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June 30, 2015
by Samantha Jeckewicz

What’s the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Contrary to what some people may think, dementia is not a less severe problem, with Alzheimer’s disease being a more severe problem.

When someone is told they have dementia, it means they have significant memory problems as well as other cognitive difficulties, and, these problems are severe enough to get in the way of daily living. Most of the time dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s disease.
What is the Difference Between Alzheimer's and Dementia

There is great confusion about the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia.

In a nutshell, dementia is a syndrome, and Alzheimer’s is the cause of the symptom.

When someone is told they have dementia, it means that they have significant memory problems as well as other  cognitive difficulties, and that these problems are severe enough to get in the way of daily living.

Too often, patients and their family members are told by their doctors that the patient has been diagnosed with “a little bit of dementia.” They leave the doctor’s visit with a feeling of relief that at least they don’t have Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
The confusion is felt on the part of patients, family members, the media, and even health care providers. This article provides information to reduce the confusion by defining and describing these two common and often poorly understood terms.

What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?
  • “Dementia” is a term that has replaced a more out-of-date word, “senility,” to refer to cognitive changes with advanced age.
  • Dementia includes a group of symptoms, the most prominent of which is memory difficulty with additional problems in at least one other area of cognitive functioning, including language, attention, problem solving, spatial skills, judgment, planning,  or organization.
  • These cognitive problems are a noticeable change compared to the person’s cognitive functioning earlier in life and are severe enough to get in the way of normal daily living, such as social and occupational activities.
A good analogy to the term dementia is “fever.”
Fever refers to an elevated temperature, indicating that a person is sick. But it does not give any information about what is causing the sickness. In the same way, dementia means that there is something wrong with a person’s brain, but it does not provide any information about what is causing the memory or cognitive difficulties. Dementia is not a disease; it is the clinical presentation or symptoms of a disease.
There are many possible causes of dementia. Some causes are reversible, such as certain thyroid conditions or vitamin deficiencies.
If these underlying problems are identified and treated, then the dementia reverses and the person can return to normal functioning.
However, most causes of dementia are not reversible. Rather, they are degenerative diseases of the brain that get worse over time.
The most common cause of dementia is AD, accounting for as many as 70-80% of all cases of dementia.

Approximately 5.3 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer’s Disease.

  • As people get older, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease increases, with approximately 50% of people age 85 and older having the disease. 
  • It is important to note, however, that although Alzheimer’s is extremely common in later years of life, it is not part of normal aging. For that matter, dementia is not part of normal aging.
  • If someone has dementia (due to whatever underlying cause), it represents an important problem in need of appropriate diagnosis and treatment by a well-trained health care provider who specializes in degenerative diseases.
In a nutshell, dementia is a symptom, and Alzheimer’s Disease is the cause of the symptom.

When someone is told they have dementia, it means that they have significant memory problems as well as other  cognitive difficulties, and that these problems are severe enough to get in the way of daily living.  Most of the time, dementia is caused by the specific brain disease, AD.
However, some uncommon degenerative causes of dementia include vascular dementia (also referred to as multi-infarct dementia), frontotemporal dementia, Lewy Body disease, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Contrary to what some people may think, dementia is not a less severe problem, with AD being a more severe problem.
  • There is not a continuum with dementia on one side and AD at the extreme.  Rather, there can be early or mild stages of AD, which then progress to moderate and severe stages of the disease.
  • One reason for the confusion about dementia and AD is that it is not possible to diagnose AD with 100% accuracy while someone is alive. Rather, AD can only truly be diagnosed after death, upon autopsy when the brain tissue is carefully examined by a specialized doctor referred to as a neuropathologist.
  • During life, a patient can be diagnosed with “probable AD.”  This term is used by doctors and researchers to indicate that, based on the person’s symptoms, the course of the symptoms, and the results of various tests, it is very likely that the person will show pathological features of AD when the brain tissue is examined following death.

In specialty memory clinics and research programs, such as the BU ADC, the accuracy of a probable AD diagnosis can be excellent.
And with the results of exciting new research, such as that being conducted at the BU ADC, the accuracy of AD diagnosis during life is getting better and better.  This contribution was made by Dr. Robert Stern, Director of the BU ADC Clinical Core.


June 29, 2015
by Samantha Jeckewicz

Asthma Treatments Fail Older Patients More Often: Study

Asthma treatments, especially inhaled corticosteroids, are less likely to work for older patients, a new study suggests.

Researchers looked at 1,200 patients with mild-to-moderate asthma, and found that treatment failure occurred in about 17 percent of those aged 30 and older, compared with about 10 percent of those younger than 30.

Lower lung function and having asthma for a longer time were associated with a higher risk of treatment failure.

When the researchers focused on specific therapies, they found that treatment failure increased consistently for every year above age 30 among patients who used inhaled corticosteroids.

Patients aged 30 and older who used inhaled corticosteroids, either alone or in combination with other therapies, were more than twice as likely to have treatment failure than those younger than 30, the investigators found.

Men and women had similar rates of treatment failure, according to the study published online June 12 in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

The finding that older asthma patients are at increased risk for treatment failure “may involve not only biological mechanisms, such as differences in the type of airway inflammation in older patients, but may also involve socioeconomic, geographic or treatment adherence differences between older and younger patients,” researcher Dr. Ryan Dunn, of National Jewish Health in Denver, said in a journal news release.

“Further research is needed to elucidate the causes underlying our observations and to examine whether older patients might benefit from a unique treatment approach,” Dunn added.

– Robert Preidt


June 15, 2015
by Samantha Jeckewicz
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‘Gut Feelings’: More Than Heartburn, Indigestion?

If promising but early studies pan out, psychiatrists of the future could make a most unusual request of their patients: a sample of their stool.

Yes, the bodily specimen used to help diagnose digestive diseases might also offer clues as to what’s happening at the other end of someone’s anatomy.

Intriguing research, done mainly in rats and mice so far, suggests that bacteria that live in the gut influence brain development, mood, and behavior. Someday, doctors might be able to treat mood disorders with probiotics, supplements containing good gut bacteria; prebiotics, which promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut; or highly specific antibiotics that kill bad gut bacteria.

Depression “clearly isn’t all about Prozac and serotonin,” says Roger McIntyre, MD, who directs the Mood Disorders Psychopharmacology Unit at the University of Toronto. “We need to look at alternative explanations, alternative treatments.”

And at least for some people with a mental illness, a major contributing factor might be the 100 trillion bacteria — “aliens,” as Dartmouth microbiologist and immunologist Lloyd Kasper, MD, calls them — that live in the gut.

Scientists call this two-way street the gut-brain axis, and they’re just beginning to learn how the two organs talk with each other. “We’re so far at the tip of the iceberg on this that we don’t know where it’s going to go,” Kasper says.

Babies are born with sterile guts, but bacteria begin moving in within hours. The bacteria population remains relatively stable from age 3 onward, but things like environment, diet, drug exposure, and genetics can influence which ones thrive, McIntyre says.

Healthy people tend to have similar types and proportions of gut bacteria. Changes in the gut bacteria have been linked not only to digestive disorders but also to metabolic and brain disorders, says Jane Foster, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at McMaster University.

In an interview, Foster described several possible ways that gut bacteria and the brain communicate.

One is via the enteric nervous system, the part of the nervous system that governs the digestive tract. Also, gut bacteria can alter how the immune system works, which can affect the brain. The gut bacteria are involved in digestion, too, and the substances they make when they break down food can affect the brain.

And under certain conditions, such as stress or infection, potentially disease-causing gut bacteria, or bad bugs, can leak through the bowel wall and enter the bloodstream, enabling them and the chemicals they make to talk with the brain through cells in blood vessel walls. Bacteria could also communicate directly with cells in certain regions of the brain, including those located near areas involved in stress and mood, Foster says. It’s unclear, though, how that might affect your mood.

Of Mice and Humans

So far, much of what’s known about the relationship between gut microbes and the brain has come from studying rodents. “Germ-free” mice, which have no gut bacteria, have provided clues about the impact of the loss of normal microbes on mood and behavior. In other research, scientists have looked at how probiotics affect mouse behavior and mood. One study found that feeding mice a particular probiotic led to higher concentrations of beneficial fatty acids in the brain, suggesting that taking probiotics might help achieve optimal brain health.

Researchers have done small tests looking at what happens when healthy adults eat either probiotics or prebiotics — soluble fiber that promotes the growth of good bacteria already present in the gut — or a placebo for 3 or 4 weeks.

In one study, scientists in England randomly divided volunteers into three groups: One group took one prebiotic, a second group took a different prebiotic, and the third group took a sugar pill. The researchers measured levels of cortisol, the “stress” hormone that’s related to depression and anxiety, in the volunteers’ saliva. Over the 3-week study, cortisol levels dropped significantly in the group taking one prebiotic but not in the other two groups, the scientists reported recently in the journal Psychopharmacology.

The researchers also gave several computer tests to see if the prebiotics made any difference in how the volunteers viewed emotional information. The prebiotic group with the lowered cortisol levels paid less attention to negative information and more attention to positive info than the other two groups did. But there were no differences among the three groups as far as how anxious or stressed they felt.

“Perhaps we would have seen some behavioral changes after a longer period of supplementation,” says coauthor Philip Burnet, PhD, a neurobiologist. “Also, we tested in healthy volunteers, so any changes may be subtle.” Burnet says he now plans to study the effect of prebiotics in schoolchildren with mild anxiety.

In another study, UCLA scientists randomly assigned 36 healthy women to one of three groups. One group ate plain yogurt containing probiotics, another ate yogurt that looked and tasted exactly the same but did not have probiotics, and the third group wasn’t given any yogurt. The yogurt was made at a Danone Research facility in France. Danone, the parent company of Dannon, funded the study, and three of the coauthors were employees.

Participants got MRIs of their brains at the beginning and at the end of the study. The researchers found that the yogurt containing probiotics affected activity in brain regions that control processing of emotion and sensation.

Gastroenterologist Kirsten Tillisch, MD, a coauthor of the yogurt study, is now collecting stool samples from people with anxiety to see how different their gut bugs look compared to those in people who aren’t anxious or depressed. Tillisch, who’s on the faculty of UCLA’s Oppenheimer Family Center for Neurobiology of Stress, says she expects to see differences among the anxious people as well.

But genetics and environment might play greater roles than gut bacteria in some cases, which is one reason it’s too soon to recommend that anxious or depressed people turn to probiotics, Tillisch says.

“The issue becomes if you start taking probiotics, which probiotics are you going to take? And under what conditions? And how much do you need to take?” Kasper says. Until more specifics are known, he says, taking probiotics for mood disorders “is a crapshoot.”

Another promising approach, Kasper says, is “magic bullet” antibiotics, highly specific drugs that could get rid of bad gut bacteria without tampering with the good bugs. And maybe someday, he says, doctors might be able to achieve a healthy balance of gut bacteria with fecal transplants.

SOURCES: Roger McIntyre, MD, director of the Mood Disorders Psychopharmacology Unit at the University of Toronto. Lloyd Kasper, MD, professor of microbiology and immunology, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. Jane Foster, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at McMaster University. Philip Burnet, PhD, psychiatry department researcher, Oxford University. Kirsten Tillisch, MD, Oppenheimer Family Center for Neurobiology of Stress at UCLA. Schmidt, K. Psychopharmacology, May 2015. Tillisch, K. Gastroenterology, June 2013. Zhou, L. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, March 2015. Slyepchenko, A. CNS & Neurological Disorders—Drug Targets, November 2014. Wang, Y. Brain, Behavior, and Immunology, May 2014. Wall, R. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 2012. Borre, Y.E. Trends in Molecular Medicine, September 2014.

June 12, 2015
by Samantha Jeckewicz
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Strong Bones After 50? Women May Not Need Next Test Until 65

osteoporosis_s3_public_health_issueA postmenopausal woman who is 50 and still shows “normal” readings on her bone density test may not need her next such test for 10 or even 15 years, a new study finds.

However, researchers led by Dr. Margaret Gourlay of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill stressed that younger women who do show signs of bone loss are at high risk for a major fracture, and do require regular testing.

The study involved almost 4,100 postmenopausal American women between the ages of 50 and 64 who took part in the ongoing Women’s Health Initiative study.

All of the women had undergone a bone mineral density test to assess their risk for fractures and osteoporosis. The women were not taking hormones, calcium or vitamin D supplements. They also had never had a broken bone, the team said.

The results: Among women whose tests showed no signs of osteoporosis, it took nearly 13 years for just 1 percent of the youngest women, and almost eight years for 1 percent of the oldest women, to suffer a spinal fracture or broken hip.

It also took roughly 12 years for 3 percent of the younger women and nearly nine years for 3 percent of the older women without osteoporosis to sustain a spinal fracture or break a hip, wrist or arm, Gourlay’s team said.

The researchers believe that — barring significant health issues — younger postmenopausal women with no sign of osteoporosis do not need a repeat bone mineral density test for 10 to 15 years.

The study was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and published in the June issue of Menopause.

Two experts in women’s health says the new study gives older women valuable guidance.

“In the past, both physicians and their patients have been led to believe that bone mineral density testing should be performed routinely — even as often as every two years,” said Dr. Rebecca Brightman, an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City.

The timing of osteoporosis testing should always be a decision made by a woman and her doctor, she said. However, the new study suggests that, “if a recently menopausal woman has a normal bone density she may be able to wait up to 10-15 years before it is repeated,” Brightman said.

Dr. Caroline Messer is an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, also in New York City. She believes the study does have “one major drawback,” in that it only looked at the time elapsed until a woman experienced a fracture — not until she first showed signs of bone loss or osteoporosis. osteoporosis_s2_begins_earlie_in_life

So, “screening at shorter intervals may confer additional benefits beyond short-term fracture risk reduction,” Messer explained. Catching bone loss before it progresses might help prevent osteoporosis, which in turn might prevent fractures from occurring, she explained.

The study authors also stressed that women whose bones already showed signs of weakening at the time of their first bone test will need to be monitored more closely. Women who had osteoporosis when the study began were at much higher risk for broken bones — within just three years, 1 percent of these women suffered a major fracture, the authors said. By 2.5 years, a full 3 percent of these women had such an injury.

– Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCES: Rebecca C. Brightman, M.D., assistant clinical professor, obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive science, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City; Caroline Messer, M.D.,  endocrinologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; The North American Menopause Society, news release, June 2, 2015

June 10, 2015
by Samantha Jeckewicz
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Family Support For Seniors in Graying Population – Enough to Go Around?

Will there be enough family caregivers to provide loving care to all those seniors who will be needing help by 2050?

That was the question that the Pew Research Institute asked recently in their report Family Support in Graying Societies and the answers are pretty interesting.

Because the numbers of people who will be over 65 by the year 2050 are expected to double, the implications for not just caregiving but economics, Social Security and the healthcare industry are wide reaching.

How will all sectors handle the ever increasing population of older adults especially if family caregivers are at a distance or non-existent?

Childless Boomers

Many older adults chose not to have children in order to pursue careers and some may have lost their children throughout their lifetime and are now aging without a family support network to care for them as they age.

According to an August 2013 report from AARP:

  • 6% of women ages 80 to 84 were childless in 2010
  • By 2030, women aged 80 to 84 who are childless will be 16%
  • In 2010, the caregiver support ratio was more than seven potential caregivers for every person over 80 years old
  • By 2030, the caregiver support ratio is projected to decline to four to one
  • By 2050, the caregiver support ratio is expected to fall to three to one

A new term has been coined to describe unmarried, childless older adults – elder orphans.

It is estimated nearly one-quarter of Americans over age 65 are currently elder orphans or at risk of becoming them. They are considered a vulnerable group requiring greater awareness and advocacy efforts because there may be few if any options for them as they need more help.

Finding surrogates to act on behalf of elder orphans could be difficult.

Perhaps the definition of a family caregiver will need to shift from the traditional model of children caring for parents to nieces and nephews, cousins and other appointed kin including friends.

How Are Family Members Helping Seniors Now?

Family members (30%) who have a senior over 65 right now report that they help their seniors financially and even more (60%) say they help their senior loved ones with day to day care.

While the current level of family caregiving is great now, the need is anticipated to be tremendous by 2050.

In China, the government mandates that adult children visit their parents ‘often’ and provide for them financially and spiritually.

No, we’re not suggesting such a mandate be implemented in the U.S., but showing how another society is addressing the situation.

How Are We Coping with an Older Population?

The Pew Research Institute compared the United States with two other countries that represent where we will be by then based on the fact that their populations are older right now — Germany and Italy. Their current numbers of elders is the number that  we are expected to approximate in 2050.

Looking at the way they are handling a graying population can help us decide if we are ready and what we need to do to face the upcoming challenges.

  • In both Germany and Italy, a greater percentage of adult children are currently providing care with basic tasks and personal care.
  • Caregivers in both Germany and Italy report not providing as much monetary assistance compared to America and state they feel the government should be responsible for people in their old age.
  • In America, family members state that they feel the families are responsible for elder care, not the government.
  • All countries are coping with caring for senior loved ones and children, even adult children, at the same time.
  • Half or more of adults with adult children in all three countries report financially assisting children over 18 as well as helping in non-monetary ways at the same time they care for seniors.
  • Sweat equity is given equally to seniors and adult children in the form of errands, housework, child care, day to day tasks, etc. in all three countries.
  • With fewer younger adults contributing to the social security programs in all three countries, caregivers will find a shrinking government financial pool to fund aging.
  • People in all three countries share the opinion that they will receive no funds upon retirement from the government despite paying into the programs, 29% think they might get reduced benefits and only 7% think they will get full benefits.
  • 56% of Americans and 61% of Germans not currently retired say they are putting money in a private retirement plan or other savings account aside from social security contributions; in Italy only 23% say they are doing this; 76% say they are not saving for retirement.
  • Those not saving for retirement state they aren’t saving because they don’t have enough to put aside, not because they haven’t considered it or don’t think it’s important.
  • In all three countries, more adults are assisting aging parents with their time doing tasks, including home repairs and errands rather than giving money.

Stress of Caregiving

This report gives us all some hope despite the country in which we live. It shows us all that being a family caregiver is not only the right thing but a rewarding thing as well.

They found that, in all countries surveyed, more participants reported that they felt their senior caregiving role was more rewarding than they found it to be stressful.

Even helping out their adult children was more worthwhile to them than it was stress inducing.

Many point to the fact their need to be caregivers and help their senior loved ones with daily tasks meant they were spending even more time with them. They were not just engaging in meeting their care needs but also connecting with them, talking with them, and enjoying hobbies with them.

This helped reduce the feeling of stress just meeting their needs could bring.

Family Time Important Across Nations

Family time is important in all countries but in Italy it appears as though the family bond is more defined, as they report living with their senior loved ones more often than in the US and Germany. They are also in much closer contact with their seniors when they aren’t living together compared to the other countries – 70% in Italy, 46% in the US and 32% in Germany report they contact seniors at least once a day.

Americans report using more technology to stay in touch, using text messages, email and social networks more often than in the other nations.

Interesting to note that in this report stepparents and stepchildren were included and were reported to play just as significant a role as parents and children.

Already it seems the notions of a traditional family are being redefined.

We know it is important to provide the highest quality of life to our senior loved ones but there will be many concerns, especially financial, for many seniors and caregivers in the near future.

And what about those elder orphans who don’t have traditional family members to meet their needs?

We need to think and plan for the future not just for our seniors but for ourselves as caregivers as it seems not just our seniors but out children depend on us.

June 9, 2015
by Samantha Jeckewicz
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10 Statistics That Capture The Dangers of Texting and Driving

On June 8, a report was released stating that Tennessee bus crash that left two young girls and a teacher’s aide dead last December was the result of texting and driving. James Davenport, the driver of the bus, was found dead in his home on June 1.

While this story is tragic, texting and driving is far from unusual. A staggering 49 percent of adults admit to texting and driving, even though 98 percent of adults say they know the practice is unsafe.

Below are 10 statistics that show how dangerous texting and driving really is.


Number of Americans killed every day from motor vehicle accidents that involved distracted driving, such as using a cellphone, texting or eating.

1 in 4

The probability that a motor vehicle crash involved a cellphone.


The percentage of teens who say they have been a passenger in a car whose driver used a cellphone in a way that put them in danger.


The percentage of U.S. drivers ages 18 to 64 who reported reading or writing text messages while driving in the previous month. In comparison, only 15 percent of drivers from Spain reported texting while driving in the same period.


Number of motor vehicle crashes in 2013 that involved texting.


How much using a cellphone while driving increases the risk of a crash.


Number of seconds a driver can safely glance away from the road while operating a motor vehicle.


Number of seconds drivers take their eyes off the road to send a text message, on average.


Number of states (plus Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands) where texting is banned for all drivers, regardless of age.

21 – 24

Age group most likely to send a text or email message while driving, according to a 2012 survey.



June 3, 2015
by Samantha Jeckewicz
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Alzheimer’s-Linked Brain Proteins Tied to Poor Sleep in Study

oldsleeperPoor sleep in old age may be linked to the brain-clogging plaques thought to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, new research suggests.

“Sleep appears to be a missing piece in the Alzheimer’s puzzle, and enhancing sleep may lessen the cognitive burden that Alzheimer’s disease imparts,” said study author Bryce Mander, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.

It’s not clear how sleep and memory affect — or are affected by — the accumulation of beta amyloid plaques, believed to interfere with mental functioning. Still, the study findings hint at a major message regarding Alzheimer’s, said Mander, who works at the university’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory.

For the new study, Mander and colleagues recruited 26 mentally healthy adults ages 70 to 79. They underwent brain imaging to assess plaque buildup, and were asked to remember pairs of words before and after a night’s sleep. Overnight, researchers measured their brain waves, and the next day they conducted MRI scans during the memory testing.

Those patients with the highest levels of amyloid plaques in one part of the brain — the medial prefrontal cortex — had lighter sleep and higher levels of memory problems, the researchers found.

“It is not so much that memory after sleep is important, but that sleep after initial learning is important to help us retain memory for a longer period of time,” Mander said.

The study suggests — but does not prove — that insufficient deep sleep contributes to “a reduced ability to cement memories in the brain over the long-term, resulting in greater memory loss,” he noted.

However, he added, it’s not known for sure “whether this link between sleep and Alzheimer’s disease can explain memory loss in older adults” with higher levels of the plaques.

In particular, disrupted sleep can lead to impairment of “episodic memory,” which helps people remember events, Mander said.

“For example, what we had for breakfast last Tuesday and who we were with, and what that person’s name is.  This is a critical form of memory that helps us navigate our daily lives. Without it, we quickly become lost, and our interaction with our world disjointed,” Mander explained. article-2108664-11FCB218000005DC-905_468x338

Sleep disorders are frequently reported in Alzheimer’s patients, noted one expert.

Dr. Ricardo Osorio, research assistant professor of psychiatry with the Center for Brain Health at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, said sleep disorders “have a significant impact on caregivers and are a common cause for early institutionalization.”

In recent years, Osorio said, research has suggested a connection between sleep problems in early life and Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.

But which comes first, poor sleep or accumulation of the brain plaques? Mander thinks they contribute to each other, creating a “vicious cycle” that leads toward Alzheimer’s disease.

Osorio said the study does point to this possibility.

Is it possible that elderly people don’t sleep as well as younger people, boosting their risk of Alzheimer’s? Maybe not. Osorio said that “in healthy elderly individuals, the rate of normal sleep is quite high.”

But poorer sleep throughout life appears to boost the risk of Alzheimer’s, he said, and better sleep lowers the risk.

“Insomnia has been shown to promote cognitive decline in the elderly, and sleep apnea both increases the risk for developing Alzheimer’s and reduces the age of onset of  Alzheimer’s,” Orsio said. (Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by repeated breathing disruptions.)

In the big picture, both experts agreed, sleep matters, and better sleep can likely help on the Alzheimer’s front.

The study was published in the June 1 issue of Nature Neuroscience


May 21, 2015
by Samantha Jeckewicz
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Engaging Older Volunteers

@zx_1000@zy_500Average life expectancy has grown by 30 years in some areas of the world. All sorts of factors contribute to long lives; but more and more, we are learning that volunteering contributes to a healthy and independent lifestyle no matter what our age, but especially for older adults.

May is Older Americans Month and May 18-22 is Senior Corps Week, when the Corporation for National and Community Service promotes the value of older adult volunteering and highlights the impact that the agency’s RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program), Foster Grandparent, and Senior Companion programs have on America’s communities.

With the Corporation and through our own initiatives, United Ways are connecting the skills and passion of seniors to community needs, and as a result, increasing the health and vitality of all involved. For example, with the help of senior volunteers, United Way of Bay County’s RSVP Community Garden in Michigan grows roughly 2,500 pounds of fruits and vegetables per year that are distributed by Hidden Harvest to shelters, food pantries and hunger relief organizations. Now in its 12th year, the program allows senior volunteers to grow and harvest the produce in the community garden or donate from their personal gardens.

Volunteering is also an opportunity for seniors to help their peers. In Minnesota, Greater Twin Cities United Way works with partners to train older individuals to educate their peers on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and provide application assistance to those who meet the guidelines. To date, senior volunteers have conducted over 1,000 screenings and helped almost 500 people complete applications, connecting a record number of seniors to the health and financial benefits of SNAP.

United Way of Central Iowa’s “older adult” volunteer effort began more than 42 years ago. Today, the 55+ Initiative is attracting even more volunteers by focusing on individuals who have already given to the United Way for a decade. A simple email sent to “loyal contributors” ages 55 and older asked for mentors for school-aged children.  In no time, 15 people responded, eager to engage more deeply in United Way’s work.

Tapping in to the wisdom, experience and enthusiasm of seniors could do a world of good for them and your community. I hope you’ll tweet #SeniorCorpsworks or #SeniorsInService to show support for older adult volunteering, and contact your local United Way to find opportunities for volunteers of all ages.


May 18, 2015
by Samantha Jeckewicz
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Communication Disorders Common in Older Americans


signs-of-hearing-lossEarly Detection Key for Speech/Language, Swallowing, and Hearing Problems;

Tips for Communicating With Seniors During May Is Better Hearing & Speech Month


During May Is Better Hearing & Speech Month, Arcadia Home Care & Staffing is spotlighting the importance of early detection and treatment for communication disorders in older Americans. Roughly 40 million Americans experience these disorders. Speech/language or swallowing disorders may result from medical conditions, such as oral cancer, stroke, Parkinson’s, or traumatic brain injury. Adults may also experience voice disorders or speech/language disorders that have persisted since childhood, such as stuttering. Hearing loss is among the most common conditions affecting older Americans. In fact, according to an AARP-ASHA poll that was taken in 2011, a significant percentage of baby boomers have untreated hearing loss. Hearing and balance issues are also risk factors for falls—a serious concern for the older population—that may result in significant injury or death.

Depending on a person’s specific condition, a speech-language pathologist or audiologist can assist in potentially life-altering treatment. In the case of someone with oral cancer, for instance, a certified speech-language pathologist can deliver treatment that includes helping the person get used to the differences in the size, shape, and feel of the mouth. The speech-language pathologist will teach the person how to produce speech sounds more clearly and develop better control over weakened muscles in the throat or palate. If swallowing is an issue, treatment can vary from simple changes in food consistency to exercises for weak oral muscles to learning totally new ways to swallow. In many cases, improvement is evident within several months.

In the case of hearing loss, millions of Americans experience this in at least one ear. Hearing disorders are complex conditions with medical, psychological, physical, social, educational, and employment implications. They should be diagnosed and treated by an audiologist. Treatment options include hearing aids and other assistive technologies that meet a host of different medical needs and preferences, as well as aural/audiologic rehabilitation. Although many people may think of hearing aids as the singular answer to hearing issues, other interventions may be appropriate. This is why receiving a comprehensive evaluation by an audiologist is essential.

Many people have outdated perceptions of hearing aids (and hearing loss in general) that may lead them to delay treatment for years or forgo it altogether. Among adults ages 70 and older with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids, fewer than one in three (30%) have ever used them. Even fewer adults ages 20 to 69 (approximately 16%) who could benefit from wearing hearing aids have ever used them, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Untreated hearing loss is associated with anxiety, depression, reduced quality of life, and even earlier onset of dementia—all of which support the critical importance of early diagnosis and treatment.

Family members and friends can assist a loved one with a communication disorder in numerous ways, including providing assistance with finding a provider and accompanying him or her to appointments. There are also everyday things a family member or friend can do to help make the communication process easier for an older person who may have speaking or hearing challenges. sudden-hearing-loss

Reduce background noises that may be distracting (e.g., turn off the radio or TV, close the door, or move to a quieter place).

  • Stick to a topic. Avoid quick shifts from topic to topic.
  • Allow extra time for responding. Don’t hurry the person.
  • Be an active listener. Look for hints from eye gaze and gestures. Take a guess (e.g., “Are you talking about the TV news? Yes? Tell me more. I didn’t see it.”)

More tips for communicating better with older people are available at

For more information about communication disorders, visit


May 14, 2015
by Samantha Jeckewicz
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7 Foods You Should Eat If You’re Over 50

Though you may eat the same foods you’ve always eaten since you were a kid, your nutritional needs change throughout your life.

“In youth, it’s all about growth and maintaining a body that can procreate,” says nutrition and fitness expert Dr. Pamela Peeke, author of The New York Times bestseller, The Hunger Fix. “After the age of 50, the goal is to prevent disease by maintaining an optimally healthy and active mind and body.”

Being in the best health possible means what we eat as we age matters. “As we get older, metabolism slows, and the body’s ability to break down and use its fuel sources becomes less efficient,” Peeke says.

In addition, certain vitamins become more important to help protect against diseases and health issues.

Here are the foods you should be eating to keep your body strong and mind sharp:

istock1. Fiber-rich foods, like raspberries

This, unfortunately, is something you may already know from experience: Your gastrointestinal functioning slows down as you age, and as a result, it’s important to focus on eating enough fiber to keep your system moving along.   “Fiber not only helps your gastrointestinal function run smoothly, but it also decreases gastrointestinal inflammation and cholesterol, while providing a slow release of energy-rich carbohydrates into the bloodstream,” Peeke says. “Senior women and men should aim for about 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day,” she says.   Some of the best fiber sources: raspberries, which according to The Mayo Clinic have 8 grams per cup; whole wheat pasta, 6.3 grams per cup; lentils, 15.6 grams per cup and green peas, 8.8 grams per cup.

2. Corn flakes and other B12 foods cornflakes

“As the body ages, the stomach’s acidity decreases, and as a result, it’s harder to get enough vitamin B12 in your diet,” Peeke says. Stomach acid helps release vitamin B12 from food and B12 is important because it helps maintain a healthy nervous system and key metabolic processes.   “An estimated 10 to 30 percent of adults over the age of 50 have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12 from food,” Peeke says. “People who regularly take medications that suppress stomach acid — such as antacids — may also have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12 from food.” People over 50 typically should get 2.4 micrograms of B12 every day.    Foods that come from animals, such as meat, eggs, seafood and dairy, have the highest amounts of B12, but you can also get the vitamin from B12-fortified foods such as whole-grain cereals. If you’re concerned about not getting enough B12, talk to your doctor about adding a multivitamin or B12 supplement to your diet.

cinn3. Turmeric and cinnamon

Another thing to go as we get older — taste. “Aging produces a decrease in saliva production and ability to perceive taste,” Peeke says. That means you might want to start experimenting with different spices, including turmeric.

“Turmeric has been shown to boost immune function and also decrease joint inflammation and prevent arthritis in older women,” Peeke says. Other research has shown turmeric, and its main active compound curcumin, may have a real effect on preventing Alzheimer’s and some forms of cancer.    Another spice to add into your cooking rotation: cinnamon. “Cinnamon is well-known as an anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial agent,” Peeke says.   Cinnamon also helps to maintain control of blood sugar since it slows the rate at which the stomach empties after meals, which evens out blood sugar highs and lows. “Studies also suggest a therapeutic use of cinnamon for type 2 diabetes, as it appears to improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin,” she says. “Having as little as one gram of cinnamon daily was shown to reduce blood sugar, triglycerides, LDL (bad) cholesterol and total cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes.”

4. Water water(1)

Our sensation of taste declines as we age, so also does thirst, which means dehydration is more common.   Water is also important to optimize the body’s metabolic functions. “Women need nine cups of water, while men should drink 13 cups daily,” Peeke says. “If you’re more physically active and also live in a hotter climate, you’ll need more.”

banana5. Bananas and other potassium sources

It’s a fact that the risk of stroke and heart disease increases as we age. One way to help lower your risk: Eat foods that are excellent sources of potassium, like bananas and avocados.   A recent study of women aged 50 to 70 found that those who ate the highest amounts of potassium were least likely to experience a stroke. Potassium also can play a key role in lowering blood pressure, according to the World Health Organization.    The recommended daily amount of potassium you should be getting is 4,700 milligrams. Foods rich in potassium are potatoes, with almost 900 milligrams in one potato; bananas, 400 milligrams in one banana; avocado, over 700 milligrams per cup; and pistachios, with a whopping 1,200 milligrams per cup.

6. Calcium-rich foods greens

“Calcium is known mostly for its role in building and maintaining strong bones and teeth, but it is also required for proper functioning of the heart, muscles and nervous system,” Peeke says.    The goal is to consume 1,200 milligrams daily for men and women, but intake, Peeke continues, is an issue for men and women because of two things:

  • Consuming enough calcium can be a problem for people who are lactose intolerant, a common problem as you age.
  • Not having enough vitamin D in your body, which is necessary for you to absorb calcium (and also helps to boost immune function). “Research has shown that as you age, your access to sunlight as well as vitamin D-rich foods, topped by absorbing D less efficiently, all contribute to significantly below-normal levels of this all-important vitamin,” she says.

How to combat these two issues? “If you are lactose intolerant, eat leafy greens, such as collards, mustard, kale, and bok choy,” Peeke says. “You can also try canned salmon (with bones) and sardines, as well as tofu that has been made with a calcium compound.”   As for getting enough vitamin D, ask your doctor to test your vitamin D level. The goal is to be within 50-70 nmol/L. If your D is low, solutions include: eating D-rich foods; getting that 15 minutes in the sun every day; and taking a supplement recommended by your doctor.


broc7. Broccoli and other leafy greens

Protecting your eyes is key as time goes on, particularly since many eye problems come with aging. Lutein, related to beta carotene and vitamin A, is a valuable nutrient you need to optimize vision and prevent macular degeneration. And most people over 50 don’t get enough of it. Green leafy vegetables, along with grapes, oranges and egg yolks, are excellent sources of lutein.   


Other Eating Tips   Aside from adding the foods we mentioned to your diet, Peeke suggests these general healthy-eating guidelines:

  • Decreasing saturated fats is important to prevent cardiovascular disease, so focus on healthy fats derived from nuts, lean meats, fish, low-fat dairy, olive oil and plant-based sources like avocados.
  • Since metabolism slows with aging, it’s important to adjust how many calories you’re eating daily. Even if you’re active you need to do this. Generally, the range is 1,400-2,400 calories a day, with men having the larger number of calories.
  • Eliminate or minimize refined, processed food and drinks such as cookies, chips, candies, cakes and pastries. These processed foods contribute to increased inflammation throughout the body, which then increases the risk for cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
  • Consider supplements and a multivitamin. “Supplements in general are important to seniors, but you need to discuss what you’re taking with your doctor,” Peeke says. “In addition to the supplements, a gender- and age-specific multivitamin is important as well.”