The Video Respite series provides you with a video tool to improve the quality of life for the person or the people in your care while providing you with a way to improve your own quality of life by providing a respite from the challenges of caring.

Neuroscientists are finding experimental evidence that we may be able to remember lost memories. In a study at MIT, mice were made to forget a certain task by the introduction of a toxic protein used mimics Alzheimer’s disease in experimental subjects. By then putting the mice into a sensory-rich environment the mice regained the ability to complete the forgotten task. The stimulation rewired the brain to remember the lost memory!

Hogewey, located in the Netherlands, is the only care facility of it’s kind in the world and is home to over 150 people with severe dementia.  Started by 2 nurses who feared having to put their own parents in a traditional nursing home, ‘Dementia Village’ is a place where residents live a seemingly normal life, but are actually being watched by caregivers at all times. Residents are free to roam around, visiting shops, getting their hair done or being active in one of the 25 clubs available at Hogewey.

This funny little man is proportioned according to the touch receptors in the body. As you can see, the hands, the face, the feet have more than their fair share of nerves. Stimulation to these areas will send many more signals to the brain than will stimulation to the torso or arm or legs. And there are correspondingly disproportionate areas of the brain that receive the incoming signals.

Fidgeting, holding and playing with things, becomes an obsession with many people who have dementia, and the sensory feedback to the brain is at least part of the reason why. It is not entirely different from babies and small children being obsessed with exploring with their hands and mouths. It is important to provide tactile stimulation to those in your care. Hand and foot and face massages provide passive tactile stimulation. A barefoot walk in the grass and a sensory box like I showed earlier are excellent active stimulations.

This is an overhead view of the brain. The frontal lobe is pointing up in the picture. At the very back of the frontal lobe is the motor cortex, here in that off-red color; that’s the part of the brain that controls voluntary muscle activity. Just behind the motor cortex in the parietal lobe is the somatosensory cortex, pictured in blue. The somatosensory cortex receives electrical impulses coming in from different parts of the body, providing us with our sense of touch.

Here is another look at our friend Homunculus. His rather disconnected body is spread across a section of the motor cortex. Homunculus’ face is aligned with a large section of that motor cortex which controls facial movement, his elbow with a rather smaller section, etc. You can see that the volume of brain dedicated to controlling the face and hands is again disproportionately large. This can be a little hard to see at first… <This might be a little unclear and need some explanation. Draw on the monitor, etc.>

And here is Homunculus spread across the somatosensory cortex. You can see how the area of the brain that controls movement in a part of the body is closely relates to the area that receives messages and feedback from that part.  Nerves in the fingers send messages to the somatosensory cortex which communicates with the motor cortex which then sends instructions back to the fingers about what to do next. These connections between different lobes and sections are crucial to our functioning.

And now things get really interesting. Until very recently the mature brain was thought to be relatively immutable. Neurologists told us that the brain structure didn’t really change once we reached adulthood. We go on learning, synaptic connections are created, but new brain cells just didn’t happen. Some new discoveries have changed the way we think about that. We now know that the brain does change and reorganize itself, that it can actually increase in mass depending on need and use. This phenomenon is called brain plasticity, and is one of the most exciting new areas in neuroscience. Brain plasticity is fueled by how the brain is stimulated.

As humans we have an intimate relationship to music. Listening to music is an excellent sensory stimulation; who doesn’t enjoy music? Playing music is even more stimulating. Creating music – not composing but creating the sounds – is multi-sensory. It involves hearing and somatic senses. Instrumental musicians have become favorite subjects for brain studies, and these studies have reached some exciting conclusions. One is that pianists and violinists have enlarged areas of their somatosensory and motor cortices when compared to non-musicians. It is not just that they are more able to discern tone and pitch, or recognize harmony and dissonance, but their brains have actually grown as a result of their practice. Furthermore, the right motor cortex is more changed in violin players, whose left hands are more active. The cortex is enlarged on the left in piano players, who are more active with their right hands.

 

One more study, this one involving mice brains. A group at MIT put mice into a water maze. The mice would swim around randomly until they found a hidden platform which allowed them to get out of the water. Soon the mice were able to swim directly to the platform. Then the researchers did something that was not so nice – they gave the mice Alzheimer’s disease. Back in the maze the mice swam around randomly once again. They forgot their training.

The investigators then put half of the demented mice into an enriched environment with a running wheel and other colorful toys, an environment one of the researchers called “Disneyland for mice.” The control group was kept in their cages with little for stimulation but the food they got at mealtimes. After a time both groups were re-tested in the maze. The control group performed as expected; they had no idea where the platform was. However, the mice who had gone to Disneyland swam to the platform pretty much as they had before their memories had been altered.

Even this laboratory hardened group of researchers was amazed. They had assumed that their procedure had erased all memory of the training, just as we assume that Alzheimer’s disease erases memory. The scientists had to re-examine their assumption and they concluded that it was not the memory that was lost but access to the memory was destroyed. And it is entirely possible that Alzheimer’s works like that, erasing connections and not memories. Could enough of the right type of stimulation help reconnect to lost memories?

I know what you are thinking, and no, I don’t want you to teach your 92 year old grandmother to play the violin, unless she really wants to and shows some aptitude. I also don’t suggest a running wheel. And by all means don’t let her drive in London. There are more appropriate ways to provide sensory and brain stimulation. I was able to get enough of these Brainpaths from the manufacturer for everyone here. This simple device provides similar sensory feedback as fingering violin strings. The idea for it is actually based on some of these recent discoveries in neuroscience. Tracing the grooves in this plastic disk with your fingers stimulates the 3000 or so receptors in each fingertip which, as we have seen, stimulates the somatosensory cortex, which in turn signals the motor cortex.

And here is a picture of the somatosensory cortex being stimulated by this activity. This is a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan of the brain of someone using one of these Brainpaths. Compare this to the image we saw earlier of the somatosensory cortex…

The red spots in the fMRI scan indicate high activity. Notice how closely those spots correspond to the position of Homunculus’ hand on the somatosensory cortex. Our contention that sensory stimulation is brain stimulation is further substantiated. Furthermore – – – I find it amazing that we can image the brain like that, don’t you?!
It is an exciting time for the science of neurology and brain study. I read recently that we have learned more about the brain in the last five years than in the five thousand years previous. Recent advances in brain-imaging technology have given us some incredible tools for studying this most complex structure in the known universe: tools like the fMRI, the EEG, SPECT scan, and CT scan and the PET scan. I’m sure that many of you know more than I do about these machines. Some of you could probably even tell me what those letters stand for – because I’d like to know. Anyway, these special tools allow us to watch electrical activity and blood flow in the brain as it responds to different stimuli and situations.

This image from the brain on Brainpaths is a good example of how this new technology can help us study the brain. In this picture we see how a simple somatic input affects the corresponding part of the somatosensory cortex. Sensory input, however, is rarely this simple. Looking at a painting, especially a well done piece, can light up the brain like a Christmas tree. Art can trigger responses in creative centers, emotional centers, the prefrontal cortex which makes judgements, and more. Art can also evoke memories and reminiscences.

When you read a book more than just language and visual centers are stimulated, as this image illustrates. If you read about running, the parts of your brain associated with running are activated. If the protagonist in your book is cooking and describing the odors in the kitchen, the olfactory centers of your brain can be activated.

 

Interestingly, here is a comparative picture from an fMRI scan showing the brain while surfing the internet. Little wonder we waste so much time doing so. And the positive effects often last for days and weeks. I think I have another image here, one of the brain while watching situation comedy on TV. Yes…

Millions of people fall victim to scams each year, including an increasing amount of seniors who are especially targeted. Scammers are becoming more savvy and refined with their fraudulent measures, so it is more important than ever to identity the scams before becoming a victim.

Researchers in the U.K. have found declining dementia rates over two decades

There are many reasons to get an early and accurate diagnosis if you suspect dementia. Included: treatment is sometimes more effective when started early, early diagnosis gives one time to get affairs in order, and diagnosis might be more accurate if done early. Most importantly, there are many diseases and conditions that mimic Alzheimer’s disease as well as the symptoms associated with most other causes of dementia. Many of these are treatable and even curable!

At a conference we attended recently we were able to spend some face time with Cindy and Darryl, creators of Serenity Babies. We had a really nice visit, as it has been a couple of years since we last saw them. They shared some tips for using dolls as therapy.

Lifestyle choices reduce plaques and tangles

A study, published Aug. 16, 2016 in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, found that certain lifestyle factors reduce the amount of amyloid plaque and fibrillary tangles in the brain. These plaques and tangles are always present in the Alzheimer’s affected brain. The group at UCLA found that the brains of subjects who followed a Mediterranean diet and exercised regularly had fewer plaques and tangles than those who did not.

It is an exciting time for the science of neurology and brain study. I read recently that we have learned more about the brain in the last five years than in the five thousand years previous. Recent advances in brain-imaging technology have given us some incredible tools for studying this most complex structure in the known universe: tools like the fMRI, the EEG, SPECT scan, and CT scan and the PET scan. These special tools allow us to watch electrical activity and blood flow in the brain as it responds to different stimuli and situations. One thing we are learning is there is a special connection between music and the brain.

Clothing that is easy to put on and take off can extend a person's independence.

As hard as it may be to believe, there is an entirely new concept in fashion design. Advancing age as well as certain medical and physical conditions make dressing oneself difficult, even with another’s help. Immobility makes it hard for a carer to assist in dressing. However,  several clothing manufacturers, including Tommy Hilfiger, are stepping up to with answers to this problem.  Adaptive clothing lines help people with a variety of disabilities to dress themselves, and help care providers to more easily and more effectively do their job.

Brainpaths® is a unique concept. It is based on the fact that each of our fingertips contain more than 3000 nerve receptors that connect directly to our brains. As the grooves in the discs are traced repeatedly with the fingers, those receptors send messages to the somatosensory cortex in the parietal lobe of the brain. Sensory stimulation like this can modify the structure of the brain.

Games and activities for Alzheimer's

Once we had a good start on the website, we began a search for games, puzzles, alarms, and other products that all of our research indicated would  benefit Bernice and others with Alzheimer’s disease.

That was not as easy as we thought it would be!

what to expect from a loved one with Alzheimer's disease

It is not easy to accept the possibility that you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, but early diagnosis can be important. The sooner you know, the sooner you can start planning for the future, and the sooner you can begin exploring treatment options. Medical and non-medical therapies may delay or moderate Alzheimer’s symptoms and may even slow down the progression of the disease.

Early Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

The Alzheimer’s Association has defined ten early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Everyone experiences, at one time or another, lapses in memory, difficulty finding something, or forgets an appointment. These are often part of the normal aging process, or may be caused by stress at work or home that is totally unrelated to a neurological disorder like Alzheimer’s. However, if you or a friend or family member is having trouble with several of the Alzheimer’s symptoms listed, especially if they are worsening or disrupting normal functioning, you should seek medical advice.
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10 Signs Of Alzheimer’s

  1. Disruptive reduction in memory
    Memory of recent events or recent learning is one of the first and best-known symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Repeating questions, writing reminder notes, and covering up for forgetfulness are all behavioral manifestations of this symptom. An occasional forgotten name or phone number, or a missed appointment are not necessarily early signs of Alzheimer’s.
  2. Decrease in planning or problem solving abilities
    Some people with early symptoms of Alzheimer’s have difficulty with arithmetic, mathematics, and other operations involving numbers. Activities and tasks will take longer to complete than they did before.

    Older woman getting help with cooking

    Accomplishing familiar tasks may require more and more help.

  3. Difficulty with familiar tasks
    Even in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, someone might get lost while driving to the grocery store, or walking to the park on the next block. At work, she could have trouble with a task that she has done hundreds of times before. Don’t be too concerned if you have trouble setting the video recorder to record a favorite movie: almost everyone has trouble with that….
  4. Confusing time and location
    It is common for people with Alzheimer’s to forget what day, month, or even season it is. They might not recognize a familiar place, or forget how they got there.
  5. Difficulty interpreting visual information and spatial relationships
    This  is not the same as visual problems that can be corrected with glasses, or those caused by cataracts. An example is the inability to organize letters into words or words into sentences, even though the letters are seen well enough.
  6. More than occasional difficulty finding words and using them to convey a thought
    This difficulty can be in speaking and writing, and will worsen over time. It may cause a person to stop in the middle of a sentence and restart the sentence, or calling things by the wrong name.
  7. Misplacing items and inability to retrace steps to find them
    Being unable to find the car keys occasionally is normal. It’s more like putting them in the microwave or refrigerator, and not being able to remember the steps that led to that action, like returning from the grocery store, walking into the kitchen with the shopping bags, putting the cereal in the pantry, putting the keys in the egg tray in the door of the refrigerator. When I do this, I can usually re-create my actions in my mind’s eye, and find those keys, right in the egg tray where I left them. A person with Alzheimer’s disease usually looses that ability to remember his recent activities early in the course of the disease, making that re-creation difficult or impossible.

    Lady at the door - target for scam artist

    Diminished judgement often makes people who have Alzheimer’s easy targets for scam artists.

  8. Poor judgment and decision making ability
    People with early signs of Alzheimer’s disease are often easy marks for telephone and television sales people, and there are plenty out there who intentionally prey on people they think will be easy targets.  Unfortunately, we hear plenty of stories of contractors who sell a job that doesn’t need doing, take a down payment for the work, and are never seen again.
    Poor grooming and hygiene are other examples of behavior that may result from poor judgment.
  9. Withdrawal from social situations and from work and hobby activity
    Such withdrawal can result from fear of embarrassment, memory problems, or a host of other issues related to Alzheimer’s symptoms.
  10. Mood and personality changes
    Paranoia, depression and anxiety are common Alzheimer’s symptoms, but they are not the only changes that can result from the condition. Aggressive behavior, agitation, confusion and fear are also common symptoms, especially in new or unfamiliar situations or surroundings.

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Occasionally experiencing any of these symptoms of Alzheimer’s is normal, especially as we get older; however, If several of the signs are present, if they are getting noticeably worse, and if any of them are severe enough that normal daily functioning is impaired, you should see your medical professional. Don’t make the mistake of neglecting Mom’s forgetfulness “because she’s getting older.” It is too easy to deny a problem like this is affecting a loved one.

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Caregiver’s Survival Guide

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