Tag Archives: Alzheimer’s

Successful Aging

Oh dear, yet another large print book. I have nothing against the concept of large print, ideally this makes it easier to read for people with vision issues. However, I wish the publishers did a better job with layout and leading, the latter essentially being the spacing between lines. Lines of large type clumped on a page does not, actually, make for easier reading (for me).

John W Rose, MD, and Rober L Kahn, PhD, compiled the results of a MacArthur Foundation Study on aging and the result is the 1998 book, Successful Aging. Given that this book was published 14 years ago, there was nothing new in it that I had not already seen in some other format.

There were, however, two items that did particularly strike me. The first was the wonderful optimism the authors exude in describing both the results of the long term study and what the findings could mean for the future. While they break down the study and discuss multiple aspects of aging, I think the book’s message can be summed up quite simply. To paraphrase Carol Dweck’s findings about mindsets, those with growth mindsets will find it easier to deal with aging and, as such, will likely have a positive impact on their own aging process. Those who have a fixed mindset will find that when the going gets tough, they may be less flexible in managing repercussions, which will likely have a less positive – and perhaps negative – impact on their own aging process.

The idea of mindsets holds true, as well, for younger peoples’ perceptions of older people. As a teacher, I have always believed that students rise or fall to the level of expectations held for them. Similarly, if younger people can have a positive mindset about older people and the process of aging, this is more likely to have a beneficial impact on their interactions with older people and on their own aging process.

Due to the date of the book, 1998, I tended to question some of the statistics the authors noted, especially regarding the prevalence of Alzheimer’s in the aging population. I am reasonably confident that the numbers of people with, and expected to exhibit some form of dementia or Alzheimer’s is far greater than what they forecast back in 1998. You can read more about the Latest Alzheimer’s Statistics in the United States in this article on the Texas Alzheimer’s Research and Care Consortium site. In any case, both resources note that dementia and Alzheimer’s are not part of the normal aging process.

Similar to what I have gleaned from other books on aging, and from attendance at various Learning & the Brain conferences, Rose and Kahn note there are several factors a person can engage with to help their brains and bodies age normally. Turns out we do have  some control over how we age, it’s not all in the genes.

  • engage in physical activity – good for the body and for the brain, as exercise helps stimulate BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor
  • fertilize your social network – showing care for and an interest in others, and allowing them to do the same for you makes for a strong support system
  • believe that you can manage whatever comes your way – while this may not always be the case, having a “cup half full” approach to aging can help you handle the blips

According to research, focusing on the above three elements will help an individual age successfully. Essentially, this approach translates to preventive care, and preventive care can aid with (in the words of the authors) “avoiding disease, maintaining high cognitive and physical function, and engagement with life.” Alternatively,

Disability in older people results from three key factors: 1) the impact of disease, or more commonly, many diseases at once; 2) lifestyle factors, such as exercise and diet, which directly influence physical fitness and risk of disease; and 3) the biological changes that occur with advancing age – formally known as senescence.

For more on healthy aging, here are some of my prior posts plus an article by Elkhonon Goldberg.

On Music, Dopamine, and Making Sense of Sound

Last week SharpBrains published part one of my two posts about Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music, and now part two is posted! On Music, Dopamine, and Making Sense of Sound explores how music impacts people who have Parkinson’s, dementia or Alzheimer’s.

If you know anyone with Parkinson’s, dementia or Alzheimer’s, and if they currently do not have music in their lives, I hope you will share my two posts with them and with their families. Thank you, on their behalf!

Music as Therapy: Music, Movement, Cognition!

A number of my posts have dealt with my foray into teaching yoga and facilitating movement for folks who are dealing with movement limitations, the normal process of aging, or changes in cognitive functioning due to dementia or Alzheimer’s. I have also mentioned Daniel Levitin, the author of This Is Your Brain On Music, related posts being available here.

I am delighted to share that yesterday part 1 of two posts furthering the above conversations has been posted on the SharpBrains blog. My post is Music as Therapy: Music, Movement, Cognition! I hope you’ll pop over to read it, and if you have any feedback, please feel free to share, especially if you have related experiences that we can all learn from. Thanks!

Commuting.

For this school year, I am commuting 62 miles each way to where I teach. That translates to an hour’s drive in the morning, and on the days of after school meetings, anywhere from 70 to 90 minutes for the drive home.

After 14 years of teaching just four miles from my home, and several times a year walking home from school, you can perhaps begin to imagine the impact this change of time spent sitting in a car has had on me – less time available for walking, poor air quality (though I recirculate the interior air while driving on I-95 so as to minimize the trucking fumes), muscle strain from sitting in one position, and stress from intense concentration so as to keep my drive safe.

The Hidden Toll of Traffic Jams, in the November 2011 Health & Wellness section of The Wall Street Journal, discusses the impact of traffic emissions on commuters, including this tidbit:

And older men and women long exposed to higher levels of traffic-related particles and ozone had memory and reasoning problems that effectively added five years to their mental age, other university researchers in Boston reported this year. The emissions may also heighten the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and speed the effects of Parkinson’s disease.

That last sentence is fascinating to me because my Dad commuted daily from New Hyde Park, NY to Hasbrouck Heights, NJ for upwards of 20 years. While his distance was half of my current commute, the time spent in the car was about equal due to the enormous volume of traffic crossing the George Washington Bridge.

And why is this fascinating? My Dad developed Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in his later years. To be sure, some of that was likely hard-wired into his DNA, but “heighten the risk” and “speed the effects” make me wonder about the commute’s impact. 

Bruce McEwen, in a March 2011 Dana Foundation article Effects of Stress on the Developing Brain, talks about the effects of stress on the brain and body. “Besides major life events, abuse and neglect, it is the ordinary day-to-day experiences in family, neighborhood, commuting and work, and school that affect brain and body function and promote those health damaging behaviors.

A recent acquaintance, who crafts infographics, sent me this infographic describing The Killer Commute. The graphic is provided by CollegeAtHome.com and it speaks volumes! She asked for my feedback, and this is what I had to say: 

The graphic is a killer! Okay, what I mean is, it depicts my experience – all the “yuck” parts of commuting. I had already determined to leave my job (and gave notice in January that I did not want another contract), but if I hadn’t already done that, the graphic would have convinced me to do so.
 
The parts covering health detriments are intense, (perhaps I can use them to drum up business for a “Yoga for Commuters” class….)
 
I only have two issues with an otherwise highly effective and convincing graphic – it is demoralizing! And the sources at the bottom were difficult for me to read.

Music & Memory ~ Alive Inside Documentary

For as long as I’ve been interested in the brain, neurologist Oliver Sacks has been someone who has stood out. He is an author of many books, in particular one with an intriguing title, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, and one that directly relates to a topic of great interest to me, Musicophilia. If you’ve been following my blog posts, you’ll recall I am reading Dan Levitan’s This Is Your Brain On Music (just one chapter to go!)

The video clip below is from Alive Inside, a documentary about the impact of music on people who live with dementia and Alzheimer’s. The movie is being screened next week in New York City at The Rubin Museum of Art. You can read more about the program of bringing music to nursing homes and people with Alzheimer’s at Music & memory.

[Update April 22: My friend Ann sent me a link to NPR's eight minute interview – For Elders With Dementia, Musical Awakenings – with Dan Cohen, the person who started the process of crafting individualized song lists for folks with dementia and Alzheimer's, around which the Alive Inside documentary is based. In my Seated Sunday Yoga Songfest at The Pavilion, I have seen similar connections reblossom when a familiar song plays. There is often the added piece of a personal connection, as my hands connect with another's, we move and sway and sing, we smile and look into each other's eyes.]

This Is Your Brain On Music

This morning I was putting away the syrup that garnished the scrumptious french toast made by my husband, and as I closed the refrigerator door, some of the many tiles of magnetic poetry caught my eye. As our sons come and go on home visits, they alter the poetry, so I have no idea which one crafted this gem, but how appropriate given the book I am currently reading!

I am two-thirds of the way through Daniel J. Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music. When this book came out in 2007, I ordered a hard cover copy from amazon and eagerly awaited its delivery. When it arrived, I thumbed through the book and decided it wasn’t for me.

Rather than letting it languish on my book shelf, I gave it to a student – an accomplished high school musician who played (and still plays) clarinet and saxophone, who has studied at Julliard, and with who I had a close relationship developed over years of her assisting with faculty technology workshops and my being her advisor for her eleventh grade independent study project that resulted in her authoring and publishing this book. As her lulu.com bio states, she is “currently studying Music Education and Clarinet Performance at the University of Maryland, College Park.”

Now, five years later, guess what book I am reading? This time I have a paperback copy borrowed from my local library. And I am two-thirds of the way through Levitin’s book, absorbing his words and relating them back to my experience – in caring for my Dad, who had Parkinson’s and Alzheimers; in teaching yoga to people with mobility or other limitations; in teaching yoga to people who are at the upper realms of aging; in learning to teach dance to people with Parkinson’s. There will be much more about all of this as I continue to read, take notes, reflect and wonder, with a possibility of everything coming together in a blog post for SharpBrains.

But for now, I am just smiling at the magnetic poetry on my refrigerator door. Oh, and wouldn’t you know it – last night Levitin’s invitation to participate in a survey about music came across my Twitter feed. Of course, I participated! For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, I do not know Levitin but I “follow” him, so everything he tweets about shows up in my timeline. How fitting that the magnetic poetry and Levitin’s tweet both deal with music and mood.

Last post – Music; this post – Dance

For me, they are linked – I hear music, I start to move. And if it’s a certain kind of music, my body starts to dance. The only thinking I do is split second, wondering if it is okay to start dancing in my current surroundings.

Music has an amazing impact on the brain, influencing neuronal impulses to cause movement. This Facebook wall post says it all. In fact, there are instances where dancing helps the brain to think.

Parkinson’s Disease – Dance for PD

I have been training, via Dance for PD, to teach dance to people with Parkinson’s. At some point, a person who has Parkinson’s winds up having difficulty controlling their movement. Their body parts function just fine, but the signal that is sent from their brain to their legs, for instance, gets lost in translation. The signal never arrives, or it arrives late or in a discombobulated form.

It turns out, though, that when someone with Parkinson’s participates in these Dance for PD dance classes, something magical happens. The music permeates their minds and provides rhythmic accompaniment for their movement signals to traverse from the brain to the body part. Feet and legs can move, indeed, dance, often gracefully and fluidly, facilitated by the music.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Very powerful it is, this dance! Especially in a social setting. Bringing people together to touch hands, figure out who leads, who follows, and how to create movement through music and footwork – all of this requires thought, concentration, focus and quick planning ahead. According to this article by Richard Powers, a dance instructor and presenter at Stanford University, dancing makes you smarterIt’s not just about the physical exercise provided by dance or the release of endorphins that ultimately makes a person feel good, it’s the social aspects that benefit cognition.

Frequent dancing apparently makes us smarter. A major study added to the growing evidence that stimulating one’s mind can ward off Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia, much as physical exercise can keep the body fit.

Fact is, when dancing with a partner, you have to pay attention and be one step (always figuratively and sometimes literally!) ahead of what they will do next. This causes your brain to build synapses and continually rewire itself the more you dance. All of this synaptical building is creating cognitive reserve, a mental buffer. The more neuronal connections you have, the better, so that if one portion of your brain malfunctions, the other portions of your brain can co-opt some of that cognitive reserve.

Dance is FUN and HEALTHY and SOCIAL and just plain GOOD FOR YOU!

The Nickelodeon…Music, Music, Music!

Put another nickel in
In the nickelodeon
All I want is having you
And music, music, music

It’s those last three words that tickle my fancy: music, music, music!

Posts about music have appeared on this blog seven times, usually relating to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or dementia. The most recent post, from last October, included a quote by Daniel J. Levitin, a neuroscientist who is also a musician, and it is Levitin who led me – via Twitter – to a post by Diana Hereld about Autism, Gabrielle Giffords and the Neuroscience Behind “The Singing Therapy”. Hereld shares about her insights from the Second World Congress of Clinical Neuromusicology and mentions a specific type of music therapy, Melodic Intonation Therapy. As Hereld writes:

What this means for the whole of this ‘Singing Therapy’ is that by being able to work with brain regions such as Broca’s area which may facilitate the mapping of sound to action, all kinds of different strides may be made linguistically in patients with left-hemisphere brain damage. People who suffer from neurological impairments or disorders that would otherwise be completely unable to communicate verbally may now have that chance.

 

I have been volunteering at The Pavilion at The Osborne on Sunday mornings, facilitating movement to music. This began as a yoga session, but it is more a seated Sunday songfest of movement to music. Everyone has some mobility issue and everyone fits somewhere on the dementia –> Alzheimer’s spectrum. (You can read more about these sessions here.)

What I do know, from these sessions and from caring for my Dad, who coexisted with Alzheimer’s and who loved music, singing and dancing, is that music stays with people long after their ability for coherent conversation has taken leave. The music is the blessing.

Looking for help from readers, please.

I am fascinated by the brain. I have been practicing yoga since March of 2005. I have been a teacher of kids and adults since 1982 (teaching with and about computers). I saw how music and movement soothed my Dad as he dealt with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. I know what my next act will be, and am looking for your help in coming up with a name.

WRITTEN on July 11 of this year:

I have a dream of blending yoga and movement with learning about the brain, and offering it to retirees, adults and kids, to help them nourish their bodies and grow more synapses and neurons in the process.

TWEETED this morning:

Combining yoga, dance & music for folks w/mobility, health or aging issues. Crowd sourcing positive upbeat company name for this. Ideas?

TEACH blended movement that incorporates:

  • yoga, be it in a chair, along side a chair or without a chair
  • dance
  • music
  • learning about stress and ways to manage it
  • learning about your brain and how you learn
  • learning about anatomy
  • relaxation
  • fun
  • community
  • self-care

LOOKING for an upbeat name that evokes the possibilities…

If you have a suggestion, please do leave it in a comment below. And thank you for helping me to come up with a name!

Understanding the Elderly

Earlier this afternoon, as the wet snow came falling fast and furious (and took out my next-door-neighbor’s power, thanks to a fallen tree, for the second time this autumn!), I watched a TED Talk given by Eli Stefanski. While I found Eli an interesting story teller, what drew my attention was the place she currently calls her professional home, the Business Innovation Factory.

Our network of innovators, transformation artists and troublemakers is designing the future.

Having seen my Dad spend the last seven or so years of his life in nursing homes, and my Mom successfully avoid that very experience, I was intrigued to learn more about the Nursing Home of the Future as visioned by the Business Innovation Factory. They have a wide array of media online to chronicle the elderly experience: videos, interviews, slide shows and documents for download. I was particularly struck by the videos The Many Journeys of Aging and The Sensory Environment.

At present, the prognosis for the future is not all that sunny when it comes to the massive numbers of baby boomer Americans who will age into their eighties in the next 25 years. There will be more elderly people than there will be places for them to live where they can be independent, maintain their dignity, and have opportunities for constructive and meaningful participation in life. These are very real quality of life issues that will eventually impact people of all ages, because the costs of care are astronomical and our current health care system is strapped.

[UPDATE: The October 31, 2011 New York Times article, A Nursing Home Shrinks Until It Feels Like a Home, tells a story of a nursing home crafted to be more home-like and less hospital-like, noting that this approach can have a positive impact on the quality of life of the folks who live in the home, while also benefitting those responsible for providing care. It sounds to me like a win-win environment for all involved.]

Here is Eli’s talk.