April 2021 Memory Support Blog

Series 1

Alzheimer’s Awareness
An April 4-Part Series
By: Lillian Reda, Genesis HealthCare, Director of Memory Support Clinical Practice and Education

Series: 1

Advocacy – In December 2018, Congress overwhelmingly passed the bipartisan BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act (P.L. 115-406). This is critical legislation to combat the Alzheimer’s public crisis. The law directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to strengthen the public health infrastructure across the country by implementing effective Alzheimer’s interventions focused on public health issues such as increasing early detection and diagnosis, reducing risk, and preventing avoidable hospitalizations. The BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act will accomplish this by establishing Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias Public Health Centers of Excellence, providing funding to state, local, and tribal public health departments, and increasing date analysis and timely reporting. Now they must fund the law.

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Series 2

Alzheimer’s Awareness
An April 4-Part Series
By: Lillian Reda, Genesis HealthCare, Director of Memory Support Clinical Practice and Education

Series: 2

Setting ourselves up to be in tip-top shape — body and mind!

Your muscles get weak when you don’t use them. Guess what? So does your brain. These lifestyle factors that affect brain function should become part of our routine. Although it’s not a muscle, the brain benefits from the same healthy habits that keep your body in tip-top shape. Research suggests several lifestyle factors that affect brain function, including regular exercise, intellectual stimulation, healthy eating habits and even sound sleep habits, may reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and help to maintain the brain health we have. If you’re not already adopting these lifestyle habits, it’s never too late to start!

Exercise regularly. Various studies have demonstrated the benefits of physical activity on brain health. Staying active promotes growth and maintenance of neurons, improves memory and problem-solving skills, and supports brain growth. To reap the brain and body benefits of exercise, it is recommended older adults get at least 20 minutes of aerobic exercise a day, as well as at least two strength training sessions per week.

Get quality sleep. A good night’s sleep provides a wealth of benefits: It helps keep your spirits high, your immune system strong, and your energy levels up. Lack of sleep increases risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and obesity. Older adults often wake up earlier than most. While early rising doesn’t affect brain health, falling short of the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep will. Sunlight exposure, a regular sleep schedule, and a soothing nighttime routine will all help you catch some z’s.

Seek intellectual stimulation. Your brain needs constant stimulation to stay strong. As you learn, perform new activities, and pursue new interests, you improve your brain reserve. All sorts of activities can up your brain power. The key is to find things that are new and/or mentally challenging. Play or learn to play chess, bridge and instrument. Take a class, learn a new language, write poems, journal, earn a degree or certification. Visit an art or science museum. Many of them can be done virtually if needed!

Maintain social connections. Among other lifestyle factors that affect brain function, chatting with friends, family, and acquaintances lifts your mood and protects against memory loss. Positive, meaningful social engagement is associated with improved physical and mental health, while isolation is linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Staying socially connected can take many forms. Participating in religious services, attending community events (in person or virtually), and talking on the phone with friends and loved ones all help people feel connected and intellectually stimulated. Pets are also a wonderful source of love, happiness, and social life enhancement

Keep your heart healthy. The same risk factors for heart disease and stroke apply to dementia. A study from the American College of Cardiology shows people with a higher risk of heart disease have increased markers for Alzheimer’s disease. To keep your heart strong, get plenty of exercise, maintain or work toward a healthy weight, don’t smoke, and choose fresh fruits and vegetables whenever possible. So many of these lifestyle factors that affect brain function are interrelated.

Don’t smoke. The sooner you quit smoking, the sooner you improve your physical and cognitive health. Smoking increases risk of cognitive decline; once you quit, you reduce your risk. After 10 years of not smoking, your rate of cognitive decline is comparable to people who have never smoked. Need a few more reasons to quit? Smoking not only ups your odds of lung disease, it also increases anxiety and tension — both of which are detrimental to mental and brain health.

Be mindful of mental health. All the tips above benefit not only brain health but also our psychological health. By building a foundation for positive mental health, you can preserve brain health. A couple of good tools include exercise and meditation.

Incorporate healthy habits into your daily life to keep your mind, body, and brain in the best shape possible.

Series 3

Alzheimer’s Awareness
An April 4-Part Series
By: Lillian Reda, Genesis HealthCare, Director of Memory Support Clinical Practice and Education

Series: 3

Maintaining Dignity and Self-Esteem. Encourage independence.

Dementia researchers often say that the more you do for someone with dementia, the more you actually take away from them. In an effort to make life easier, you may actually be robbing them of their independence.

Some caregivers may be inadvertently undermining the independence of those they care for by underestimating the abilities to carry out everyday tasks. Often caregivers are only trying to help by assuming many of the day-to-day tasks that the person with Alzheimer’s needs. But when the caregiver assumes too many duties, it can create a so-called “dependency support script,” in which those with Alzheimer’s are not encouraged to do things for themselves. As a result, the person with Alzheimer’s may feel less inclined to get involved with tasks like helping out in the kitchen or getting dressed that they may well be capable of, particularly in the earlier stages of the disease.

When we create this excess dependency that doesn’t need to be there, this is a problem. If we’re able to maintain and promote independence to the degree permissible by the disease, that’s important and hugely impactful on the individual living with the disease.

Individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease have varying abilities, so it’s important to base caregiver interactions on the actual abilities of the person. It’s a hard role as a caregiver to try to gauge what the person can do, to know what the patient is capable of, how much they can break up these tasks. But, observing the person and gauging what they’re capable of before jumping in and supporting the dependence of the person is definitely important.

Empower the individual to do, or at least attempt to do, as many of their daily tasks or steps of the task that they are able to safely complete. Be patient with them. Step in to help only when truly necessary, even if it takes them longer.

Series 4

Alzheimer’s Awareness
An April 4-Part Series
By: Lillian Reda, Genesis HealthCare, Director of Memory Support Clinical Practice and Education

Series: 4

Caregiver Reflection – My mother used to tell me that her mother came to visit and that they went to the apple orchard and picked apples, and then went to get a malt. I would just say, “That sounds wonderful. I hope you had a nice day with your mother.” She would reply, “Oh, yes, we had a lovely day.” Who cares that it didn’t really happen? If it made her happy, great!
— Dani P.