GAINESVILLE, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Memory loss, trouble with speech, and mood changes are some of the warning signs of dementia. While most symptoms aren’t noticeable until a person reaches his or her sixties or seventies, scientists say changes in the brain begin decades earlier. Now a specialized prevention program, started at the first signs of cognitive decline, may maximize a person’s quality of life.
When he was 20 years old Fred, Guggenheimer fell head over heels for Julie. The couple took their wedding vows four months after they met. That was 59 years ago.
Fred told Ivanhoe, “It says in sickness and in health. So, I’m going to do all I can to uphold what I promised the lord I was going to do.”
Now Fred is a caregiver for his wife who has been diagnosed with dementia.
Fred detailed, “I’ve seen her sit there and just put her hands, cause you know she’s confused. And then she just cries.”
Glenn Smith, PhD, is a Clinical Neuropsychologist in the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, and was part of a Mayo Clinic research team that developed habit-healthy actions to benefit independence and thinking.
“Instead of trying to find the one thing we should be doing to help them, we should be trying everything we can think of,” said Smith.
Professor Smith continues to work with seniors and their families at the University of Florida.
HABIT focuses on five strategies that can improve cognitive functioning in patients with mild impairment, starting with 60 minutes of exercise, five days a week.
“The data’s pretty solid that physical activity and exercise helps one maintain brain health,” Smith told Ivanhoe.
Researchers advocate keeping a calendar and taking notes. Some commercialized computer games are part of the program. Wellness tracking, monitoring meals, sleep and stress is one component. Also, staying socially connected.
Fred Guggenheimer believes the support is critical, especially as his wife’s dementia progresses.
Fred said, “We can’t back it up any. The best we can hope for is this will slow it down.”
In addition to HABIT, researchers in Florida are currently testing three of the five cognition strategies in what’s called the PEACEOFMND study (Physicial Exercise and Cognitive Engagement Outcomes for Mild Neurocognitive Disorder). The HABIT program has sites in Arizona, Minnesota and Florida.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.
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HABIT: DELAYING DEMENTIA?
BACKGROUND: There are approximately 24 million people worldwide living with some form of dementia. This number could jump to as many as 84 million who have age-related memory loss by the year 2040. Although there are a number of forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s is the most common of the age-related memory loss diseases. Currently, more than five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, and it is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. About 13 percent of Americans over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s and half of those over age 85 will develop Alzheimer’s, or a closely related dementia. Genetics and aging are two risk factors for dementia, and neither of these factors can be controlled. There are currently several disease-modifying therapies in development that may offer temporary slowing of disease progression or even restore cognitive function. However, it may take years before these therapies are available to the general public.
DEMENTIA CARE: Most types of dementia cannot be cured and will gradually cause more severe problems.
However, there are important exceptions, including dementia caused by vitamin deficiency and thyroid hormone deficiencies, which can be treated with supplements. Some causes can be treated surgically, such as brain tumors, excess fluid on the brain, or head injury. For types of dementia that involve degeneration of nerve and brain tissue, it is possible to prevent further damage by reducing dementia risk factors like managing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 1 diabetes and stopping smoking. For dementia that currently cannot be cured, some types of medicine may prevent symptoms getting worse for a period of time. These medicines are usually given to people in the early and middle stages of the disease, to try to maintain or improve their independence. Depending on the particular type of dementia, the severity of the condition, or any other issues observed by the doctor, you may be prescribed medications. However, not everyone will benefit from these drugs.
NEW RESEARCH IN DEMENTIA: New research shows a common anti-depressant, trazodone, stops brain cells from dying. The drug has already been used to treat people suffering late-stage dementia, but could be prescribed to patients at an early stage of the neurological disorder. Dr. Doug Brown, of Alzheimer’s Society, says, “We’re excited by the potential of these findings. As one of the drugs is already available as a treatment for depression, the time taken to get from the lab to the pharmacy could be dramatically reduced.” Studies show the anti-depressant works by blocking a natural defense mechanism in cells which is overactive in the brains of people with frontotemporal dementia. Experts hope it will be the first disease modifying therapy to tackle the causes of diseases like Alzheimer’s rather than simply masking the symptoms. Professor Giovanna Mallucci, of the Medical Research Council at the University of Cambridge, says, “We know that trazodone is safe to use in humans, so a clinical trial is now possible to test whether the protective effects of the drug we see on brain cells in mice with neurodegeneration, also applies to people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.” Results could be unveiled in as little as two to three years, which would be a very exciting first step in treating these disorders.
* For More Information, Contact:
Glenn Smith, PhD Bill Levesque, PR
Dept. of Clinical and Health Psychology University of Florida
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