lash out in frustration.

What To Do

If you do notice something strange, like bruises or uncalled for cautiousness around you, it is important to notify authorities.

If you are the family member of someone you believe is being taken advantage of, don’t hesitate to report it to Adult Protective Services (APS). There are APS agencies all over the country, and each has regulations governing confidentiality. In some states, you can submit a report of abuse anonymously.

In the U.S., more than half a million reports of abuse are recorded each year, but there are many more that never reach authorities.

When reporting abuse, you don’t necessarily need “hard evidence” and in many situations, abuse can be gradual with very subtle changes. The more details you provide to Adult Protective Services the better.

Provide Moral Support, Too

Seniors do have the right to refuse aid unless they are unable to make decisions for themselves. This means that even if you do report signs of abuse, there may be no way to help. Even sadder, some seniors may view an abusive caretaker as better than no caretaker at all.

In situations like these, it is important to stay supportive and tell the senior they have other alternatives.

Even if you don’t think your report will help or the elderly person refuses help, each reported instance provides a catalogue of what is going on. The more information provided, the better the chance you can get through to the senior and get him/her the care they need.

Older people can become very isolated from the rest of the community since they aren’t working or going to school, so no one may recognize the subtle changes that are apparent only through daily contact. It is very easy for abuse to go unnoticed for long periods.

If you have a loved one in an institutional setting like a nursing home, visit regularly so you’re better able to catch any signs of abuse and encourage fair and kind treatment.

Jacob Edward is the founder and manager of Senior Planning, in Phoenix, Ariz., which has helped many Arizona seniors and their families navigate the process of long-term care planning.


March 26, 2015
by Samantha Jeckewicz
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Milk could be good for your brain


New research conducted at the University of Kansas Medical Center has found a correlation between milk consumption and the levels of a naturally-occurring antioxidant called glutathione in the brain in older, healthy adults.

In-Young Choi, Ph.D., an associate professor of neurology at KU Medical Center, and Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., professor and chair of dietetics and nutrition at KU Medical Center, worked together on the project. Their research, which was published in the Feb. 3, 2015 edition of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests a new way that drinking milk could benefit the body.

“We have long thought of milk as being very important for your bones and very important for your muscles,” Sullivan said. “This study suggests that it could be important for your brain as well.”

Choi’s team asked the 60 participants in the study about their diets in the days leading up to brain scans, which they used to monitor levels of glutathione — a powerful antioxidant — in the brain.

The researchers found that participants who had indicated they had drunk milk recently had higher levels of glutathione in their brains. This is important, the researchers said, because glutathione could help stave off oxidative stress and the resulting damage caused by reactive chemical compounds produced during the normal metabolic process in the brain. Oxidative stress is known to be associated with a number of different diseases and conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and many other conditions, said Dr. Choi.

“You can basically think of this damage like the buildup of rust on your car,” Sullivan said. “If left alone for a long time, the buildup increases and it can cause damaging effects.

Few Americans reach the recommended daily intake of three dairy servings per day, Sullivan said. The new study showed that the closer older adults came to those servings, the higher their levels of glutathione were.

“If we can find a way to fight this by instituting lifestyle changes including diet and exercise, it could have major implications for brain health,” Choi said.

An editorial in the same edition of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition said the study presented “a provocative new benefit of the consumption of milk in older individuals,” and served as a starting point for further study of the issue.

“Antioxidants are a built-in defense system for our body to fight against this damage, and the levels of antioxidants in our brain can be regulated by various factors such as diseases and lifestyle choices,” Choi said.

For the study, researchers used high-tech brain scanning equipment housed at KU Medical Center’s Hoglund Brain Imaging Center. “Our equipment enables us to understand complex processes occurring that are related to health and disease,” Choi said. “The advanced magnetic resonance technology allowed us to be in a unique position to get the best pictures of what was going on in the brain.”

A randomized, controlled trial that seeks to determine the precise effect of milk consumption on the brain is still needed and is a logical next step to this study, the researchers said.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Kansas Medical Center. The original article was written by Andy Hyland. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.