Keeping the Mind Active: A Simple Guide for Treating and Preventing Dementia Progression

There are many useful resources at our disposal such as exercise, leisure activities, and cognitive tasks that therapeutically reduce the risk factors of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s. In all of these conditions the neurons and tissues in the brain can deteriorate, which can impair our ability to use our mind to its fullest ability. The effects of neural impairment can affect our memory, our ability to perform basic motor functions, and our basic understanding of responsibilities and relationships. Having a loved one with dementia or a condition precipitating dementia-related symptoms such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, or Alzheimer’s can place profound accountability on ourselves, family members and caregivers. We should all take some time to acknowledge the tremendous potential of various strategies for preventing cognitive remissions and deterioration and make sure we are taking proactive steps to stay sharp as we age.

Idle Hands are the Devil’s Playground
It is vital that we elderly, family members, and caregivers truly utilize our creative tool boxes and find regular activities that keeps the mind engaged to some capacity. Walking, dancing, exercising, and even housework can all profoundly replenish endorphins, hormones, and chemicals in the brain which serve to help prevent neural deterioration. However, if mobility is an issue of concern and you find that physical exertion is either risky or too difficult to accommodate, then there are other ways to attain the desired effects through mental exercise.

Studies have shown that much is to be gained from steady participation in simple activities such as these leisure activities which require less physical exertion:

  •   Reading
  •  Writing for Pleasure
  • Doing Crossword Puzzles
  • Playing Cards
  • Playing a Musical Instrument
  • Playing Board Games

Whichever strategy you find to be more comfortable—exercise-based, cognitive-focused tasks, or a combination of the two, remember to choose tasks that come natural to you. The type of activity performed is far less fundamental toward a healthy brain than the frequency and consistency of involvement, so make sure to choose a task you are confident you can incorporate in your daily routine with regularity.

Mild Cognitive Impairment
Many studies have been conducted over the last several decades with regards to the specific activities that can serve to keep the mind from deteriorating via physical exercise, mental activities, continued hobbies, and music therapy. All of the studies arrive at the same conclusion: than no single task has been identified as overwhelmingly more effective than the other activities, so rest assured there is likely a fun, meaningful activity that is suited for everyone. It is important, however, that we determine that task organically and make sure to incorporate it in our daily lives with vigilance.

These studies sought to establish whether or not, for example, playing chess three times per week would prove more effective than 15 minute walks three times per week. Although most studies did seem to indicate a very slight favoritism toward exercise as a task that mitigates mental deterioration more effectively, the improvements were very minimal. Concurrently, studies such as The Bronx Aging Study which followed the activities and health of individuals from 75-85 years of age for 20 years found that individuals who strayed from their routines suffered the greatest risk for developing dementia. In addition, several of these studies seemed to find that many individuals who developed dementia-related characteristics in later years were less involved in leisure activities and exercise, but that this may have very well been as a result of having Mild Cognitive Impairment to begin with.

What we can take away from these claims is that it is never too early to build a strong routine to defend against neural deterioration. Once our mind becomes less engaged with our relationships and daily activities, we begin to lose the motivation to follow the instructions of our caregivers, doctors, and even family members. We must then develop regular routines that we don’t view as burdens, so that we can more willingly adhere to these vital proponents of our continued health and prosperity.
Patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment are generally able to live their lives without the assistance of others, but they will experience issues with memory, language, and some basic cognition problems. It is possible for MCI to remain unchanged throughout the years, to progress into Alzheimer’s, or to fade and allow an individual to regain full cognitive ability. Again, proper involvement in exercise and/or leisure activities along with a proper brain-healthy diet are the best tools to mitigate the progression of cognitive loss. So, detecting MCI early becomes equally fundamental toward reducing risk as we age further.

These early warning signs will help identify the onset of Mild Cognitive Impairment:

  • Frequently Misplacing or Losing Things
  • Frequently Forgetting Conversations, Appointments, or Events
  • Difficulty Remembering the Names of New Acquaintances
  • Difficulty Following the Flow of a Conversation

Final Thoughts
Developing any form of cognitive deficiency, dementia, or otherwise neural incapacity is both a struggle for the individual and the family members and caregivers supporting that individual. Depression is a likely side-effect of dementia once it has set in, and it then becomes increasingly difficult to perform these exercises and leisure activities that serve to sharpen or mental acuity. No small task is too insignificant to aid in the process of exercising the mind, and we as caregivers, family members, and potential dementia sufferers should make an earnest effort toward incorporating a lifestyle rich with steady activity. Whether we choose to walk around the yard, take up knitting, playing chess, stroking the piano, doing dishes, or reading the paper, stick to a routine that you find fun and meaningful to ensure that you maintain those habits and promote a healthy mind for as long as possible.

Educating yourself is a pivotal part of developing a strategy that combats worsening symptoms. The Understanding Dementia article linked below provides a great reference for the various kinds of symptoms and types of dementia that can afflict our beloved elders, along with steps you should be taking with your caregivers and physicians.

-The New England Journal of Medicine; Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly;
-The Nurse Practitioner; Exercise Alleviates Dementia in Elderly
-Understanding Dementia;

Survivors: Life After Stroke

stroke2As the treatment technology progresses, more than 7 million Americans have survived strokes today. If you are or have a stroke survivor in your family, please be positive, because the hope of getting better is never gone. Please be patient, since the recovery is a life long process. Please be informed, since there are a lot of changes brought by the stroke you should acknowledge. Today we talk about life after stroke. The information is crucial because it matters to the survivors’ recovery, rehabilitation, and next stroke attack prevention.

Be Prepared: Changes by stroke
Surviving a stroke, we first should admit that stroke changes life, both physically and emotionally. Stroke causes brain injury that may affect how people move, communicate, think and act. Here are some common general changes survivors might experience after a stroke:

  • Weakness or paralysis on one side of the body
  • Difficulty speaking or swallowing
  • Tire easily
  • Change in personality, performing improper language or behaviors
  • Difficulty with memory, judgment, and problem solving
  • Difficulty with peripheral vision and problems with visual cognition

Other changes are dependent on whether it is left- or right-brain injury. Generally, one side of the brain controls the opposite side of the body. For example, right-brain injury may result in weakness or paralysis on left side of the body. The survivor also tends to lack awareness of the left side.
At the same time, stroke survivors also go through a series of changes emotionally. Many of them experience frequent emotional instability. Other changes include:

  • Depression
  • Lack of motivation and indifferent
  • Unexpected feeling of anger, anxiety and frustration

The above are common changes that stroke survivors would go through during the recovery process. It’s best for family members and patients to be prepared and recognize these changes in time.

Returning Home
When the patient is medically stabilized, the physician may recommend returning home. Some stroke patients are afraid of this process for the fear of having another stroke attack. There are a lot of other fears due to this change of setting that we also need to understand. For instance, some may feel that their friends and family will abandon them. Or they fear that their loved ones are not competent in proper caretaking. Being surrounded by other people at home may also make them realize their disability, which can be hard to accept. Therefore, family members and hospital staff need to work together to prepare for the transition.stroke1

When is the right time?
There are four major factors to consider when assessing whether getting back to home is a good decision. Stroke survivors at home need to have ability of self-care, meaning one should be able to accomplish some basic daily activities. Also since the medical care still continues, the patient needs to have the ability to follow medical advice as well. It is also highly recommended that a caregiver, either family member or hired professional staff, assist the patient when needed. In addition, the survivor needs to have the ability to move around and communicate, so that they can ask for help in an emergency.

Adapt your home
Before welcoming your loved one home, family members should work with professional staff to change the home setting, making it safe, accessible, and comfortable for the stroke survivor to live.
First, you need to check every corner of your home and be diligent about hidden hazards that may cause falls and other accidents. Measures like taking up the throw rugs, having more lighting, using a non-skid mat, and fixing your floor or staircase are highly recommended. Further action, like installing a raised toilet seat, safety grab bars or handrails can also be helpful. You may also want to build a ramp so that patient can move around as much as possible.

Caregivers are often the spouse, adult child, or parent who provide most of the care for stroke patient at home. Since the recovery process is a challenge for both patient and caregiver, we suggest the two sides to share decision-making and feelings as much as possible. The caregiver’s responsibilities range from providing physical assistance, taking care of the survivor’s everyday life, to managing financial affairs, and providing emotional support. In other words, the caregiver needs to cover almost every part of the stroke survivor’s life.
However, we should not neglect that caregivers also need care themselves. Try to encourage the survivor to be as independent as possible. This will not only relieve your pressure but also help the survivor’s recovery progress. While you encourage your loved one to participate in leisure activities, you can also try to have fun. It’s totally fine to take a break, which would be beneficial for both you and your patient. A paid professional caregiver is also a choice many people turn to. While you try to take good care of people in you life, remember to take care yourself as well.


Sound Body, Sound Mind

As our body goes, so goes our mind.
You know how you feel after a long car trip, when you finally get out of the car and stand up, you’re stiff and sore, right? Imagine years of not getting up. One day you’ll realize your body aches are chronic and your memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be. Most just complain and brush it off as old age.

You don’t have to live this way! Make yourself get up and do something aerobic at least 3 times per week. You could go on a walk, run, take a bike ride, invest in cardio equipment, or join a gym. Start slow and steady. Try to get your heart rate up for at least 20 minutes each time. Add in weight bearing exercise, flexibility and balance exercises, and notice your aches and pains diminish.

Find a Buddy
I recommend finding an exercise buddy to keep yourself on track. Those who exercise with a partner are much more likely to continue their routine. Motivating each other and holding each other accountable to your exercise schedule goes a long way in your success.penguinbuds

What’s good for your heart is also good for your mind
Each year that we don’t get the exercise our body needs, we age prematurely. Not only does your body start to deteriorate, so does your mind. Studies have shown that exercise can actually ward off dementia, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and high blood pressure. According to Dr. Stephan Bamberger, PhD, Lac, “The connection between Alzheimer’s disease and blood supply to the brain, has recently been confirmed by researchers at the University of Leiden in Holland.” As your blood flow decreases, due to clogged arteries or blood clots, your body and mind will feel the difference.

3menAvoid Crippling Effects and Future Medication
• Exercise has been proven to:
• Improve your immunity
• Improve your cardiovascular function
• Improve your digestive system
• Protect against loss of bone mass with weight bearing exercises
• Improve your functional reach
• Improve your balance and flexibility
• Reduce pain from rheumatoid arthritis
• Reverse muscle atrophy

As a former fitness club owner, I witnessed the positive effects on the elderly, who happened to make up the majority of our membership. Two personal stories are testimonies to the need to begin or continue an exercise routine.

The oldest member of our club was sharp as a tack, with memory better than most our younger members. She was (and still is) friendly and loved by all our members who came in to work out the same hours as she. Virginia drove herself and a friend to our club 3 x’s per week. She walked laps in our pool, stretched out in the hot tub, took a shower and afterwards, usually rushed out to meet some friends for dinner. We celebrated her 100th Birthday Party at our gym with her family and friends.

Waiting in the dark in his car 3 mornings per week, Texas would wait until an employee arrived to open the door at 5:15 a.m. Texas proved to his doctor that he had what it takes to ward off the diseases that can come with old age. I met Texas when he was a young 75 year old gentleman. The previous year, Texas was told by his Dr. that he was going to die in 6 months if he didn’t start changing his ways. He was diagnosed with Type II diabetes and high blood
pressure. The very next day he joined a fitness center and started walking on a treadmill for and hour 3 x’s per week and started watching what he ate. In 6 months, his diabetes had disappeared and he was taken off his heart medication. Now 78 years of age, he continues his routine religiously each week, always with a smile on his face.
Allow Virginia and Texas to be your inspiration. Kick some of those painful signs of old age by making some lifestyle changes to improve your quality of life.
Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

Multiple Sclerosis: Facts and Findings

Roughly 2.5 million people in the world have Multiple Sclerosis (MS), according to the World Health Organization. As stated in the Harvard Gazette, MS is a central nervous system disease, which can wreak havoc on an individual’s:

  •   muscle control
  •   strength
  •   vision
  •   balance
  •   feeling
  •   thinking

According to the National MS Society, a neurologist is usually the leading doctor who makes the diagnosis of MS and leads or refers other healthcare professionals in the effort to provide comfort, function, independence, health, and wellness to the patient.

MS works as an autoimmune disease

The immune system normally uses inflammatory cells to protect people from bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic infections. But, in the case of autoimmune diseases, instead of protecting, they attack healthy tissue.

Scientists and researchers are continuously seeking connections between genetic and environmental factors and the risks of developing MS.  Environmental research often seeks what factors may cause an increase or decline of symptoms.

Two interesting studies were completed on the effects of high salt intake and vitamin D deficiency.


Of Mice and Men 

Mice and MenA study was performed by Dr. David Hafler, a professor of neurology and immunobiology at the Yale School of Medicine, which reflected that giving mice a high-salt diet caused the rodents to produce a type of infection-fighting cell that is closely associated with autoimmune diseases. The mice on salt diets developed a severe form of multiple sclerosis, called autoimmune encephalomyelitis.

Hafler’s study help explain how “helper” T-cells can drive autoimmune diseases by creating inflammation. Salt seems to cause enzymes to stimulate the creation of the helper T-cells, escalating the immune response, as reported in Health Day 03-06-2013. as reported in Health Day 03-06-2013.

But can we translate these findings to be true of men? Stay tuned…

According to Reuters, Hafler now has permission to test this on humans with MS by reducing their salt intake.  Although it may be years before anything is proven, Hafler said, “If I had MS, I would think very much about not eating processed foods and really cutting down my salt intake.”



The “Sunshine Vitamin”    sunshineIn our ever-increasing controlled temperature environments and heavy use of sunscreen, when we do venture outdoors, our modern population is strikingly Vitamin D deficient.

According to the Harvard Gazette, January 2014, researchers analyzed data from 465 MS patients from 18 European countries, Israel, and Canada who, in 2002 and 2003, enrolled in the BENEFIT (Betaseron in Newly Emerging Multiple Sclerosis for Initial Treatment) trial in which they found the benefits of adequate vitamin D levels in early stage MS patients to patients who were Vitamin D deficient included:

  •          57 percent lower rate of new brain lesions
  •          57 percent lower relapse rate
  •          25 percent lower yearly increase in lesion volume
  •          Lower loss in brain volume

The results suggest that vitamin D has a strong protective effect on the disease process underlying MS, the researchers said.

In support of these findings, the National MS Society reports that MS is known to occur more frequently in areas that are farther from the equator.


  • Harvard Gazette January 20, 2014
  • Health Day 03-06-2013

Anxiety in the Elderly

senior anxiety

Anxiety: a mental disorder

Although a common disorder in adults over 60, anxiety is often not diagnosed because of a lack of research. For more than 18 percent of people in this age group, anxiety is the most common mental disorder.

Anxiety in the elderly can be induced by a variety of causes such as:

  • side effects of medications
  • depression
  • dementia

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD is the most common anxiety disorder affecting seniors. In contrast to what we would consider, “normal” stresses for the elderly: declining health or financial problems, GAD is characterized by excessive worrying over everyday life events and lasts for more than six months.  GAD leads to a limiting of daily capabilities and sleep difficulties.

Anxiety and Dementia
Anxiety is a common symptom of dementia. Anxiety for dementia patients is due largely to changes within the brain, as well as the tension and grief due to loss of cognition and awareness of their surroundings.

People with dementia are often anxious, restless, and fidgety, but they may not be able to articulate what is troubling them. In a particular behavior known as shadowing, a person with dementia follows his or her caregiver around the house like a shadow.

Additional anxiety disorders to watch out for include:

  • panic disorder
  • obsessive social anxiety disorder
  • phobias

Excessive worrying can have costly health consequences if left untreated.

Untreated anxiety in the elderly can lead to anxious depression, which is harder to treat and has higher associated suicide risks in comparison to general depression.

Anxiety in the elderly can lead to decreased cognitive abilities.

A study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh found that a treatment with citalopram – a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) – used to treat younger people is equally effective for people aged 60 and older. For the elderly specifically, this drug has been found to cause improved cognition and quality of life during an eight month time period. The University of Pittsburgh is conducting further research on the effects.

Advocate for your loved one
Because many seniors suffering from anxiety do not receive proper diagnosis and treatments, it is important to discuss with your loved one’s primary physician the possible side effects of their medication and watch for depression. If you suspect that a loved one may be affected by anxiety, seek proper treatment and support.

Sources Used:



How To Recognize Signs of Dementia

bigstock-Senior-Couple-Sitting-Outdoors-3916926-300x200During the close family gatherings you had during this past holiday season you may have noticed a depreciation of cognitive abilities in a loved one. The early signs of dementia are often difficult to detect or could be misinterpreted, for many of them are common expectations of aging.

Mild cognitive impairment is an intermediate state between developing dementia and forgetfulness due to aging. The first thing to look for is forgetfulness, which often does not stand out because this is a common vulnerability for the elderly. According to the UCSF Memory and Aging Center, the most typical memory complaints include difficulty with the following: names of people, the location of recently placed items, and conversational skills. Other signs of mild cognitive impairment include difficulty recalling recent events or conversations, multi-tasking, and problem solving. Yet, it is important to note that despite its association with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, this intermediate stage will not necessarily develop into dementia.

The later stages of dementia can be distressing for families, and assistance may be required. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, people in the later stages of dementia will likely experience severe memory loss and may have difficulty recognizing friends and family. However, they are likely to still appreciate stimuli such as music, scent and touch. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, and there are more specific warning signs for its onset.

The Quad-City Times summarizes the signs to look for in terms of assessing Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Forgetfulness- similarly to the condition of mild cognitive impairment, the most common sign of Alzheimer’s disease is forgetfulness, especially about recent events and dates.
  • Difficulty with decision-making, problem solving, or familiar tasks at home, such as cooking from a recipe or playing a game.
  • Confusion about the passage of time and places. For example, one may become suddenly bewildered about his or her whereabouts.
  • Vision and perception problems, with difficulty reading or classifying space or color.
  • Tendency to remove oneself from social activities and lose interest in his or her hobbies or work.
  • Changes in personality- people with Alzheimer’s disease are susceptible to anxiety and depression and can become easily confused, upset, and fearful.

It is important to detect Alzheimer’s so that one with this disease can receive proper care. While family members and friends may want to be there to assist as much as possible, it may be difficult to offer the extent of the help one needs and deserves. Utilizing Aarris Homecare’s services for companionship and assistance is an excellent alternative to uprooting a loved one and sending them to a facility.



  • UCSF Memory and Aging Center:
  • Alzheimer’s Society:
  • Quad-City Times:

The Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

AlzheimerDementia is a term that is often misunderstood. Stemming from our last blog post about the difficulties of detecting dementia, let’s clarify its precise meaning. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia is an “umbrella term” for a variety of conditions arising once the nerve cells in the brain no longer function properly. Dementia itself is not a disease- it is a category that describes the conditions of certain diseases. Dementia includes difficulty in the following areas: language, memory, perception, emotional behavior, personality, and cognitive skills. Dementia encompasses more than the memory loss that is common with aging, and it can result from a variety of conditions.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Regrettably, Alzheimer’s disease affects an alarmingly high percentage of the elderly: one in eight people aged 65 or older and half of people aged 85 and older have Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is due to a build-up of protein plaque and tangled nerve cells in the brain, but its direct causes are unknown. Symptoms for Alzheimer’s disease usually begin to appear a decade or so after the onset of damage. With time, the neurons lose functionality and communication between other neurons, and they eventually die. The Hippocampus, a part of the brain essential for memory, is particularly susceptible to this degeneration of neurons.

Although Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, other medical conditions that could lead to dementia include the following:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Pick’s disease
  • Lyme’s disease

The following conditions put people at risk for dementia, but they can be reversed if found early enough:

  • Brain tumors
  • Changes in blood sugar, sodium, and calcium levels
  • Low vitamin B12 levels
  • Pressure hydrocephalus
  • Alcohol abuse

In terms of diagnosing yourself or a loved one, remember that a loss of cognitive abilities is often a product of aging. However, it is important to be aware of one’s susceptibility in order to detect dementia. The sooner dementia is diagnosed, the sooner the proper care and treatment can be given.

Photo credit:

Alzheimer’s Association, “2012 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures”

Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center

Penn State Hershey, “Dementia”

Woman Denied CPR In Independent Living Home Dies

Could this Tragic Death Have Been Avoided?

911_Call_Nursing-Home-CPR-300x171A tragic death in an independent living home stirred recent controversy when an 87-year-old woman recently died after being denied CPR because it was against the policy of Glenwood Gardens, an independent living home in Bakersfield, California.

Listening to the seven minute 911 call is truly astounding.  A nurse from the Glenwood Gardens called 911 for assistance once a resident, Lorraine Bayless, collapsed in the dining facilities. The dispatcher pleaded with the nurse to do CPR, telling her that the resident would die if denied CPR.  In desperation, the dispatcher gave the order:  “Anybody there can do CPR.  Give them the phone please.”  The nurse refused to perform CPR because it was against Glenwood Gardens’ policies and claimed that there was no one in the facility who could perform it at that time.  Once the paramedics arrived at the scene, it was too late. Lorraine Bayless died in the hospital soon afterwards.

Jeffrey J. Toomer, Executive Director at Glenwood Gardens, explained the policy of the facility as the following:

In the event of a health emergency at this independent living community our practice is to immediately call emergency medical personnel for assistance and to wait with the individual needing attention until such personnel arrives.

He also explained that it is an independent nursing facility, rather than a nursing facility, and that the residents are informed of these policies.
The daughter of Lorraine Bayless reportedly appears to not have a problem with the manner in which the situation was handled.  She claims that she was previously aware of the policy and that her mother wished to die from natural causes. In fact, the family said it would not be filing a wrongful death suit and called it, “a lesson we can all learn from.”

It is uncertain whether or not performing CPR would have saved Lorraine’s life.  But the fact that CPR, if performed in a timely manner, may have saved Lorraine’s life is unsettling.  It is difficult to imagine how it would feel in her daughter’s position.

From a legal perspective, the facility has most likely not violated any regulations.  Police are looking into whether there is criminal culpability, such as whether or not the facility has history of neglect or abuse. We live in a society in which employers often discourage employers from taking certain actions in fear of their consequences, without taking into account the moral obligations of a particular situation.  According to Dr. Patricia Harris of the University of California’s geriatrics division, survival odds are not the best for elderly people who receive CPR.  However, Dr. Harris states that she would have overridden the facility’s policy “rather than watch somebody die in front of [her].”

At Aarris Homecare, we firmly believe that when choosing a caregiver for yourself or your loved ones it is important to know that proper care and medical assistance will be provided if necessary.  Every Aarris Homecare caregiver is CPR certified and trained in first aid.  With Aarris Homecare, you can rest assured that you or your loved ones are in safe hands.

Fox News

Music Therapy Elicits Memories for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Patients

music-therapy“Music is magic; it is a backdoor into the mind, into parts of the brain that dementia and Alzheimer’s can shut off.” These are the words of Michael Rossato-Bennett, director of the upcoming documentary “Alive Inside.” You may have seen the YouTube clip (with more than 6.5 million views) that was the starting point for this project. This video clip inspired thousands of people to share similar stories.

The clip highlights Henry, a 94-year-old dementia patient who, for the most part, is responsive to “yes” or “no” questions but cannot give embellished answers. But once the iPod begins playing music from his past, Henry is “awakened.” He immediately lights up and begins rocking his hands and feet and singing along to the music. Once the headphones are taken off, Henry becomes quite receptive and opens up about his love for music in his youth. He then sings the lyrics to his favorite song, “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” Michael Rossato-Bennett hopes that his documentary will spread awareness and encourage the implementation of more music programs for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.

Studies have found that music can help elicit memories and improve cognitive abilities for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Music therapy can stimulate parts of the brain that became dormant due to degenerative diseases. In one study by Dr. Peter Janata, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, 13 UC Davis students listened to excerpts of 30 songs chosen from the “top 100” charts over the past decade, and their brain activity was measured using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). Researchers found strong activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which elicits an emotional response and “a mental movie” in the mind. The medial prefrontal cortex largely becomes degenerated with the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Studies have found that music can help elicit memories and improve cognitive abilities for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Music therapy can stimulate parts of the brain that became dormant due to degenerative diseases. In one study by Dr. Peter Janata, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, 13 UC Davis students listened to excerpts of 30 songs chosen from the “top 100” charts over the past decade, and their brain activity was measured using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). Researchers found strong activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which elicits an emotional response and “a mental movie” in the mind. The medial prefrontal cortex largely becomes degenerated with the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Music therapy can also help improve cognitive abilities in patients with dementia. Another study conducted by Dr. Concetta Tomaino examined 45 patients diagnosed with mid to late-stage dementia who attended an hour music therapy session three times a week over a 10-month period. The study found that the participants’ scores on a cognitive-function test increased by 50% on average. This is a noteworthy improvement. Although Dr. Tomaino states that music therapy cannot cure neurological diseases such as dementia, “playing familiar music frequently can significantly improve a patient’s mood, alertness and quality of life.”

Beginning a music regime at home can be as simple as programming an iPod with music tailored to a specific genre and era. Music has the power to improve cognitive abilities and bring dementia and Alzheimer’s patients a sense of their own memories and life stories.


Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory

Alive Inside:

Music Therapy for Individuals With Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias

Benefits of Pet Therapy for Your Health

Pet-TherapyThe benefits of pet interactions for one’s emotional and physical health are truly remarkable. Pet therapy does more than simply provide entertainment- it is an applied science that is utilized for a variety of medical conditions.

Pet therapy began in the 1860s to provide social support for the mentally ill. The National Institute of Health funded grants for research to encourage further advancements. It has been found that dogs can calm down children with epileptic seizures and improve communication skills in autistic patients. Dogs have even been found to smell cancer in owners before they get a formal diagnosis. The most common therapeutic animals for older people are dogs, cats, and rabbits. Pet therapy can benefit elderly people, particularly dementia patients, in the following ways:

Mood Boost: Depression is common among older people, often a result of losing of a spouse, getting a terminal diagnosis, or leaving the comforts of home-life. Pet therapy can help to boost morale and reduce agitation and stress levels. Animal interactions increase oxytocin levels, which help with feelings of happiness and trust; they can also lower the stress hormone, cortisol, and increase levels of serotonin, a “feel good hormone.” Therapy animals also offer entertainment, and many patients simply enjoy observing therapy dogs’ mannerisms and tricks that the majority can perform.
Socialization: Older people, whether living on their own, with a caregiver, or in an assisted living home, may feel isolated. Pets can offer comfort and unconditional love. According to Mara M. Baun, coordinator of the PhD nursing program at University of Texas, people with Alzheimer’s disease can recognize a dog as someone new in their environment with whom “they can interact with without any worry.”
Physical Activity: Pet therapy can encourage physical activity, whether from simply grooming the animal, tossing a ball, or going on a walk (depending on a patient’s mobility).
Eating Habits for Dementia Patients: Weight loss is common among patients with Alzheimer’s disease and is associated with an increased progression of the disease. One study examined residents in a dementia-specific unit in Indiana. Based on measurements taken prior to the start of the study, there was an average decline in weight loss amongst the residents. With the four-month installation of a fish tank in the dining room, there was a significant average increase in weights and a 27.1% increase in nutritional intake.

For caregivers seeking pet therapy for their loved ones, there are several options. Many organizations offer pet therapy services; the most qualified dogs will be registered with the Delta Society, Pet Therapy International, or Therapy Dogs International. Another option is pet ownership. Pets can help to reduce stress levels in caregivers, who are more likely to suffer from prolonged stress due to the responsibilities of caring for a loved one. When making a selection, the best therapy dogs are easy-tempered, tolerant, groomed, and well-trained (knowing tricks is an added plus). Considering its multitude of benefits, pet therapy may be a good option when tailoring a treatment plan for a loved one.


Photo credit: Telluride Pet Sitting

“Animal-Assisted Therapy and Nutrition in Alzheimer’s Disease” –

“How Caregivers Can Use Pet Therapy to Care for Their Loved One” –

“How Animal Therapy Helps Dementia Patients” –

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