Author Archives: Michelle Ford

Breaking a sweat could make your brain act up to 20 years younger

By Emily Woodruff | January 30th, 2019

It’s usually not until the later decades that adults start worrying about memory loss. But everyone, even 20-year-olds, can relate to feeling like their memory just isn’t what it used to be.

But what if you could turn back the clock on your brain’s capacity by 10 or even 20 years? Researchers from Columbia University in the City of New York studying the effect of exercise on the brain say it’s possible with one simple, free change to your lifestyle: aerobic exercise.

Participants between the ages of 20 and 67 without memory problems signed up for the study, which involved a random assignment of either aerobic exercise (think: the elliptical, treadmill or stationary bike) or a stretching and toning regimen for six months. All of the people tested in the study were considered to have “below-average fitness” at the start of the study and did not exercise.

Participants were given access to a fitness center and coaches who monitored their progress. Those who were in the aerobic group used their own heart rates as a guide for how much to push themselves, starting at an intensity that gradually increased from 55 percent of their maximum heart rate during week one to 75 percent of their maximum heart rate by week five, where the intensity level remained for the next five months.

Going from a sedentary lifestyle to 75 percent maximum heart rate isn’t as difficult as it sounds in the long run. According to study author Yaakov Stern, Ph.D., participants worked out for 30 to 40 minutes, with a 10 to 15 minutes warm up and cool down. “By the time they got to 75 percent, they could do the exercise without being winded,” said Stern.

When researchers compared the brain scans and cognitive tests of the participants in both the aerobic and stretching group, they saw that while thickness in the brain increased in both groups over six months, those in the aerobic group also significantly improved on their thinking skills test. That test measures executive function, or the ability to make decisions, reason and multitask—some of the first skills stolen by diseases like dementia.

The aerobic group was able to improve thinking skills by .50 points compared to .25 points in the stretching group. The difference in thinking skill scores only widened as the participants went up in age.

“The people who exercised were testing as if they were about 10 years younger at age 40 and about 20 years younger at age 60,” Stern said.

The study was small, however, with just 132 participants. Larger and longer studies are needed to confirm the findings.

“Since thinking skills at the start of the study were poorer for participants who were older, our findings suggest that aerobic exercise is more likely to improve age-related declines in thinking skills rather than improve performance in those without a decline,” he added.

But all adults, even the 20-year-olds, experienced an increase in the thickness of the left frontal outer layer of the brain.

“Our research confirms that exercise can be beneficial to adults of any age,” said Stern. The study was published in the journal Neurology. 

Just Dance: How Certain Types of Movement Boost Your Brain

By Emily Woodruff | January 7th, 2019

Anyone who has cut up the dance floor at a wedding knows that even just a few minutes of getting low to “Shout” can get feel-good endorphins flowing. But two new studies show that dancing has science-backed benefits that might give your brain a boost—and even reduce your risk for dementia.

In one eight-year study of 1,003 Japanese women, examined how different kinds of physical activity affected elderly women’s chances of becoming disabled, measured by their ability to carry out everyday tasks like dressing, walking, bathing and feeding themselves. Over the course of the study, published in Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 130 women were classified as disabled. Researchers found that physical activity was associated with lower rates of disability in general, but dancing stood out as the single most beneficial type of exercising in keeping independence.

In the study, women who danced frequently had a 73 percent lower chance of becoming disabled during the eight years they were studied.

Even once diagnosed, dementia patients report improvements in activities like being able to feed themselves if their daily accomplishments were emphasized.

What’s so different about dance compared to other physical activities? For starters, dance is a social activity. Maintaining social connections keeps your brain healthy, according to research. And the skills dance requires tap into a number of networks in the brain.

“Although it is unclear why dancing alone reduced the risk of activities of daily living disability, dancing requires not only balance, strength, and endurance ability, but also cognitive ability: adaptability and concentration to move according to the music and partner, artistry for graceful and fluid motion, and memory for choreography,” lead author Yosuke Osuka, of the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology, said in a statement. “We think that these various elements may contribute to the superiority of dancing in maintaining a higher activities of daily life capacity.”

Another study emphasized how activities like yoga, tai chi and dance could improve cognitive function in older adults. For that study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers analyzed 32 previous studies on dance on people between age 50 and 85. They found that people who did participate in physical activities that require a mindfulness (think: counting to the beat, finding balance and remembering moves) had stronger cognitive function than those who didn’t participate in any. One to two hours of dance or tai chi per week improved the brains of those who were already having trouble with their memory, the researchers found.

The two studies were correlational, meaning that their findings do not prove a direct connection between dancing and improved brain health; they simply show that people who engage in more dancing also seem to experience better cognitive function. Another explanation could be that those with better brain functioning simply are better able or more likely to dance.

But it’s not the first time dance has been highlighted for more than just getting a good workout. A study in 2017 found that engaging in dance was associated with an increase in white matter density, a group of cells throughout the brain that pass messages along to neurons. As we age, white matter frays and its deterioration is though to be related to cognitive decline. For this study, scientists divided older adults into groups and measured their brain’s matter at the beginning of the study. One group engaged in dance while the other two were given brisk walking and balance training regimens. Only the dance group, which participated in country-dance three times per week for an hour, showed an improvement in the size of their white matter.

The music participants dance to may also have influenced their better outcomes. Past research has shown that music immediately boosts mood in dementia patients along with cognitive function.

Men who eat these 3 foods could cut their risk of memory loss

By Emily Woodruff | November 23rd, 2018

It sounds like the beginning of an ingredient list for a morning smoothie, but it’s also the three things scientists have found might lower the risk of dementia for men. Researchers have found that orange juice, leafy greens and berries could bolster cognitive health for older men.

Researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston tracked 27,842 men who were an average age of 51 for a study that spanned 20 years. They filled out a questionnaire about their eating habits at the beginning of the study, then again every four years. The participants also answered questions about their cognitive health and took tests four years before the end of the study, when they were an average age of 73.

The tests were designed to rely on a person’s assessment of their own memory, a measure researchers are finding can be a good indicator of brain health when a person is still relatively young and may not yet be showing life-changing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

They asked questions like “Do you have more trouble than usual remembering a short list of items, such as a shopping list?” and “Do you have more trouble than usual following a group conversation or a plot in a TV program due to your memory?”

At the 16-year mark, the tests showed that 55 percent had good thinking and memory skills, 38 percent had moderate skills, and 7 percent had poor thinking and memory skills.

At the end of the study, the men were divided into five different groups based on how many fruits and vegetables they reported in their diet over the years. For reference: The top group for vegetable consumption ate six servings (each serving was measured as one cup of raw vegetables or two cups of leafy greens) per day; the lowest group ate two servings. In fruit consumption, a serving was defined as one cup of fruit or a half-cup of fruit juice. The highest fruit-consuming group ate three servings per day; the lowest ate half a serving.

When researchers compared the amount of vegetables the men consumed to the cognitive test scores, they found that men who consumed the most amount of vegetables were 34 percent less likely to be in the poor thinking skills group than those who consumed the least vegetables. Percentage-wise, 6.6 percent of the men in the top-consuming vegetable group had poor cognition versus 7.9 percent in the least-consuming group.

When the researchers narrowed the data to observe the effect of drinking orange juice, they found that men who drank orange juice daily were almost half as likely to develop poor thinking skills than those who reported less than one serving per month.

Fruit alone didn’t have as much as an effect on thinking skills, but men who ate the most fruit—especially berries—did have better cognitive health.

Long-term health also played a part in healthy brains. Those who ate larger fruits and vegetables at the beginning of the study were less likely to have poor cognitive health regardless of if they kept eating large amounts of fruits and vegetables in the six years before the memory test.

However, the study doesn’t prove that fruits and vegetables protect brain health—just that those who report eating higher amounts of them are associated with a lower risk of poor memory. But the results point to healthy eating as something that might help keep your brain in shape.

“One of the most important factors in this study is that we were able to research and track such a large group of men over a 20-year period of time, allowing for very telling results,” said study author Changzheng Yuan, of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. “Our studies provide further evidence dietary choices can be important to maintain your brain health.”

Choosing a suitable home

This worksheet acts as a simple guideline for people considering admission to a retirement home or to a frail care centre for either themselves or someone they love and care for. Emphasis is on the practical considerations. You are, however, encouraged to look at the emotional implications of your decision and discuss these with someone you trust and can confide in.

It is important to ensure that the home is registered with the Department of Social Development, as registration is required in accordance with the Older Persons Act. The certificate of registration should be visible, displayed in a prominent place.

Of course, no home will meet all these requirements and deciding to enter or admit someone else to such a facility is one of the most difficult decisions one can be called on to make. At our regional offices and on our helpline we have staff and volunteers who can support you as you make this decision and any other important decisions that Alzheimer’s challenges us to make.

ACCESSIBILITY OF THE HOME

  • Is it close to family and friends?
  • Is it close enough to essential community activities e.g. church, shopping centre, hospital?
  • Is it in a familiar environment or a new area?
  • Will the resident be able to meet his/her spiritual needs at the home?
  • Is it a mixed-sex residence?

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

  • Is the property secure and are there visible security staff?
  • Can a resident wander around freely and can the resident leave the grounds undetected?
  • Is there a security system at the front door?
  • Is the home linked to an armed response company?
  • Friendliness of staff on your arrival
  • Is the interior clean and attractive, with functional and comfortable furniture and decorations?
  • Are there bad odours (especially urine)?
  • Do the residents appear clean and appropriately dressed for the weather?
  • Do the residents seem to be happy and occupied or are they sitting staring into space?
  • Did you see staff and residents sitting talking to each other?
  • Does the staff appear to be respectful and caring?
  • Are there any birds or animals? Are pets allowed to visit?
  • Noise – Are the sounds at a normal level and is there soft music playing?
  • Is there a lounge with television and one without?
  • Are there demarcated smoking and non-smoking areas?

FUNDING OF THE HOME

  • Who are the major funders of the home?
  • Is it a profit or non-profit organisation?
  • Is there any form of financial assistance if frail care is needed or additional care that the residents may not be able to afford?

FINANCES

  • Will you be able to afford the fees, possibly for an indefinite period?
  • What is the annual increase in fees?
  • If you have medical aid/disability cover/insurance, will it cover any of the costs?
  • Are there additional costs that are not part of the monthly rate?
  • How is ‘pocket money’ handled?

RULES AND REGULATIONS

  • Are the rules and regulations made for the benefit of the residents or are they regimented e.g. fixed bedtimes and strictly enforced visiting hours?
  • How much is the family involved in the individual managed care programme of the resident?

RESIDENTS’ RIGHTS

  • Is there a residents’ committee?
  • Are there channels for residents’ complaints?
  • What means of communication are available to the residents e.g. telephones, facsimiles, e-mail?
  • Is there privacy available for telephone calls?
  • Is there transport to a hospital, clinic, shops etc?
  • Are residents encouraged to remain physically and mentally active and to see to their own needs where possible and suitable?
  • Are residents allowed to assist in the chores/activities of the home?
  • Are residents called by name by the staff?
  • Do residents have a choice of food and quantity? Are second helpings allowed?
  • Are residents allowed to be sexually active?

BATHROOMS

  • Own or shared?
  • Bath and/or shower that has been adapted to the needs of the older person?
  • Is there easy access to the bathroom, for a wheelchair?

FOOD AND KITCHENS

  • Is the food of good quality and varied?
  • Is provision made for special diets e.g. diabetic, low fat, halaal, kosher etc?
  • Are the services of a dietician available?
  • Are desserts and fruit part of the regular menu?
  • Are there separate areas for food preparation, dishwashing and garbage disposal?
  • Are visitors allowed to have meals in the dining room and at what cost?
  • Are there ever any special meals e.g. Christmas, birthdays etc?
  • Are there regular teatimes, with tea supplied by the home? Is anything served with the tea?
  • At what times are the meals served?

GARDENS

  • Is the garden easily accessible and available to residents?
  • Are more active residents encouraged to assist in the garden?
  • Are there benches outside?
  • Is there a suitable safe path to walk on, in the garden?
  • Are frail residents helped to gain access to the garden?

VISITORS

  • Are residents allowed to go out for days/weekends and/or holidays?
  • Can visitors come and visit at any time or strictly only at visiting time?
  • Is there a private room for visitors?
  • Do visitors have to sign in on arrival?
  • Are relatives/friends encouraged to participate in the care of the resident?

STAFFING

  • There needs to be good staff-resident interaction
  • Are there enough caregivers on duty for every shift?
  • Is there a Registered Nurse on each shift?
  • Does the staff receive on-going training?
  • Is there a resident doctor? Are you required to use him or may you use your own?
  • What specialist medical services are available e.g. doctor, podiatrist, occupational therapist, physiotherapist?
  • Have senior staff and management been trained in institutional management and care of the elderly and frail?

SAFETY AWARENESS, EMERGENCY PROCEDURES

  • Is there adequate lighting in the home?
  • Are there safety rails in the corridors?
  • Are the floor surfaces non-slip?
  • Are there easily accessible panic buttons, especially in the bathrooms?
  • Is there a disaster plan for evacuating the home?
  • Are there visible and accessible fire hydrants?
  • Are there smoke alarms?
  • Do they have regular fire drills in the home?
  • What emergency medical equipment is available on the premises?
  • Are there procedures to deal with elder abuse?
  • What part does the family play in these procedures?

BEDROOMS

  • Is there a view from the room?
  • Is there adequate lighting?
  • Is there a problem with damp in the room?
  • What personal furniture and belongings are allowed?
  • Is it a single or double room?
  • Are the rooms shared? What happens if someone does not like the person with whom s/he is sharing?
  • Is there an emergency bell in the room?
  • Are there enough cupboards and drawers in the room?
  • Is the resident allowed to have a kettle, toaster etc in the room?
  • Are there enough plug points for bedside light, kettle, hairdryer, radio, TV etc? If not, are adaptors allowed?

WHAT ADDITIONAL SERVICES ARE PROVIDED BY THE HOME?

  • Podiatrists (foot care)?
  • Hairdressing facilities?
  • Tuck shop or canteen?
  • Day clinic/examination room?
  • Are there activity rooms?
  • Is there a regular activity programme?
  • Taking into consideration their capabilities, do frail residents receive physical and social stimulation?
  • Are residents encouraged to learn new skills?
  • Are outside trips, outings or shows arranged?
  • Is there any community involvement?
  • Does the home use volunteers?
  • Is the laundry done on the premises or contracted out?

Compiled by Lindy Smit, Loraine Schirlinger and staff of the national Alzheimers SA office

DEMENTIA & NUTRITION – A RELATIVE’S PERSPECTIVE

My dad’s chronic malnutrition was a direct result of him being fed a high carbohydrate diet in his home for at least 2 ½ years with very little in the way of protein, fresh fruit and veg and probably zero omega 3’s by people who had no clue about even basic nutrition and care.  When admitted to Brenthurst Residence, his body and musculature were badly wasted due to this poor diet, but most likely, according to my research, his diet was also very likely the driver of his dementia.

Following on from those events, I’ve done a lot of research on nutrition and diet and feel the need to share some of it with you.  Namely, according to scientific research, a carbohydrate-loaded diet exacerbates both dementia and cardio-vascular problems (among others).

Anyway, please can I prevail upon you (I’m begging actually) to take a look at this lecture, and if nothing else, PLEASE listen to the last section from 36 minutes onwards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibUMRf7TPro The section on metabolic syndrome is also important for anyone in the health care field to know.

I very much hope that the struggle my dad went through would not have been entirely in vain and serves some kind of good purpose and benefit to others.  Please would you join me in seeing that the diets of the elderly and vulnerable contains minimal amounts of carbohydrates and sugars?  That they are eating LOADS of fresh green vegetables, olive oil, coconut oil (which may directly help dementia), healthy animal fats, nuts, eggs and other proteins?  The scientific evidence is overwhelming and mounting; Dementia is now being called a “Type 3 Diabetes” as it seems to be driven by elevated insulin and blood sugars (from a carbohydrate/sugar heavy diet).

Some of you well know that Dad gained over 6 Kg’s during the few weeks he was cared for at Brenthurst Residence and responded very well to Physiotherapy for his severely wasted muscles and the Occupational and other therapies there.  Many thanks again for all your help/interventions.

And … as a result of my Dad’s struggle, I’ve learned a lot about dementia and diet and am studying a course on Nutritional Therapy.  I post relevant news, research and info on Twitter and Facebook under the name of “Cape Treats” should you be interested.  I wish you the very best! 

Andi