Making the Most of the Holidays: Helpful Tips for Caregivers

[This is the third installment of posts from Faith, AGE’s CaregiverU Coordinator and expert on being a family caregiver – you’ll continue hearing from her on a range of topics about once a month.]

We all carry visions of what the holidays should look like and often those visions don’t jibe very well with reality! At this time of year, many of us visualize a Norman Rockwell type scene with everybody gathered happily around a perfectly laid holiday table. Reality is often a bit different!  In addition to that image, I also carry around in my head visions of previous holidays when life was different.   That is, when the kids were younger and my spouse was cognitively able to partner with me in all the holiday preparation.  Today my husband has a cognitive disability and the children are young adults with spouses and responsibilities of their own.  Part of the holiday experience is traveling to their homes for visits and hosting them in our home, all the while helping my spouse cope and have a good time.  As a caregiver, managing the holidays has come to mean managing many different issues—disruptions in schedule and routine, traveling, adapting to new surroundings, decorating the home, shopping for gifts, and preparing food, to name a few. Continue reading

What’s the Difference: A Look at Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Dementia: The presence of multiple cognitive deficits by both memory impairment and one or more of the following:

  • Executive functioning (planning, organization, sequencing, abstraction)
  • Aphasia, Apraxia, Agnosia
  • No delirium
  • Interferes with social or occupational functioning

Alzheimer’s Disease: A slowly progressing brain disease, which is the most common form of dementia. It affects recent memories first, then begins to affect emotions, decision making, personality, eventually destroying long-term memory and ability to interact with the world. In the moderate stages you might notice mood and communication changes, delirium, and wandering.

It is not easy to distinguish between dementia (and its other causes) and Alzheimer’s.   They are often confused because they share a similar set of symptoms, but Alzheimer’s is just one of many possible causes of dementia.

Some causes of dementia may sometimes be treatable, so it is important to talk with your doctor to try and figure out exactly what is going on. A diagnosis of dementia does not necessarily mean the person has Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s cannot technically be diagnosed while someone is alive, because the only definite way to identify Alzheimer’s is to examine brain tissue upon a person’s death. It can be very challenging to deal with not being able to find an absolutely definitive diagnosis.

Information care of Kim Butrum, RN, Gerontological Nurse Practitioner from The Memory Center at the Seton Brain and Spine Institute

Below is a video from which explains the process that occurs within the brain with Alzheimer’s:

AGE serves an average of 40 older adults every day who need daytime supervision and assistance due to a memory impairment. AGE’s Adult Day Centers provide a community where older adults can engage with their peers in therapeutic and stimulating activities under the supervision of a full-time nurse and trained staff. This program helps these vulnerable older adults avoid early nursing home placement and instead keeps them at home with their families. This gives family caregivers the respite they need to continue to work and balance taking care of their families and themselves.

If you would like to join the AGE of Central Texas family by giving towards the direct services that benefit clients and family caregivers who are dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s, please click here or send a check to AGE at 3710 Cedar St # 2 Austin, TX 78705. Feel free to reach us at or 512.451.4611.

 We are ever grateful for those who support us in deed and word in our mission to serve older adults and those who care for them. With your support, we hope to continue to meet the needs of this community.

How many of us get enough sleep?

Did you know that during sleep our brains consolidate and store our memory and learning? Sleep also helps us function more efficiently and effectively. Sleep helps us stay healthy and prevent additional health problems.

An adult needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. How often do you meet that?

Sometimes we deprive ourselves of sleep by the lifestyle we have (or choose to have). Work, poor sleep habits, and other factors contribute to volitional sleep deprivation. This shows that many of us don’t take sleep as seriously as we should. But other things beyond your control also affect how we sleep: environmental disruptions and untreated sleep disorders fall into this category.

Being tired can interfere with your daily activities, such as being sleepy at work- which can causes errors or injuries. It also affects your driving. We may not like to admit it, but how many people have felt drowsy while driving? Or even more dangerous, dozed off while at the wheel? It’s more common than you may think.

Sleep Apnea is one serious sleep disorder, and it is when airflow stops during sleep. This causes frequent awakenings so the person can adjust and open their airway. In severe Apnea, some people stop breathing over 30 times each hour during their sleep. That does not sound very restful! If you think you might have an issue similar to this, you should contact your doctor, or look up the Central Texas Neurology Consultants of St. David’s Round Rock Medical Center, who provided this information.

Those with Alzheimer’s disease (or those who care for them) know that as the disease progresses, sleep patterns often change. They might experience confusion between night and day, causing them to sleep long periods at off hours. Often, it can causes restlessness or sleeplessness, which can lead to wandering. And, of course, for caregivers all of this can prevent or interfere from being able to get any real rest of their own.

There are a couple of things that caregivers can do to alleviate sleep issues:

  • Check with your physician about medications that might be causing sleeplessness.
  • Avoid caffeine or stimulants.
  • Encourage your loved one to be active during the day, even exercise, but be wary of too much activity close to bed time.
  • If they struggle sleeping at night, minimize daytime naps especially later in the day.
  • And try exposing them to sunlight in the morning and earlier in the day.
  • And of course, maintain consistency when possible in rising for the day and going to bed at night.

Moral of the story: take care of yourself, get enough sleep. The consequences can echo through every aspect of your life. And if you think you or your loved one need medical help with getting real, restful sleep, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor. And if there are other things in your life (such as issues with aging or getting older, or caregiver challenges) that are interfering with your ability to rest and take care of yourself, please contact AGE of Central Texas and let us figure out how to help you find what you need.

Parlez-vous français? ¿Habla usted español?: You might be delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease

The New York Times recently highlighted the advantages of being bilingual. Besides making travel and ordering international food easier, being bilingual may help wire the brain to retain cognitive functions and executive functions longer than those who speak only one language.

According to cognitive neuroscientist Ellen Bialystok, bilingualism may forestall the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. In her research:

“We did two kinds of studies. In the first, published in 2004, we found that normally aging bilinguals had better cognitive functioning than normally aging monolinguals. Bilingual older adults performed better than monolingual older adults on executive control tasks. That was very impressive because it didn’t have to be that way. It could have turned out that everybody just lost function equally as they got older.

That evidence made us look at people who didn’t have normal cognitive function. In our next studies , we looked at the medical records of 400 Alzheimer’s patients. On average, the bilinguals showed Alzheimer’s symptoms five or six years later than those who spoke only one language. This didn’t mean that the bilinguals didn’t have Alzheimer’s. It meant that as the disease took root in their brains, they were able to continue functioning at a higher level. They could cope with the disease for longer.”

Read the full article here at The New York Times website.

Read more research here:
Bilingualism as a protection against the onset of symptoms of dementia

Delaying the onset of Alzheimer disease
Bilingualism as a form of cognitive reserve

Bilingualism, Aging, and Cognitive Control: Evidence From the Simon Task

Consumer Group asks FDA to ban high doses of Alzheimer’s drug

FDA Should Ban High Doses of Alzheimer’s Drug Aricept, Public Citizen Says

May 19, 2011

Public Citizen has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to ban high doses of the Alzheimer’s disease drug Aricept, claiming its risks far exceed its benefits.

The drug, made by Pfizer and Eisai, has been approved at doses of 5 to 10 milligrams for patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, and at doses of 10 to 23 milligrams for more severe cases.

The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen says that the side effects of the higher dose, which include slowed heart rate and vomiting, negate its modest advantage over the lower dose. But given the dearth of effective Alzheimer’s treatments, some doctors believe the higher-dose option should stay on the table.

“In my opinion, it should be up to the consumer to decide whether to use this modestly effective, higher dose formulation of this drug,” said Dr. Steven Ferris, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. “Are there better treatments available? Clearly not at the present time.”

Read the full article here: ABC News online.

Patterns: Maternal Link to Alzheimer’s Makes a Gain

Published: February 28, 2011

Alzheimer’s disease is more common in people whose mothers had the illness than in those whose fathers had it — and the evidence can be found in the brains of people who are still healthy.

Researchers studied 53 mentally healthy men and women over 60 years old. Ten had a father with Alzheimer’s, 11 a mother with the disease, and 32 had no family history of the illness. Each volunteer underwent an initial M.R.I. examination and was examined again two years later.

All the volunteers were still cognitively normal at the two-year point, but those with a family history of Alzheimer’s had significantly more brain atrophy than those without a family history. And even after controlling for age and sex, the deterioration was significantly greater in those with a maternal history of Alzheimer’s than in those with a paternal one.

The authors acknowledge that the study, published in Tuesday’s issue of Neurology, depended on volunteers reporting their parents’ illnesses accurately.

Still, the lead author, Robyn A. Honea of the University of Kansas, said scientists were getting closer to quantifying risk with brain scans. “The goal is to do a scan on someone before they get the disease and be able to tell if they’re at higher risk or starting to deteriorate,” she said. “Can we do that now? No. We need more and larger studies.”

Read the full article at The New York Times website.

Study: Are two languages better than one in preventing Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s self-defense: Are two languages better than one?
Posted by David W Freeman

(CBS/AP) – Two languages may be better than one when it comes to protecting your brain from Alzheimer’s disease, recent research suggests.

The research focuses mostly on people who are truly bilingual and have been for many years, but scientists say learning a new language later in life might help.

Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist at York University in Toronto, studied 450 people with Alzheimer’s. Those who were bilingual were diagnosed between four and five years later than those who spoke only one language. She discussed her research Friday at a science meeting in Washington.

More than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The disease is the fifth-leading cause of death.

Full article at the CBS News website.

Alzheimer’s “defining” disease for boomer generation?

Alzheimer’s called ‘defining disease’ of baby boomers
By Jennifer Bixler,

As any family who has gone through it can tell you, Alzheimer’s disease is tragic on a number of levels. Once vibrant men and women become shells of the people they once were. Not only do memories fade, there also is anger. And loneliness. Former first lady Nancy Reagan famously referred to it as “the long goodbye.”

As the first baby boomers turn 65 this year, a new report suggests they will be especially hit hard. One out of eight boomers will develop the disease, according to the report released by the Alzheimer’s Association. That comes to about 10 million people. Of those who reach 85, nearly one in two will get it. “Alzheimer’s is a tragic epidemic that has no survivors. It is as much a thief as a killer,” says Harry Johns, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association, in a press release.

Currently Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. Each year, it kills more Americans than breast and prostate cancer combined. Last year, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementias cost families, insurers and the government $172 billion. In 2050, researchers estimate, it will cost more than $1 trillion.

There is currently no treatment or cure for Alzheimer’s. Officials with the Alzheimer’s Association say it’s time for the government to start spending more to fund research. They point to the money spent on cancer and AIDS and the strides made in treatment.

“When the federal government has been focused, committed and willing to put the necessary resources to work to confront a disease that poses a real public health threat to the nation – there has been great success,” says Robert. J. Egge, vice president of public policy of the Alzheimer’s Association. “In order to see the day where Alzheimer’s is no longer a death sentence, we need to see that type of commitment with Alzheimer’s.”

Read the full post and related articles here at

Did President Reagan Have Alzheimer’s Disease During His Term?

In his new book, “My Father at 100,” son Ron Reagan says that his father may have shown signs of Alzheimer’s disease as early as three years into his first term. Like many families who face Alzheimer’s Disease, in retrospect, the signs sometimes may seem obvious. Also like other families, the Reagan family, this issue is ever contentious, as seen in the public dispute between the two Reagan brothers who disagree on when their father began showing signs of his illness. In the end, what does it mean for their family when he began to become ill. Most importantly, what did it mean for our country? Leave your comments and reflections below…-SP

Reagan Brothers Clash: Anger Over Alzheimer’s Allegations

A memoir by a former president’s son has touched off a family quarrel of words.

Ron Reagan recounts the signs in his new book, “My Father at 100: A Memoir.” His half-brother, conservative commentator Michael Reagan, has fired back on the allegations, calling Ron an “embarrassment” to his parents.

In a series of tweets over the weekend, Michael Reagan accused Ron of trying to “sell out his father to sell books.”

Michael Reagan added, “my brother was an embarrassment to his father when he was alive and today he became an embarrassment to his mother.”

Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease?
“There was just something that was off. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it,” Ron Reagan told “20/20’s” Elizabeth Vargas.

Ron Reagan said it bothered him when he saw his father making phone calls and reading note cards like “he had prompts.”

“These seemed like conversations that wouldn’t really require that,” he said.

Read more here at ABC News website.

Giving Alzheimer’s Patients Their Way, Even Chocolate

This is a great article from the New York Times coverage on Alzheimer’s disease and its impact on American life. What we love about this article is how it explains the emotional needs of Alzhiemer’s patients and their caregivers, and the connection to improving care and quality of life for individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Read the article and let us know what you think or what you’ve experienced.-SP


PHOENIX — Margaret Nance was, to put it mildly, a difficult case. Agitated, combative, often reluctant to eat, she would hit staff members and fellow residents at nursing homes, several of which kicked her out. But when Beatitudes nursing home agreed to an urgent plea to accept her, all that changed.

Disregarding typical nursing-home rules, Beatitudes allowed Ms. Nance, 96 and afflicted with Alzheimer’s, to sleep, be bathed and dine whenever she wanted, even at 2 a.m. She could eat anything, too, no matter how unhealthy, including unlimited chocolate.

And she was given a baby doll, a move that seemed so jarring that a supervisor initially objected until she saw how calm Ms. Nance became when she rocked, caressed and fed her “baby,” often agreeing to eat herself after the doll “ate” several spoonfuls.

Dementia patients at Beatitudes are allowed practically anything that brings comfort, even an alcoholic “nip at night,” said Tena Alonzo, director of research. “Whatever your vice is, we’re your folks,” she said.

Once, Ms. Alonzo said: “The state tried to cite us for having chocolate on the nursing chart. They were like, ‘It’s not a medication.’ Yes, it is. It’s better than Xanax.”

It is an unusual posture for a nursing home, but Beatitudes is actually following some of the latest science. Research suggests that creating positive emotional experiences for Alzheimer’s patients diminishes distress and behavior problems.

In fact, science is weighing in on many aspects of taking care of dementia patients, applying evidence-based research to what used to be considered subjective and ad hoc.

With virtually no effective medical treatment for Alzheimer’s yet, most dementia therapy is the caregiving performed by families and nursing homes. Some 11 million people care for Alzheimer’s-afflicted relatives at home. In nursing homes, two-thirds of residents have some dementia.

Caregiving is considered so crucial that several federal and state agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, are adopting research-tested programs to support and train caregivers. This month, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a forum about Alzheimer’s caregiving.

“There’s actually better evidence and more significant results in caregiver interventions than there is in anything to treat this disease so far,” said Lisa P. Gwyther, education director for the Bryan Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Duke University.

Click here to go to the New York Times website for the full article.