Posts Tagged ‘dementia’

Art: John Tenniel.
The Dormouse in Alice in Wonderland tells a story of sisters at the bottom of a well who were learning to draw “all manner of things — everything that begins with an M … such as mouse-traps, and the moon, and memory.”

When periodicals like the Washington Post block bloggers from linking to their images, we scavenge around for alternative illustrations. Today’s Post article on music and memory made me think of words that begin with an “m,” as the Dormouse did in Alice in Wonderland. The Dormouse even talks about “drawing” memory. Look it up.

Marlene Cimons has a report on music and dementia.

“When Laura Nye Falsone’s first child was born in 1996, the Wallflowers album ‘Bringing Down the Horse’ was a big hit. ‘All I have to hear are the first notes from “One Headlight,” and I am back to dancing … with my brand-new baby boy in my arms,’ she says. …

“When Carol Howard’s early-onset Alzheimer’s worsened, often she couldn’t recognize her husband. She once introduced him as her father. But if she heard a 1960s Simon & Garfunkel song playing, Howard, a marine biologist who died in 2019, could sing every word ‘effortlessly,’ her husband says.

“This ability of music to conjure up vivid memories is a phenomenon well known to brain researchers. It can trigger intense recollections from years past — for many, more strongly than other senses such as taste and smell — and provoke strong emotions from those earlier experiences.

“ ‘Music can open forgotten doors to your memory,’ says Andrew Budson, chief of cognitive and behavioral neurology, associate chief of staff for education and director of the Center for Translational Cognitive Neuroscience at Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System.

“ ‘Music can take you back in time, as well as act like a jolt of electricity that can fire up your brain and get it going,’ he says. ‘We all have the familiar experience of going back to our hometown, visiting our high school and feeling the memories come flooding back. Music can do same thing. It provides an auditory and emotional setting that allows us to retrieve all those memories.’

“Scientists who study music’s powerful effects on the brain say that growing knowledge could improve therapy for such conditions as dementia and other memory disorders, anxietystress and depression, learning disabilities and many physical illnesses, such as chronic paincancer and Parkinson’s disease.

Evidence also exists that music prompts the secretion of brain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, a chemical messenger that plays a role in the brain’s reward/pleasure system. Other studies have shown that music reduces the stress-producing hormone cortisol and increases the secretion of oxytocin, which plays a role in labor and childbirth, as well as in infant-parental bonding, trust and romantic attachment.

“ ‘Music activates different parts of the brain,’ making it an especially versatile tool, says Amy Belfi, assistant professor of psychological science at Missouri University of Science and Technology and principal investigator in its Music Cognition and Aesthetics Lab. ‘We can use it to improve mood, to help us learn, to socially bond with other people. It becomes part of our identity.’ …

“Some experts also see a role for music — which can ease agitation in those with dementia — as an alternative to sedating medications, for example, or as a means of enabling patients to keep living at home.

Frank Russo, professor of psychology at Toronto Metropolitan University, says he believes this ultimately will be possible. He is chief scientific officer of a company that is developing a music player that uses artificial intelligence to curate an individualized play list designed to guide a patient from a state of anxiety to one of calm.

“ ‘One of the really challenging things for caregivers is the anxiety and agitation,’ says Russo, whose research focuses on the intersection of neuroscience and music. … ‘Music has a real opportunity here.’

“Melissa Owens, a music therapist at Virginia Commonwealth University Health, already has seen this in her work. ‘I still find myself in awe of music’s ability to positively change behavior, emotion and even the relationship between a caregiver and their loved one, if even only for the duration of the specific song,’ she says. It provides ‘a moment of normalcy which so much of the time seems lost.’ ”

Read how experts look at the different types of memory involved at the Post, here.

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Photo: Alex Halada/AFP via Getty Images.
Elderly spectators arrive to attend a concert specifically tailored to people living with dementia at the Wiener Musikverein in Vienna on December 5, 2022.

Meghna Chakrabarti of WBUR’s On Point had a great show recently about enlightened dementia communities in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe.

I came away feeling that the reason we have little like this in the US is because of insurance. We are such a crazily litigious society, we can’t afford to take the slightest risk, even if it means an older person will have a happier aging experience.

Producer Paige Sutherland and host Meghna Chakrabarti shared highlights from the show at the WBUR website.

“Is there a better way to care for dementia patients? And what might that look like?

” ‘I think it really focuses on what’s the day-to-day life and looking at this balance between safety and freedom,’ Dr. Tia Powell [professor of psychiatry and bioethics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine] says.

“And that’s exactly what the Netherlands did when they opened up the first-ever ‘dementia village,’ where residents can live freely despite their memory loss.

” ‘Officially, it’s a nursing home, so we offer highly complex care, skilled nursing. But it does not look anything like a nursing home,’ [advisor at Be Advice] Iris Van Slooten says. …

“On the idea behind a ‘dementia village’

“Iris Van Slooten: It should be about the individual; it should be about the person living in that place and need to deal with dementia. And you want to continue your life even though you are dealing with dementia. And so you want to continue life like you did before and not be hospitalized. I always ask our visitors and the people we work with, would you want to live in a hospital for the rest of your life? And then always the answer, of course, is no.

“So then why did we do that to the people that were living with us? … You can continue with your life, you can stay a human being. And what makes you a human being, for instance, is that you can make your own choices every day. Like … what do I have on my sandwich? Or in what place do I want to be right now? Very, very simple choices we make every day but are taken away from people that live in a nursing home.

“On what the village looks like

“Iris Van Slooten: You will enter through a door and then you will enter the hallway. And that is a safe neighborhood where the outside of the homes are the barrier to the … broader surroundings. And we had a door because there were laws in place back when we designed … we had to keep people inside. But you will find 27 homes in a normal looking community. In a normal neighborhood. The homes look like normal Dutch homes with a normal living room, a kitchen, private bedrooms.

“And when residents also step out of the front door, … they are really outside. And there are many streets and many gardens they can explore. We have a restaurant, a pub, a theater, many club rooms, a supermarket. So, everything you will find in any neighborhood, in any community. So yeah, very normal, and especially on a sunny day and in spring and summer, of course, then you see a lot of people walking around, having conversations, meeting each other, grabbing a chair, enjoying a drink in a restaurant. It’s just life. …

“Every resident that lives there has severe dementia. So, you need to have an indication from the Dutch government saying you have severe dementia. … We have teams in the houses that support the household and really run the household. But we also have a quite extensive medical support team, including a specialist, elderly care, doctor, but also a psychiatrist, an official therapist, a social coach. …

“Say someone left their home, and they wanted to go to the village supermarket, but got lost or forgot the way. How do you help that person get to where they wanted to go?

“Iris Van Slooten: One thing we highly value in the Hogeweyk is having freedom and giving the freedom to these people and not restraining them. … They are free to walk around on their own. A lot of people can find their way because also people with severe dementia, they still have learning abilities, and the place is designed [so that it is] recognizable for them. …

“So also the staff in the restaurant, also the reception, also the technicians, also me when I’m there. … When I look out my office and I see somebody in the rain without a coat on, it might slip to the attention of a staff member in house. But then it’s also my job to go over there and find a jacket for that person. …

“On helping people maintain their independence and humanity in the ‘dementia village’

“Dr. Tia Powell: [As] a bioethicist, really all of our challenges can be summed up by the tension between maintaining freedom, which is part of what all human beings strive for, and safety. And this argument’s been going on forever for hundreds of years.

So I do think that many of the ways in which we provide care today in the U.S. for people with dementia do not focus on care, but they focus on other issues. You know, maintaining regulations, all kinds of other things.

“And we have forgotten about freedom and joy.”

A bit from the transcript on the sad US situation.

“Meghna Chakrabarti: Beth Ounsworth … was living a very rich life full of friends and music. As a member of her choir, she was independent in her own apartment in Philadelphia. And that started changing when Beth was about 69 years old. She began forgetting simple things like what day and time she had scheduled meetings, directions to common places. …

“And so her children finally took her to see a neurologist. And Beth was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Now, we spoke with her daughter, Meg Ounsworth Steere. Because Meg wanted to care for her mother, but with two young children at home, it just wasn’t possible. So they looked at assisted living centers near where Meg lived in Boston.

“Meg Ounsworth Steere: So she did go and visit a few assisted living centers with me. … We went to lunch, and she just looked around and she was like, Not me, not now. And I was like, okay, you know? And that’s when we had this conversation about she was like, I don’t want to be in a place where I’m just surrounded by old people. I want to be in a place where there are, you know, babies, too, and young families, and I can feel a part of a community. …

Chakrabarti: So Beth stayed in Philadelphia, but it wasn’t easy. Daughter Meg had to find full time aides to take Beth to all of her appointments and to help with all of her daily activities. Meanwhile, the disease progressed.

“Ounsworth Steere: It got to a point when I took her to the neurologist. He would give her a mini mental state exam and 30 is normal. My mom was testing at a four at that point. Partially because she has aphasia and so she doesn’t really understand words. And so he was like, you know, she’s not going to answer the questions that were like, do you know who the president is? …

“Chakrabarti: So the family decided it would be better for Beth to live in a memory care facility. And they found a good one near Boston. Beth moved in in 2018, and ever since then, Meg and the family have been paying about $100,000 out of pocket for the facility every year.

“Ounsworth Steere: What worries me is that I know I’m on the luckier side and it’s still not perfect. So I can’t quite fathom what it’s like when you have to go to a facility that can’t possibly retain the aides that they want. … Or where aides are just less engaged and involved, they’re just kind of physically there. Kind of like the first aides that I had, but not really assisting, you know, and engaging with and kind of trying to love the resident and then the people who can’t afford care at all. I just, I don’t know how that’s possible.

“Chakrabarti: Meg visits her mother often. Beth is nonverbal now, However, Meg gets to communicate with her in a different way: by singing.”

If you click on the arrow at WBUR, here, you can listen to the whole show. PS. I blogged about the Dutch dementia village in 2016, here!

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Photo: BBC.
Carer Beth Forster leads music workshops for seniors with dementia in the UK.

At Thanksgiving, we had the pleasure of meeting Meg, a relatively new member of our family who shared a bit about using music therapy with hospitalized patients suffering from mental illness. So I was interested to read today’s story about a similar music program in the UK, one that focuses on people with dementia.

Sarah Gwynne and Woody Morris had this report at the BBC.

“An orchestra is attempting to bring people living with dementia back into the present. The work being done by Manchester Camerata has never been more important, given that there are about 900,000 people with the condition in the UK, a number that is predicted to nearly double by 2040. …

“People with dementia often find listening to music can reignite old memories from long ago. Much more overlooked, though, is the impact that making music can have on the present.

“While some with dementia can often feel trapped in the past, some researchers believe the act of creating music – as well as listening to it – can help to reconnect them to the here and now.

“A new BBC documentary — Dementia, Music and Us — follows the work of Manchester Camerata and its principal flautist Amina Hussain.

“Amina, who is also a professional music therapist, leads classes across the north-west of England that have been described as life-changing.

” ‘Taking part in the ‘Music in Mind’ workshops has been an enormous privilege for me as a musician,’ she said. …

“Classes for the community consist of improvisation, singing, and writing their own music and lyrics.

“Keith Taylor, 62, was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia when he was 53. … Like many, he really struggled to come to terms with his new reality.

” ‘The best way I could explain it,’ he said, ‘is if you’re in a pine-wooded area and all of the trees are in grids and blocks and you’re walking through that and it’s dark and you can see the mist coming up behind you and you can feel it catching you.’ …

“Keith’s partner of 14 years, Joan, said they had found the sessions to be genuinely life-changing. ‘I think the thing that saved us was the first ever music group we went to because from that group it opened other groups up for us,’ she said. ‘It’s been fantastic.’

“Keith added: ‘I live life every week. Not every day — every week because I’ve got music sessions.’ He said the workshops ‘make him smile, enjoy life and it just brings the best out of you.’

“Researcher Dr Robyn Dowlen is seeking to better understand the ‘in the moment’ benefits of music-making for people with dementia. … She believes the improvisational music workshop experience allows people to ‘create something that is held now in the moment.’

“Keith described how the sessions and being in what Dr Dowlen calls the ‘musical spotlight’ had helped him ‘stand up taller.’

“Dr Dowlen added: ‘Improvisational music-making is particularly important for people with dementia, especially when it comes to building their confidence and their self-esteem.’

“Beth Forster, from Liverpool, started her career in caring as a volunteer two years ago when she found herself furloughed during the pandemic. When a staff position subsequently became available she applied and has never looked back.

“The 28-year-old decided to get involved in the music workshops after news began to spread about the positive impact they could have on those living in care homes. A musician herself, Beth received training from Manchester Camerata’s professional music therapists so she could lead her own workshops.

“Beth said: ‘I feel like I’ve got more strategies to bring residents into the present to help them if they’re distressed… I can’t really believe this is my job. … it is a real privilege.’ “

More at the BBC, here.

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Photos: Suzanne’s Mom.
Childhood walks in the natural world are associated with better navigation skills in age.

According to a recent New York Times article by Benjamin Mueller, whether or not a patient navigated irregular spaces in the great outdoors as a child may help with diagnosing later dementia. If an old person keeps getting lost, it may not mean Alzheimer’s. It may only mean she grew up in a gridlike city.

Mueller writes, “As a child in Chicago, Stephanie de Silva found that the city helped her get where she was going. Streets included directional names like ‘West’ or ‘North,’ and they often met at neat right angles. If all else failed, Lake Michigan could situate her.

“But when Ms. de Silva, 23, moved to London, where she now studies cognitive science, she suddenly could not navigate to a restaurant two blocks from home without a smartphone map. The streets were often crooked. Sometimes they seemed to lead nowhere. …

“Scientists in Ms. de Silva’s lab at University College London, along with colleagues in Britain and France, have now arrived at an explanation: People who grow up in predictable, gridlike cities like Chicago or New York seem to struggle to navigate as easily as those who come from more rural areas or more intricate cities.

“Those findings, published in Nature [in March], suggest that people’s childhood surroundings influence not only their health and well-being but also their ability to get around later in life. Much like language, navigation is a skill that appears to be most malleable when people’s brains are developing, the researchers concluded.

The authors hope the findings eventually lead to navigation-based tests to help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease.

“Getting lost can sometimes occur earlier in the course of the illness than memory problems, they said. Researchers have developed virtual navigation tests for cognitive decline, but they can interpret the results only if they know what other factors influence people’s way-finding abilities.

“Among the forces shaping people’s navigation skills, the study suggested, was what kind of places they experienced as a child.

“ ‘The environment matters,’ said Hugo Spiers, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London and one of the study’s lead authors. ‘The environment we’re exposed to has a knock-on effect, into the 70s, on cognition.’ …

“In 2015, Michael Hornberger, who studies dementia at University of East Anglia in England, heard about a company that wanted to invest in dementia-related research.

“Having just attended a workshop about gaming in science, he proposed a video game that could help him figure out how people of different ages, genders and locations performed on navigation tasks. Such a game, he thought, could create benchmarks against which to assess patients who might be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

“To his surprise, the company — Deutsche Telekom, a major stakeholder in T-Mobile — funded his idea. Known as ‘Sea Hero Quest,’ the smartphone game involved steering a boat to find sea creatures. …

“The scientists had hoped that the game would draw 100,000 people in Western Europe. The participants would be testing their navigation skills while also providing basic demographic details, like whether they had grown up in or outside of cities.

“Instead, over 4.3 million people joined in, generating a global database of clues about people’s ability to get around. ‘We underestimated the gaming world,’ Dr. Hornberger said. ‘It went beyond our wildest dreams.’

“For all its simplicity, the game has been shown to predict people’s ability to get around real places, including London and Paris. In recent years, the research team has used the resulting data to show that age gradually erodes people’s navigation skills. ….

“The latest study addressed what its authors described as a more vexing question: Do cities, however grid-like, have the effect of honing people’s navigational skills by offering them a plethora of options for moving around? Or do people from more rural areas, where distances between places are long and paths are winding, develop superior navigation abilities?

“To find out, the researchers studied game data from roughly 400,000 players from 38 countries. The effect was clear: People who reported growing up outside cities showed better navigation skills than those from within cities, even when the scientists adjusted for age, gender and education levels. …

“Players of varying nationalities performed differently. Urbanites from some places, like Spain, came very close to matching the navigation skills of their rural counterparts. In other nations, like the United States, people raised in cities were at a huge disadvantage.

“One explanation, the researchers suggested, was that in countries whose biggest cities were complex patchworks, like Spain, chaotic street layouts had sharpened navigation skills.”

More at the Times, here.

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Photo: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.
Listening to music can soothe people of any age. The woman above was 108 when the photo was taken.

We have been keeping an eye on the use of music to connect dementia patients to calming memories. (For example, in this post.)

Today we have Robert Booth reporting at the Guardian that when hospital staff in the UK worked with Alzheimer’s patients on a targeted playlist for each person, the results included lowered heart rate and less agitation.

“Trials are under way at an NHS trust to see if an algorithm can curate music playlists to reduce suffering in Alzheimer’s patients as well as in stressed medical staff.

“A test among people with dementia found an algorithm that ‘prescribes’ songs based on listeners’ personal backgrounds and tastes resulted in reductions in heart rate of up to 22%, lowering agitation and distress in some cases.

“[Now] Lancashire teaching hospitals NHS trust is extending trials to medical staff who worked in critical care during Covid to see if it can ease anxiety and stress. It is also planning to test it on recovering critical care patients, needle-phobic children and outpatients coping with chronic pain in the hope of reducing opiate prescriptions.

“The technology operates as a musical ‘drip.’ playing songs to patients and monitoring their heart rates as they listen. … An algorithm allows the software, which is linked to a streaming service like Spotify, to change forthcoming tracks if the prescription doesn’t appear to be working. Its artificial intelligence system assesses the ‘DNA’ of songs, examining 36 different qualities including tempo, timbre, key, time signatures, the amount of syncopation and the lowest notes. Gary Jones, the chief executive of MediMusic, the company developing the software, said these were among the factors that can shape the heart rate and blood pressure response to a track.

“A trial of 25 people with Alzheimer’s aged from their 60s to their 90s conducted at the Lancashire NHS trust has shown some promising results, the trust said. …

Said Dr Jacqueline Twamley, academic research and innovation manager, ‘Some people it doesn’t affect the heart rate at all, but you can see the effect in their facial expressions and in them tapping along. One patient burst out crying. He said the song brought back happy memories and they were happy tears.’ …

“When Twamley tried it, she was surprised to see the algorithm prescribed her songs by Gloria Estefan, the Pretenders, Lionel Richie and Billy Ocean. She is a fan of more raucous bands, including Led Zeppelin, Queens of the Stone Age and the niche progressive rock outfit Porcupine Tree. But it still had an effect.

” ‘I was quite stressed at the beginning of it, but I just felt calm afterwards,’ she said.

“The system aims to select songs that create a gradation in heart rate, starting with something bracing like Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture and moving towards a lullaby.”

At the Guardian, here, you can check out the playlists recommended for patients of different ages.

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Photo: TracyRittmueller.com

Poet Tracy Rittmueller is a friend I connected with through blogging. We almost met in person when she was living in Rhode Island, but she moved home to Minnesota after her husband developed a mild cognitive impairment that is associated with non-Alzheimer dementia.

I’m telling you that so you will understand the origins of her resonant poem about a broken cup. It seems to start with her husband’s impairment and spread outward into other lives and ways of understanding. Here it is in part.

What Is There About Us Always
by Tracy Rittmueller

“You gave me a teacup, terra-cotta inside, outside
sun-washed like some villas in Italy.
“It pleased me, as it pleases me when
every morning you wake early
“to prepare my tea, even now when you cannot remember
the day, washing dishes I knocked my teacup
“against the faucet. My teacup. I gathered
ochre shards, trashed them on the day’s spent tea
“leaves, said nothing. Finding those fragments
you spoke one word. Oh. Rinsed them,
“dried them, glued them together. …

“Sometimes I worry your tenuous
“memory will fracture our companionship.
But I know who you are, always the one
“who salvaged those wrecked remnants—
my heart—to restore that broken vessel—me.”

Read the whole poem here.

About her life these days, Tracy writes, “I am greatly supported by a monastery of Benedictine women, who have basically adopted us. They have over 200 Sisters, whose average age is 83. They have so much experience with this, and model for me how to care for [him] with compassion and respect, while making sure I’m not sacrificing my health or my life to do it. Plus, they all understand what’s happening with him, and very skillfully befriend him so that I’m not his sole sense of safety and love in this world. We’re content and live together with a great amount of love and serenity, and I’m very, very grateful. …

“I’m clearing every unnecessary thing out of my life, a process that I’m still going through, moving toward an ever more simple and quiet life, because that’s what suits my personality, temperament, and my physical/mental/spiritual health needs. I suppose from the outside it might look like I’ve gone hermit, but I am richly supported by the Sisters and associates circling around the monastery, where I find more intelligent, kind, wise, eccentric-interesting, and helpful people than I can keep up with, and by my community of weirdly wonderful poet-friends. And, as this pandemic is teaching us, there are myriad ways to connect without leaving one’s house.”

Read one of Tracy’s recent articles on poetry. You might also like to check out a blog post she wrote at GoodReads.

Photo: Spinningpots.com

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Photo: Richard Saker for the Guardian
“Oh, this is fun. I feel as if I’m at the party.” Seniors fighting off dementia benefit from Wayback Virtual Reality.

I often think I overdid it in early 2000 repeating myself over and over to encourage an impaired relative to remember her childhood, but an article by Giulia Rhodes in the Guardian suggests that stirring up old memories can indeed be helpful to seniors with dementia.

“In a comfortable armchair, glass of sherry at her side,” writes Rhodes, “Elspeth Ford is getting to grips with her 3D goggles. …

“Elspeth, 79, is a resident at Langham Court, a dementia care home in Surrey, and today she is trialling a virtual reality project, Wayback, that has been designed especially for those living with dementia. Peering into her headset, Elspeth is temporarily transported to 2 June 1953, and a street party for the Queen’s coronation. She is enjoying a children’s fancy-dress competition. ‘I love that boy dressed as an Oxo cube,’ she laughs.

“This is the first in what will become a series of virtual reality films set at historic moments, and available free for those with dementia, their families and carers to enjoy together through a mobile phone and a pair of inexpensive 3D goggles. The idea was developed by three advertising creatives with family experience of dementia.

“For Camilla Ford, Elspeth’s daughter, it is an exciting concept. ‘It gave Mum a huge amount of pleasure and really engaged her,’ she says. … ‘She was immersed in this and it took her back to a time of happy memories, when she was productive and emotionally fulfilled.’

“Elspeth has had vascular dementia for seven years, and finding a point of contact increasingly involves moving to where she is, rather than trying to bring her into the present, says Camilla. ‘If she is in a place she can identify with, and we can see it too, we are somehow equalised. We are at a stage where we aren’t trying to create memories but to relish positive emotions, dropping the expectation of who Mum was and just being with the person in front of us.’

“Elspeth sets off for lunch with her son Dominic, still smiling. It is unlikely, says Camilla, that her mother will remember what has made her feel happy. ‘The point is that she feels uplifted, not necessarily that she knows why.’

“Dan Cole, one of Wayback’s creators, agrees. ‘If the film can open some memories, start a conversation or bring a smile, that’s a success,’ he says. The idea began to form after a drive around Camden, north London, with his father, then in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. ‘It was his old stomping ground and he kept recognising places and telling me little tales; the pub his dad drank in, where he hung about with his mates, even an alley where he once got into a scrap,’ says Dan. ‘In that fleeting moment it was so clear in his mind. I could ask questions. He could tell me things.’ …

“The resulting film was made over two days in a north-London street (satellite dishes and other modern trappings digitally removed) with a volunteer cast and crew of 187 and painstakingly sourced period props, costumes and menu (fish-paste sandwiches, notes one Langham Court resident approvingly). …

“Langham Court’s philosophy is based on the Butterfly Household model, devised by Dr David Sheard, a dementia specialist and CEO of Dementia Care Matters, who is supporting Wayback. ‘People living with dementia become more feeling beings than thinking beings,’ he says. ‘Feelings endure and are more to be trusted when facts diminish.’ ”


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Photo: Alamy
Exercise and social activities could help to reduce the risk of developing dementia in later life, according to a new report.

Although there is no cure yet for dementia, lifestyle changes have the potential to reduce new cases by as much as one-third.

Nicola Davis writes at the Guardian about a recent report from the Lancet Commission on dementia prevention, intervention and care. The study suggests that many “dementia cases might be avoided by tackling aspects of lifestyle including education, exercise, blood pressure and hearing. …

“ ‘There are a lot of things that individuals can do, and there are a lot of things that public health and policy can do, to reduce the numbers of people developing dementia,’ said Gill Livingston, professor of psychiatry of older people at University College London and a co-author of the report. …

“ ‘We expect it to be a long-term change that will be needed for exercise; joining a gym for two weeks is probably not going to do it,’ she said.

“Clive Ballard, professor of age-related diseases at the University of Exeter medical school and also a co-author of the report, added that the evidence suggests individuals should also try to follow a Mediterranean diet, maintain a healthy weight and keep an eye on their blood pressure. …

“The results reveal that as many as 35% of dementia cases could, at least in theory, be prevented, with 9% linked to midlife hearing loss, 8% to leaving education before secondary school, 5% to smoking in later life and 4% to later life depression. Social isolation, later life diabetes, midlife high blood pressure, midlife obesity and lack of exercise in later life also contributed to potentially avoidable cases of dementia, the report notes. …

“They admit that the estimate that more than a third of dementia cases could be prevented is a best case scenario, with the figures based on a number of assumptions, including that each factor could be completely tackled. …

“Fiona Matthews, professor of epidemiology at Newcastle University who was not involved in the report, said that interventions for depression and social isolation could still prove valuable. ‘If we could actually resolve some of that issue, even if it is not 100% causal, it is likely we might be able to slow [dementia] progression – even if [an individual] is on a pathway to developing dementia already,’ she said.

“She added that the proposed areas for action could offer myriad health benefits beyond lowering dementia risk. …

“The authors pointed out that an intervention that delayed dementia onset and progression by even a year could decrease the number of people with dementia worldwide in 2050 by nine million.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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According to Josh Planos at the Atlantic, the forward-looking Dutch are at it again. Not only are they on the cutting edge in matters such as energy use and floating forests, they have anticipated the increase in Alzheimer’s diagnoses, creating a village where patients can feel normal.

“The isolated village of Hogewey lies on the outskirts of Amsterdam in the small town of Wheesp. Dubbed ‘Dementia Village’ by CNN, Hogewey is a cutting-edge elderly-care facility — roughly the size of 10 football fields — where residents are given the chance to live seemingly normal lives.

“With only 152 inhabitants, it’s run like a more benevolent version of The Truman Show, if The Truman Show were about dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Like most small villages, it has its own town square, theater, garden, and post office. Unlike typical villages, however, this one has cameras monitoring residents every hour of every day, caretakers posing in street clothes, and only one door in and out of town, all part of a security system designed to keep the community safe. Friends and family are encouraged to visit. Some come every day.

“Last year, CNN reported that residents at Hogewey require fewer medications, eat better, live longer, and appear more joyful than those in standard elderly-care facilities. …

“Residents are only admitted if they’re categorized as having ‘severe cases of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.’ Vacancies are rare, given that a spot only opens when a current resident passes away, and the village has operated virtually at full capacity since it opened in 2009.

“Hogewey was primarily funded by the Dutch government and cost slightly more than $25 million to build. The cost of care is nearly $8,000 per month, but the Dutch government subsidizes the residents—all of whom receive private rooms—to varying degrees; the amount each family pays is based on income, but never exceeds $3,600.”

More at the Atlantic.

Where did I just hear about someone with Alzheimer’s? Oh, right. A detective series on TV. So moving. Boy, I hope that detective’s daughter knows about this village.

Photo: Gabriel Rocha/Flickr

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In case you missed it, there’s a new movie about using elderly people’s favorite music to call them back from dementia or Alzheimer’s.

The website for Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory says the movie is an “exploration of music’s capacity to reawaken our souls and uncover the deepest parts of our humanity. Filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett chronicles the astonishing experiences of individuals around the country who have been revitalized through the simple experience of listening to music.”

The documentary follows “social worker Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory, as he fights against a broken healthcare system to demonstrate music’s ability to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it. Rossato-Bennett visits family members who have witnessed the miraculous effects of personalized music on their loved ones, and offers illuminating interviews with experts including renowned neurologist and best-selling author Oliver Sacks (Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain) and musician Bobby McFerrin (‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’).”

At the Washington Post, Michael Sullivan writes, “The benefits of music to enliven and awaken the senses are not limited to those with dementia. ‘Alive Inside’ also focuses on a woman who suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and on a man with multiple sclerosis. The scenes in which they and others are shown listening to music that has personal meaning are absolutely joyous, but they also might move you to tears.

“As the movie makes clear, none of these conditions are reversible. Music isn’t a cure for anything. But it does seem to be a key to unlocking long-closed doors and establishing connections with people who have become, through age or infirmity, imprisoned inside themselves.” More.

Hmmm. It seems that in addition to making wills, we should all be writing lists of the music that we have enjoyed in our lives so that people know what to play. Should I go with “Swan Lake” and “The New World Symphony” or “For the Beauty of the Earth” and “Mary’s Boychild”? Or how about the Platters and Elvis and Nina Simone and Edif Piaf or musicals like Nine and Chess. Anything in a minor key.

I haven’t even scratched the surface.

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