Only Half of Seniors With Signs of Dementia Are Being Tested

Cognitive Tests Now Included in Medicare’s Annual Wellness Exam

Medicare's free annual wellness exam now includes cognitive evaluations.

Medicare’s free annual wellness exam now includes cognitive evaluations.

A University of Michigan study finds that as many as 1.8 million Americans over the age of 70 with dementia have not been evaluated by a doctor. The study was published online in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Data from the study come from before the start of Medicare’s free annual wellness exams for seniors, which began in 2011 under the Affordable Care Act and are required to include a cognitive evaluation.

We sat down with neurologist Vikas Kotagal, M.D., M.S., one of the co-authors of the study, to talk about cognitive evaluations and the results of the study. Kotagal sees patients at the University of Michigan Health System and is an assistant professor in the U-M Medical School’s Department of Neurology.

What can patients and families do if they think their relative may have dementia?

The best thing you can do is to recommend that your relative take advantage of Medicare’s free annual wellness exams for seniors. You can just bring it up as part of regular conversation, without even mentioning the concerns about memory. People just need to contact their regular primary care doctor to set this up. The exam is required to include some sort of brief cognitive evaluation.  Continue reading

Dementia and the Benefits of Nature: Gardening

Woman_GardeningThe American naturalist and nature essayist John Burroughs may have said it best: “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”

Whether you love the beauty of the fall leaves, waking up to a fresh snowfall, the smell of new growth in the spring, or feeling the warmth of the summer sun, it is likely that a particular aspect of nature speaks to you and awakens positive thoughts or emotions. I find it calming and relaxing to walk through the woods and spend time canoeing in my pond while watching the turtles sunbathing on the logs. As I age, I hope that I can continue to practice these same activities when I’m in need of calm and relaxation.

Unfortunately, individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease are all too often kept indoors throughout the day. While this might seem like the safest, best option, research shows that access to the outdoors and physical activity can be extremely beneficial for adults living with memory loss. Now, gardening and outdoor therapies are becoming more popular across the globe.  Continue reading

Caring for Someone With Dementia—And Caring For Yourself

Caregiver and patient_FullAre you taking care of a loved one with memory loss? If so, are you taking care of you? Learning to care for yourself is one of the greatest challenges in caregiving. Here are a few statistics that speak to the importance and difficulty of caring for you, the caregiver:

So what do you do? Feelings of guilt, shame and worry may be familiar to the burned-out caregiver, but they are not healthy or successful motivators for positive change and self-care. Mindfulness offers a kinder, more effective path.  Continue reading

Alzheimer’s Disease Vs. Dementia

What is the Difference?

times go by concept digital illustration orange on blackWhat is the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia? This is one of the most common questions I receive when I give presentations in the community or answer the U-M Memory Connection line. This is a great question because the terms are often used in place of one another, despite the fact that they mean different things.

In brief, dementia is a broad term used to describe a collection of symptoms. The symptoms are caused by changes in brain function and they are severe enough to affect daily functioning. There are many reasons why someone may have dementia. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for approximately 75% of dementia cases, and that is why the words are often used interchangeably.

Visual images

I like to use the following visual images when illustrating the difference:

  • Imagine that the fruit bowl in your kitchen is dementia. While there are several different pieces of fruit in the bowl, the fruit found most frequently, perhaps a banana, is Alzheimer’s disease. The other fruits in the bowl represent other causes of dementia that aren’t quite as common, such as vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, or reversible dementias induced by things like a urinary tract infection or a vitamin deficiency.
  • Imagine that your grandchild has a runny nose. Their runny nose is not a specific disease or condition; it is just a symptom. There are many different potential reasons for the runny nose. It may be caused by influenza, a sinus infection or a reaction to being outside in a cold temperature for too long. In the same way, dementia is not a specific disease and there are several reasons a person may exhibit dementia, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease.

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Memory Games for a Healthy Brain

We’ve all seen the ads for computer programs, memory games and apps that promise to help preserve our memory and other cognitive abilities. The problem with many commercial programs and apps is that you have to pay a monthly fee for something you may get tired of or that may not be enjoyable.Woman playing a memory game

The good news is that you don’t have to pay money to keep your brain active. You can find free brain games and puzzles on your smartphone, tablet or computer. There are also free apps and programs that help us eat right and move more, which further contribute to a healthy brain.

Brain games

Sudoku, crossword puzzles, and scrabble are old favorites that challenge our brain. Here are a few other apps and websites to check out:  Continue reading

5 Ways to Protect Your Memory

Many middle-aged adults are concerned about developing memory loss later in life. While there is no guaranteed way to prevent memory loss, researchers are finding out more and more about how the brain works and how to keep it healthy. Here are five important steps you can take to maintain a healthy brain:

It's important to interact with others.

People are good for our brain.

  1. Eat right

Choose vegetables, fish, eggs, legumes (lentils, beans), nuts, olive oil and fruits. Limit red meat, alcohol and sugar. Avoid processed and packaged food as much as possible. A healthful diet will also reduce the risk for diabetes, which is linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

  1. Exercise

We can’t stress enough the importance of all types of exercise. If you haven’t exercised for a while, start by walking. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week. Talk with your doctor before you pursue any formal exercise program.  Continue reading