Thursday, October 31, 2019

Risk and Dementia – Genetics


For some types of diseases that cause Dementia to occur, there is a genetic association for having the disease by the time an individual is 60-years of age or older. It’s a subtle distinction, but people who have the altered gene inherit the risk and not the disease itself. In fact, Dementia is not a disease, rather, it is the expression of the cognitive challenges that come about because of the changes in brain tissue, caused by a particular disease.

This post mainly focuses on Alzheimer-caused Dementia but there are many other causes, e.g., Lewy body, Vascular, Frontotemporal, et al.

On the bright side, knowing that you have an inherited risk factor gives you the opportunity to do those things known to reduce risk - maintain a healthy weight, refrain from smoking, engage in socially and intellectually satisfying activities, exercise, and eat a heart-healthy diet.

For the most part, the at-risk genes change how the body processes cholesterol and other blood lipids. Therefore, it’s not surprising to find that having high cholesterol blood-levels is another risk factor associated with having Dementia later-in-life.

Early-onset familial Alzheimer disease (eFAD) is inherited Dementia that affects people as young as 30 years of age. (1) Unlike traits that are observable shortly after birth, such as eye color, symptoms of eFAD do not appear until the individual is 30-years of age or somewhat older. By that time, it is likely he or she has one or more children and may have unknowingly passed the early-onset gene to them.

Fortunately, there are DNA tests that can identify the presence of the increased-risk genes as well as those that cause eFAD. 

Making the decision to undergo testing is difficult. Will knowing make you feel anxious, relieved, or empowered? Will other family members also want testing? How might this information affect family planning for you or your adult children? Will having a positive test for a specific cause of Dementia risk factors or early-onset disease influence your employer, your career, or make it more difficult to receive health insurance? (2)

Often, people find talking with a genetic counselor can make the decision to test--or not--easier. The genetic counselor, by explaining the technical and emotional issues associated with genetic testing, can help you make a personally comfortable decision. Afterward, the genetic counselor can explain the test results to you and guide discussion about any further steps you may want to take. (2)

You can find more information about genetics and genetic counseling on the following webpages: National Association of Genetic Counselors (https://www.nsgc.org/page/find-a-genetic-counselor)and the American Board of Genetic Counselors (https://www.abgc.net/about-genetic-counseling/find-a-certified-counselor.aspx/). Both of these sites may help you find a genetic counselor located near your home.

Notes:
1. What is Early Onset Familial Alzheimer Disease? http://www.alzforum.org/early-onset-familial-ad/overview/what-early-onset-familial-alzheimer-disease-efad (accessed April 26, 2016)
2. Genetic Testing and Counseling for Early Onset Familial Alzheimer Disease, http://www.alzforum.org/early-onset-familial-ad/diagnosisgenetics/genetic-testing-and-counseling-early-onset-familial (accessed, April 26, 2016)

Want to Know Even More?
Alzheimer Disease Genetics Fact Sheet, https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/alzheimers-disease-genetics-fact-sheet#genetics
(accessed, April 26, 2016)


Contributor: Janet Yagoda Shagam, PhD, is a freelance medical and science writer and the author of “An Unintended Journey: A Caregiver's Guide to Dementia.” Available through Amazon.


The opinions expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily the opinions of the Dementia Society, Inc. We do not endorse nor guarantee products, comments, suggestions, links, or other forms of the content contained within blog posts that have been provided to us with permission, or otherwise. Dementia Society does not provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor. www.DementiaSociety.org

Monday, September 30, 2019

Exercise in Nature to Build a Better Brain

Research has found that there are benefits imparted by exercising in the natural world or a setting that is rich with the things we find in nature; like plants, fresh air, and wildlife.

While gyms serve a great purpose, and some people love them, I prefer to exercise in nature. The natural world provides a deeper and more dynamic level of stimulation for your brain that you simply cannot find at any gym.

One study conducted by Richard Louv, coined the phrase 'Nature Deficit Disorder'.

At first glance, this might sound a bit contrived. However, Louv asserts that human beings are hardwired by evolution to have a connection to nature. Unfortunately, the modern world and the trend for people living in large urban and suburban places reduces the opportunities for people to spend time in nature.

This sentiment that exposure to the natural world has an impact on us has been echoed by many people throughout the generations. The father of the National Parks system and one of the first naturalists, John Muir, said: “Civilized man chokes his soul.”

Although Muir himself lived a significant amount of his life in Martinez, California just outside of Oakland, the goal in his eyes was not that man needed only urban or natural settings, but that both were of equal value and that people who only embraced urban life were indeed cutting themselves apart from the very therapeutic aspects of a direct relationship with the natural world.

'Green Exercise' involves hiking in nature, or getting involved in other activities in the natural world. For people who live and work deep inside urban areas, this could also extend to things like taking a walk in the park, or along a natural stretch of river, or even getting involved in something like a community garden.

When you’re in nature, there is a lot of multimodal stimulation. You’re smelling the trees, flowers and the other scents in the air. You start to notice things like changes in humidity and the presence of birds and other creatures around you.

When you’re in the gym you’re going to have certain smells but you can usually predict what those smells are. It’s old gym equipment and rubber mats on the floor.

When you’re exercising in nature there is a greater sense of self-awareness, improved mood, increased sense of self-esteem, and even an increase in creativity. People exercising in nature tend to have creative thoughts come to them and find it easier to express those ideas with greater clarity.

The bottom line is that exercising in nature does, in fact, elevate the level of your brain and body functions. It’s a win-win for you and nature, and an important way to help build a better brain. I recommend that everybody get out there and do it!

Contributor: Dr. Michael Trayford is a Board-Certified Chiropractic Neurologist and Founder of APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC. For more information, please visit www.ApexBrainCenters.com/memory.

The opinions expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily the opinions of the Dementia Society, Inc. We do not endorse nor guarantee products, comments, suggestions, links, or other forms of the content contained within blog posts that have been provided to us with permission, or otherwise. Dementia Society does not provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor. www.DementiaSociety.org

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Dementia Risk Factors: Alcohol

The health benefits that various foods and diets to improve overall health or lower risk for disease is a newsworthy topic. Some reporters state that eating fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains helps us to maintain a healthy weight as well as may lower risk for colon cancer. Others assert the Mediterranean diet, one which encourages replacing red meat for fish and chicken, saturated fats with olive oil, and refined carbohydrates with whole grains, reduces the risk for heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes.

Many research studies are touting the benefits of red wine on lowering cholesterol blood levels and thereby reducing the risk of heart disease, strokes, cataracts, and colon cancer. Though a controversial area of research, some studies indicate drinking moderate amounts of red wine may slow declines in brain function. 

With respect to consuming wine and other alcoholic beverages - moderation is the keyword. However, most people are unsure of how much is a moderate amount. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a low to moderate alcohol consumption is no more than one drink a day for women and older adults, and two for men. One drink is usually one 1/2 ounce or 15 grams of alcohol, which equals approximately 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor. (Note 1)  

These dietary guidelines refer to the amount consumed on any single day and not as an average over several days. In other words - do not save your daily allocation for a weekend binge.

Alcohol-related brain damage, (ARBD) conditions that include Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome  (WKS) and alcoholic Dementia is the result of drinking too much alcohol over several years. (Note 2) Though both types of ARBD exhibit Dementia-like symptoms, neither condition is true-Dementia. (Note 2) The difference between ARBD and a Dementia such as Alzheimer disease is in the ability to treat or stop the progression of symptoms.

Consuming more than the recommended amounts of alcohol does increase the likelihood of developing Alzheimer disease and vascular Dementia later in life. However, researchers have yet to establish the scientifically measurable relationship between alcohol consumption and risk for Dementia. The reasons are many and include research entirely dependent on reported observations and evaluating the variables that, in combination with alcohol consumption, affect the long-term risk for Dementia. 

However, one can state with certainty, the more you drink, the greater the likelihood of developing Dementia later in life. High alcohol consumption also increases the risk for stroke, heart and liver disease, and depression – all of which are well-known Dementia risk factors. 


Contributor: Janet Yagoda Shagam, Ph.D., is a freelance medical and science writer and the author of “An Unintended Journey: A Caregiver's Guide to Dementia.” Available through Amazon.


The opinions expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily the opinions of the Dementia Society, Inc. We do not endorse nor guarantee products, comments, suggestions, links, or other forms of the content contained within blog posts that have been provided to us with permission, or otherwise. Dementia Society does not provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor. www.DementiaSociety.org

Notes: 
1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition, Washington, DC; 2015, http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/
(accessed June 15, 2015).
2. What is Alcohol-related Brain Damage?, https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=98 (accessed June 16, 2016).

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Brain Healthy Diaphragmatic Breathing

Relaxing diaphragmatic breathing focuses on breathing by engaging the diaphragm. Your diaphragm is basically a series of big round, long broad muscles that sit under your lungs. They’re positioned about halfway between your neck and your pelvis.

When they go down (breathing in) they fill your lungs up with air that feeds oxygen into your bloodstream. The diaphragm muscles then go up (breathing out) and it forces that air out. 
Sometimes people have a tendency to suck in their gut, sit improperly in their chair, or have poor posture, which causes them to breathe more from the chest. Chest breathing should be secondary to stomach breathing.

If you look at the way a baby breathes, they breathe through the stomach. Then they breathe in with the help of the chest and the neck muscles. Those secondary muscles of the chest and the neck should come into play after the diaphragm activity.

There’s a simple exercise to show how much you’re incorporating your diaphragm in your breathing. Start by lying on your back, then put your hands on your stomach and take a nice deep breath. You’ll feel your stomach move up towards the ceiling. Your hands will rise and fall.

The goal is to draw about 75% of your breath from the stomach by expanding the lower lobes of the lungs fully. Then the end of the breath "in" should be through the chest. It’s like filling up a sponge with water and then squeezing it out. We’re filling up the lungs with oxygen and squeezing all of it out into our bloodstream.

When you’re breathing in and out really quickly or breathing more through the chest, you’re not getting as much oxygen into your lungs. You end up utilizing about half your lung capacity, and you’re only getting out about half of the carbon dioxide that needs to be expelled. 

There was a great book written in the 1970s by Dr. Benson, called the Relaxation Response. The book is still widely read today. It talks about diaphragmatic breathing, and what he calls Paced Breathing; where we have to breathe through the stomach in order to get the best oxygen exchange. It’s a great book to look at and still relevant today.

Contributor: Dr. Michael Trayford is a Board-Certified Chiropractic Neurologist and Founder of APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC. For more information: ApexBrainCenters.com/memory.

The opinions expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily the opinions of the Dementia Society, Inc. We do not endorse or guarantee products, comments, suggestions, links, or other forms of the content contained within blog posts that have been provided to us with permission, or otherwise. Dementia Society does not provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor. www.DementiaSociety.org


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Risk for Dementia: Head Trauma

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) describes situations in which an external force, such as a fall or a blow to blow to the head causes extreme pain that is often accompanied by a short or a long period of unconsciousness. People who experience multiple traumatic brain injuries are at high risk of developing dementia later in life. (Note 1)

However, the key phrase “increase risk for” means that TBIs do not cause dementia but do increase the likelihood of having dementia sometime in the future.

In a recent and extensive review of the research literature, Sharan Shively, MD, Ph.D., and colleagues report that a history of moderate and severe TBIs increases the risk of having late-life dementia 2 - to - 4 times that of people who have never experienced a traumatic brain injury. (Note 2) To come to this conclusion, Shively and colleagues reference earlier studies that compare the presence or absence of later-in-life dementia in people who suffered concussions of sufficient severity to cause loss of consciousness to individuals who report never having experienced that degree of head trauma. (Note 2) People who experience multiple traumatic brain injuries are at high risk of developing dementia later in life. (Note 1)

The syndrome, associated with having multiple traumatic brain injuries was originally described in 1928. Called dementia pugilistica or “punch drunk” was first observed in boxers who suffered repeated knock-outs. (Note 3) It took many more years of casual observation before medical researchers linked a history of repeated sports and military-related head injuries, to the onset of dementia symptoms later in life. The condition, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, (CTE) now receives considerable coverage in the public media.

Signs and symptoms of CTE usually begin eight to 10 years after the traumatic brain injuries and include difficulty in thinking, impulsive behavior, memory loss, substance abuse, as well as suicidal thoughts or behavior. (Note 4) Over time, the changes caused by CTE worsen as well as progress to aggressive behaviors, tremor, and speech and language difficulties. (Note 4) More than one-third of people with CTE eventually show signs of other degenerative brain diseases such as dementia and Parkinson disease. (Note 3)

Undoubtedly, ongoing and future research will improve our understanding of traumatic brain injuries and their relationship to later-in-life dementia. In the meantime, you can reduce the likelihood of receiving a head injury by trip-proofing your home, being observant of hazards such as low tree branches and open kitchen cabinet doors, as well as by wearing a helmet to prevent sports-related injuries.

Even if you have experienced multiple head injuries, you may be able to reduce your overall risk of developing dementia by implementing lifestyle changes that include such things as maintaining a healthy weight, eating a heart-healthy diet, as well as participation in an assortment of physical, social and mental activities.

Notes:
1. Alzheimer’s: Can a head injury increase my risk?”, http://www.mayoclinic.org/alzheimers-disease/expert-answers/faq-20057837 (accessed March 21, 2016)
2. Shively et al, “Dementia Resulting from Traumatic Brain Injury” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/229011632_Dementia_Resulting_From_Traumatic_Brain_Injury_What_Is_the_Pathology (accessed March 22, 2016)
3. What Is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy?, http://www.brainline.org/content/2010/12/what-is-chronic-traumatic-encephalopathy.html (accessed April 7, 2016)
4. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-traumatic-encephalopathy/basics/definition/con-20113581 (accessed April 6, 2016)

Contributor: Janet Yagoda Shagam, Ph.D., is a freelance medical and science writer and the author of “An Unintended Journey: A Caregiver's Guide to Dementia.” Available through Amazon.

The opinions expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily the opinions of the Dementia Society, Inc. We do not endorse or guarantee products, comments, suggestions, links, or other forms of the content contained within blog posts that have been provided to us with permission, or otherwise. Dementia Society does not provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor. www.DementiaSociety.org



Thursday, April 18, 2019

Limit Social Media Time

For some, social media is a significant part of their occupation. For other people, it can be an obsession that can cause problems in their daily life and career. Social media in your personal life can cause a significant amount of stress. There are so many things happening in the realm of social media and it impacts your brain function! You need to find a healthy balance.

Socialization and interaction with other human beings can have significant benefits for the brain. Social media often creates a false sense of interaction. These sites give you a sense that you’re interacting with other people, but there is often little quality or stimulation to the interaction.

Facebook is a parallel universe that cannot, and should not, replace normal healthy social interaction. It pulls people away from normal healthy interactions and relationships; which are critical to the development and maintenance of the aging brain.

In the last decade or two, we’re starting to see evolutionary shifts in the brain that haven’t occurred in the last several hundred thousand years; many related how our brains pay attention to things and how we respond to stress.

While there is a valuable function for these outlets when it comes to businesses, it’s also a tool for keeping in touch of friends and family that might live far away. When it starts to become a lifestyle that takes the place of healthy interaction, it can be a serious problem on multiple levels.

There was a study that was done where people went 30 days without hitting the Like button on Facebook. The study measured several quality-of-life parameters. Each person reported their quality of life improved through the course of the study, simply by not hitting the like button. Imagine what would happen if you took a break from them for extended periods of time on a regular basis! When you set up these habits, your brain simply starts to work better.

It’s important to look at all of these outlets and how much time you spend on them. It’s a good habit to simply allow yourself to check your social media at specific times, limited to about 30 minutes per day.

Contributor: Dr. Michael Trayford is a Board-Certified Chiropractic Neurologist and Founder of APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC. For more information, please visit www.ApexBrainCenters.com/memory.

The opinions expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily the opinions of the Dementia Society, Inc. We do not endorse or guarantee products, comments, suggestions, links, or other forms of the content contained within blog posts that have been provided to us with permission, or otherwise. Dementia Society does not provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor. www.DementiaSociety.org


Monday, March 25, 2019

Risks Associated with Dementia: Weight


Body weight and risk for Dementia are both a confusing and complex topic. One can find reports that state obesity increases the risk for dementia as well as ones that indicate the opposite –that being underweight is the risk factor. And to make things even more confusing, there is evidence that indicates being overweight may protect some people from Dementia.*

It’s needless to say, these unexpected findings are difficult to explain and generate considerable discussion and controversy both in the media and between researchers.

However, what these seemingly conflicting findings show is risk – the factors that influence the likelihood of having Dementia is difficult to assess. A too high body mass index (BMI), uses an equation to calculate a numerical rating of your health based on height and weight, is only one of many known risk factors.

Therefore the big challenge is how to determine the combined effects of having multiple risk factors, such as diabetes, insufficient exercise, and smoking. Does having additional factors make having dementia three times more likely than being overweight alone? Or perhaps the risks compound and put people at 10 times the risk for Dementia?

Is it possible that having a high BMI becomes protective when combined with habits and activities known to reduce risk? As you can see, the number of environmental, behavioral, health-related and genetic influences is huge and the combinations of risk factors are infinite.

Another challenge is separating associative risks from those that cause the outcome. For example, obesity is associated with increased risk for diabetes, but in itself does not cause diabetes. What causes diabetes is the inability of the pancreas to produce sufficient insulin. And, as it turns out, having diabetes is a risk factor associated with having dementia later-in-life.

Therefore, based on what we currently know about BMI and risk for Dementia the best answer is, “it depends.” This means, at this time, the best we can to reduce risk is to make a lifelong commitment to what current clinical research shows are health-promoting habits. 

*The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, http://www.thelancet.com/journals/landia/article/PIIS2213-8587(15)00033-9/abstract), Accessed: September 2016.

Contributor: Janet Yagoda Shagam, Ph.D., is a freelance medical and science writer and the author of “An Unintended Journey: A Caregiver's Guide to Dementia.” Available through Amazon.

The opinions expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily the opinions of the Dementia Society, Inc. We do not endorse or guarantee products, comments, suggestions, links, or other forms of the content contained within blog posts that have been provided to us with permission, or otherwise. Dementia Society does not provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor. www.DementiaSociety.org


Monday, February 25, 2019

A Word of Caution About Sleep Aids and Medication

Sleep is a critical aspect of overall brain health. Today there are countless individuals that have trouble with attaining sleep, maintaining sleep, and sometimes a combination of both. As a result, millions are turning to sleep aids. 

Many sleep issues, in some form or another, are related to anxiety.   

It’s easy to understand. A lot of people lay down, intending to go to bed, and they have the wheels turning in their mind as they’re engaged in thinking about their to-do lists, relationships, finances, or their career.  

Some of the more common, albeit older, sleep aids come from a class of medications called benzodiazepines. These medications were originally designed to treat anxiety and panic disorders. Lorazepam (Ativan®), one of the most common, many are now taking for sleep issues.  

These drugs essentially ramp down the mind a little bit, which then allows you to obtain sleep and remain asleep. There are also the more common sleep aid medications that were designed for sleep problems, like Ambien® or Lunesta®.  

Most are aware of these prescription medications due to clever ad campaigns that are meant to create associations in your memory.   

While there is absolutely a time and place for sleep medications, by and large, they are incredibly over-utilized in most cases as they are designed to be short-term solutions and most often become long-term traps that have consequences on brain function.

One of the most overlooked factors is sleep hygiene. 

Factors like weight, sleeping environment, computer time, eating before bed, stress management and so many others have a profound impact on our sleep.

The bottom line is that we need to change our mindset. When we see that we can, in fact, get to sleep on our own after implementing sound sleep hygiene methods, this is an incredibly powerful first step to be able to move into sleep on your own and to take the dependence off of pills or supplements.  

When it comes to sleep issues related to stress management, there are a wide variety of tools available at your disposal. If anxiety or poor stress management is an issue that is related to obtaining quality sleep, a good first step is to try journaling. The simple act of putting words on paper can help get the stressors out of your mind and onto paper. This can eventually help prepare you to take the next step toward more advanced techniques.

Contributor: Dr. Michael Trayford is a Board-Certified Chiropractic Neurologist and Founder of APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC. For more information, please visit www.ApexBrainCenters.com/memory.

The opinions expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily the opinions of the Dementia Society, Inc. We do not endorse or guarantee products, comments, suggestions, links, or other forms of the content contained within blog posts that have been provided to us with permission, or otherwise. Dementia Society does not provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor. www.DementiaSociety.org


Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Dementia is Person-Centered


This may surprise you, but it summarizes the impact Dementia may have on our families: we believe that more than 9 million Americans live with some form of Dementia today. Moreover, although the scientific community is attempting to shed additional light on the numbers, Alzheimer's-type Dementia alone is currently considered to represent more than half of the cases.* Even more shocking, according to the World Health Organization, when all forms of Dementia are combined, they are globally thought to be the 3rd leading cause of death, behind heart disease and stroke in high-income countries.*

Did you know? Dementia is not a disease. It is the umbrella term we apply to those cognitive diseases, e.g., Alzheimer’s, Vascular Dementia, Lewy Body, Frontotemporal and other conditions that can cause Dementia, which is the progressive loss of two or more basic brain functions and the accompanying activities of daily living. Yet, how you outwardly express Dementia is unique to you. People living with Dementia are still whole human beings and can experience joy, sadness, creative expression and much more.

Some would say that the number of deaths attributable to Dementia is significantly underreported due to the stigma associated with the various diseases, lack of education, or other coexisting health issues that can often occur at the end of your life. No matter what the numbers are, Dementia is costly in every way possible, both financially and emotionally.

Rich or poor, or somewhere in-between, you can die prematurely just because of Dementia. Alzheimer's disease, along with many other causes of progressive Dementia, cross cultural and socioeconomic divides. Today there are no cures or effective long-term treatments for almost all forms of Dementia.

However, you can get great satisfaction, and increased inner strength and sense of well-being in caring for someone living with Dementia, but it is still not easy. Even professional caregivers who are paid to give a helping hand, and assist those living with Dementia, experience occasional burnout. Person-centered care, and going further if possible to person-directed care, requires that we always treat individuals uniquely, with respect, and with dignity to the end of their lives. These are just a few of the keys to an optimal quality of life and the best possible tomorrows.

*Sources: see www.dementiasociety.org/home

The opinions expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily the opinions of the Dementia Society, Inc. We do not endorse or guarantee products, comments, suggestions, links, or other forms of the content contained within blog posts that have been provided to us with permission, or otherwise. Dementia Society does not provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor. www.DementiaSociety.org