NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Recent research suggests that stress, lack of sleep, or chronic pain may increase our risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease as we age. Now a new study is tapping the growing popularity of cellphones among seniors to measure cognitive decline and help them take steps to prevent it.
Inez Vanable makes it a point to always try new things, at 90, she wants to stay sharp.
Vanabe told Ivanhoe, “My very dear friend who is about ten years younger than I am developed early onset Alzheimer’s. We were such good friends, and then she didn’t know me anymore.”
Researchers sent Vanable and 500 seniors home with smartphones to advance brain science.
“They take very brief tests of mental function multiple times a day,” detailed Richard Lipton, MD a neurologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
Five times a day the phone sends them a notification to ask them how they feel right at that moment.
Vanable said, “It also brought to my attention the fact that I need to get more sleep. I thought six was enough. They said eight hours better.”
The survey also quizzes participants about their level of stress and chronic pain, which are factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers will take an average of the results to get a more accurate measure of very subtle signs of disease.
“If we identify people at high risk for developing dementia in the future, that creates a window of opportunity to intervene,” explained Dr. Lipton.
Researchers say by engaging in activities that reduce pain and lower stress seniors may be able to delay cognitive decline.
Dr. Lipton said because drugs to treat Alzheimer’s have fallen flat for the most part, prevention measures and information for those at risk is especially important.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Kirk Manson, Videographer.
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SENIORS AND SMARTPHONES:
LOSS AND MORE
DEMENTIA: Dementia is not a particular disease, but an umbrella term used to cover a group of symptoms described and associated with memory loss, as well as other thinking related skills, severe enough to inhibit peoples day to day functioning. Alzheimer’s accounts for between 60 to 80 percent of these cases, and Vascular dementia which occurs after someone has had a stroke is the second most common type of dementia. However there are many others, some of which are reversible, such as vitamin deficiencies or thyroid problems. Dementia is often referred to as senility or senile dementia; which are both incorrect terms that reflect the myth that serious mental decline is a normal part of the aging process. Symptoms of dementia can vary greatly. To be considered a case of dementia, two of the following core mental functions will be severely impaired: memory, communication, reasoning and judgment, ability to focus and pay attention, or visual perception. People with dementia may have problems with short-term memory, such as paying bills in a timely manner or remembering where they left their wallet or purse or even things like preparing meals or traveling outside of their immediate neighborhood.
ALZHEIMER’S: In 1906, Dr. Alois Alzheimer noticed changes in the brain of a patient who had died of an unusual mental illness. Her symptoms had included things like memory and language problems, as well as unpredictable behavior. Later further examination of her brain revealed abnormal clumps and tangles of fiber, now today referred to as amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. These are still today considered the main features of Alzheimer’s, but another feature is the loss of connections between neurons or nerve cells in the brain. These are responsible for transmitting messages between different parts of the brain and to the muscles and organs. First signs and symptoms of developing Alzheimer’s will vary from patient to patient, but for many it will involve a decline in non-memory aspects of brain functions, such as word-filling, or spatial and vision issues. Impaired reasoning or judgment may also be a very early signal. The disease progresses, and someone may have mild, moderate, or severe Alzheimer’s. Severe Alzheimer patients can no longer communicate and rely on others completely. Towards the end of their lives, they may spend most of their time in bed as their body completely shuts down.
TREATMENT: Medication may be prescribed with the intention of temporarily improving dementia symptoms, but there is no current cure. Cholinesterase inhibitors work by boosting levels of the chemical messenger involved in judgment and memory. Memantine, also known as Namenda, works by regulating a different chemical messenger that’s involved in certain brain functions like memory and learning. In some cases these two will be prescribed together. A patient may also be prescribed other medications to treat related side effects to dementia, such as depression, agitation, or sleep disturbances. Therapy is another option, and can be expanded to modifying tasks, creating structure and routine to lessen confusion, or modifying the environment all together by doing things to reduce clutter and noise. Occupational therapists can show family members and loved ones how to make their homes safer and teach coping behaviors to prevent things like accidents and prepare for the eventual progression of the disease.
NEW STUDY: Researchers are now conducting studies using smartphones among seniors to track memory loss and possibly screen for risk factors of dementia. Things like lack of sleep, stress, and chronic pain may increase risk of dementia as we age. By determining who is at high risk for developing dementia in the future, it creates a window of opportunity to intervene and slow or even possibly eventually stop the progression.
ADDITIONAL LINK: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4490700/
* For More Information, Contact:
Elaine Iandoli, Science Media Relations Manager
Albert Einstein College of Medicine