Brain Health Index Score Helps Seniors and Caregivers Manage their Minds

Brain health may soon be proved to be the most important component of healthy living and aging, as our brains connect to all the other functions in our bodies. The human operating system is turning out to be greatly impacted by our state of mind. Researchers now say our brains are the most important organ, creating memories, driving emotions and controlling every movement in our bodies. Now you can be proactive about managing your brain health with an online brain check-up tool.

One of our favorite authors, Deepak Chopra, and his pal Dr. Rudi Tanzi, also have a new book coming out called "Super Genes, Unlock the Astonishing Power of Your DNA for Optimum Health and Well-Being", as a follow-up to their book "Super Brain" and you can pre-order it. This book discusses how 95% of disease-related gene mutations are fully deterministic and influenced by diet, behavior and other environmental conditions.

Cleveland Clinic's Six Pillars of Brain Health can help us preserve our memory and lower our risk for brain disease. The recent suicide of actor Robin Williams, who was suffering from Lewy Body dementia, we now know, reminds us how vital it is to be able to properly diagnose our health issues. However, some types of dementia are difficult to diagnose in the early stages. Especially when there is an early onset of Alzheimer's disease, it can be mistaken for schizophrenia, drug abuse and all kinds of ailments that add even more stress to the situation.

Keep Memory Alive is a non-profit organization created to increase awareness and raise funds for the research, management and treatment of brain disorders (they are located in Las Vegas and receive sponsorship money from Caesar's - it's good to know there are gambling dollars going towards something positive). The Cleveland Clinic's Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health is supported by Keep Memory Alive and treats patients with:

  • Alzheimer's Disease
  • Huntington's Disease
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Fronto-temporal Dementia 
  • Multiple Sclerosis
The Healthy Brains free brain check-up will help you manage your brain health and to be "mindful" of how to best care for your brain. When you take the Cleveland Clinic's free online brain check-up, you can also join their healthy brains research registry which also connects you to a community of people who are willing to participate in clinical research as we work to better understand how to treat illnesses impacting the brain.

6 Pillars for Brain Health
  1. Physical Exercise
  2. Mental Fitness
  3. Food & Nutrition
  4. Sleep & Relaxation
  5. Social Interaction
  6. Medical Health
Clinical trials are necessary to study better ways to treat memory loss. Right now, more than 70,000 volunteer participants are needed for more than 150,000 Alzheimer's Disease and dementia clinical trials. Participants are needed who are both healthy as well as those who already have a diagnosis of memory loss. Find clinical trial openings at Cleveland Clinic. Plan ahead for senior care needs or those of a loved one by learning about what Medicare and Medicaid cover and available care options near you.

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Senior Care Services Evolving as we Begin Accepting "Being Mortal"

America's "Oldest Old' are increasing. This term refers to those who are age 80 or older. Media attention recently has focused on the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Medicare benefit program and how when it was developed in 1965, the lifespan for an American senior was age 75. This is why Medicare benefits begin at age 65. But today age 75 seems rather young.

Our retirement years are going through an evolution as we realize we are more likely to live to be 100 than just age 75. This requires more money to be saved and for a game plan for a fulfilling lifestyle. But a reality of aging is also the fact that the human body was not built to last forever.

Aging is a natural process, for those of us who will be fortunate enough to experience it.

Doctor Atul Gawande, who has written books such as "The Checklist Manifesto", now has written "Being Mortal" to start a conversation on how accepting the aging process and planning ahead for how you would like for your senior care to be, should become as common as creating an estate plan. While Medicare does NOT pay for long-term care, Medicaid, for low-income seniors with few assets, does pay for an ongoing stay in a nursing home for seniors who qualify for this level of care. Understanding the costs of senior care are as important as choosing the type of senior care you would like, since the government program most of us will be on (Medicare) does not pay for long-term care.

Americans currently do not plan ahead for senior care, a fact all caregivers know.

Read "Being Mortal" and share it with those you care for to begin the conversation about how you would like to grow old, while also addressing the realities of changes that will be a natural part of aging. Think about how seasoned travelers prepare for a vacation: a carry-on bag has a change-of-clothes should our bags be delayed, a copy of our passport is in our wallet....

Dr. Gawande is a gifted writer and his book is an enjoyable read, even though it deals with tough topics. Begin the conversation with your loved ones and with yourself about how you picture your screenplay for growing old. Then you and your caregivers will know where the extra change of clothes are located - and if we even want to bother with them.


National Memory Screening Week November 1st through 7th

Memory loss can be both a concern and fear for everyone. Especially for senior caregivers who have witnessed someone experience memory loss. I had the opportunity to meet former President Ronald Reagan after his memory loss had progressed (he thought he knew me, but for sure we had never met). It was a reminder to me that we are all the same when it comes to aging.

This week, the Alzheimer's Foundation of America (AFA) has launched a National Memory Screening Program

National Screening Week is November 1 - 7 of this year.

The AFA is providing free, confidential memory screenings for people that have concerns about their memories. When necessary, individuals will be encouraged to have a follow-up exam by a qualified health care provider and may be directed to appropriate social services and community resources in their area.

The AFA is working toward eliminating the stigma and fears associated with dementia, and providing education for the public about memory problems and how to age successfully. The organization also hopes to alleviate fears for the people who do participate in the memory screening who are not currently showing any signs of memory problems.

Screening sites in your area can be located below.

National Memory Screening Locations 

Memory loss has many forms and Alzheimer's Disease is just one type of memory loss. Now that we know late actor Robin Williams suffered from Lewy Body dementia, we can better understand how difficult the changes he was dealing with in his mind were during his last year of life.

Other types of memory loss include:

  • Vascular Dementia
  • Lewy Body 
  • Frontal Love Dementia (FLD)
  • Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD)
  • Huntington's Disease
  • Pick's Disease
  • Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus
  • Parkinson's Disease
  • Subdural Hematomas
  • Brain Tumors

By identifying the type of memory loss, the senior can then be treated correctly. The progression for some types of memory loss, such as Alzheimer's Disease, can be slowed when treated with medications. Many clinical trials are in progress now, to study ways to better prevent Alzheimer's Disease. 

Meditation is proving to be an effective way to change the structure of the brain and Deepak Chopra and Rudi Tanzi, both medical doctors, are researching how meditation may be able to prevent or slow down memory loss. The doctors co-authored the book Super Brain where they discuss new ways of using our brains to help exercise it more and create new pathways, which, research is showing, just might be a way to prevent memory loss.






Super Better Game Helps You Get and Stay Stronger

“I’m game”!  What thoughts go through your mind when someone says this?  If thoughts of excitement, exhilaration, challenge, friendship and the thrill of winning come to mind, then you are like the majority of people who enjoy playing a good game. All of these positive thoughts have now been studied and confirmed as truly brain changing. 


Jane McGonigal, a senior researcher at the Institute for the Future has developed a game that assists anyone, including senior caregivers, to move into the gaming mindset to feel better and achieve goals in their daily life.  She has a new book, titled Super Better, along with a free SuperBetter App to allow everyone to step into the gaming mindset and enjoy the resulting benefits.

Jane visited Chicago this week to talk about her book, her research and the free Super Better App at her new office in Chicago (just a couple blocks from Caregiverlist, Inc. at the Chicago Merchandise Mart).

If you thought playing games was not a good use of your time, Jane’s research may surprise you. She now has research studies to back up her findings that your brain does change when you are in the gaming mindset.  Her current focus is on those recovering from traumatic brain injuries or experiencing mental illness such as depression or addiction.  Her own experience recovering from a concussion led her to build the Super Better game and the free Super Better App.  

You are stronger than you know.
You are surrounded by potential allies.
You are the hero of your own story.

By being gameful you can combat extreme stress and personal challenge and thrive and this is what both Jane's book and game will teach you how to do.

How does this work?

Have you ever helped lift heavy furniture from one room to the next? When doing so, you are thinking about how to leverage the furniture in conjunction with the other person assisting with the lifting and you communicate on how you will shift the piece of furniture without damaging it or the walls and floor and without hurting yourself or the other person. As you do this, your brains are "in synch". The same thing happens when you are playing a video game with someone else, or any game. However, this is most effective when playing a game with a friend or family member. The brain chemistry, so to speak, truly changes and delivers more positive emoticons, as we might say. The vagus nerve, for instance, connects the mind to many important organs in the body and mediates the relationship between emotions and physical health and is improved when you are immersed in a game.

The SuperBetter App presents a game that will result in the player being able to stay strong, motivated and optimistic, even in the face of difficult obstacles. Playing SuperBetter allows players to become capable of getting through any tough situation and more likely to achieve their goals. Results have been proven by playing for just 10 minutes a day. A nurse shared a story of assisting a patient who was battling depression. After being given a prescription for anti-depressants, the person returned for their check-up visit showing signs of improvement. However, it turned out they were unable to afford to buy the medications and instead played the free SuperBetter App game and said that this had helped them to step out of their depressed state.

McGonigal has organized the ways we think and act when we play games into 7 actions that contribute to post-traumatic and post-ecstatic growth when implemented:

  1. Adopt a Challenge Mindset

  2. Seek out Whatever Makes you Stronger and Happier

  3. Strive for Psychological Flexibility

  4. Take Committed Action

  5. Cultivate Connectedness

  6. Find the Heroic Story

  7. Learn the Skill of Benefit Finding


The 7 Rules to Live By from the SuperBetter Method:

  1. Challenge yourself

  2. Collect and activate power-ups

  3. Find and battle the bad guys

  4. Seek out and complete quests

  5. Recruit your allies

  6. Adopt a secret identity

  7. Go for an epic win


Studies also show that those who are caring for others who are experiencing mental illness also find benefits when playing SuperBetter.  As seniors can be at high risk for alcoholism and depression, senior caregivers can add game playing to their tool kit and now know that research backs up the benefits of being a game player.

Seth Rogen's Hilarity for Charity and Home Instead Donate Alzheimer's Care

Hilarity for Charity and Home Instead Senior Care has partnered to provide more than 6,000 hours of care in-home support for more than 130 eligible U.S. and Canadian Alzheimer's families in need through the Alzheimer's and Dementia Care Relief Grant Program.

Seth Rogen and his wife Lauren Miller Rogen established Hilarity for Charity to raise money and awareness of Alzheimer’s disease among the younger people. Both became involved in the fight against Alzheimer's disease after Lauren Miller Rogen's mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in her 50s.

In a press release, Ms. Miller Rogen said "My family is so fortunate to be able to provide the 24/7 professional care my mother needs. That care allows me to hold on to the precious moments I have with my mother so I can simply be a daughter and not just a caregiver. Our hope is that every family impacted by Alzheimer's disease can have those priceless moments, which is exactly why we created this tremendous program."

Home Instead Senior Care franchise owners pledged more than 37,000 hours of in-home care services, valued at $740,000. Grant recipients will be connected with a Home Instead franchise in their community, which will provide highly-skilled Alzheimer’s CAREGivers. Grants range from short-term in-home care 25 hours to long-term care, based on the needs of the family.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, friends and family of people with Alzheimer's and other dementias provided an estimated 17.9 billion hours of unpaid care in 2014, and nearly 60 percent of Alzheimer's and dementia caregivers rate the emotional stress of caregiving as high or very high.

Until there’s a cure, there is care. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s other memory diseases can be exhausting and overwhelming. Respite care from a trained in-home caregiver can allow you to take a break and come back to your duties rested and refreshed. But in-home care is not inexpensive and programs like the Alzheimer's and Dementia Care Relief Grant can be a godsend to families who are struggling.

Sylvia Besson and her family received some much-needed respite care for her father. Home Instead CAREgiver Melissa Barnstable is one of the many in-home caregivers specially trained to work with Alzheimer’s patients. “I enjoy bringing clarity, enthusiasm, and kindness into their day.

For more information about the Alzheimer's Care Grant Program, including how you can donate or apply for future respite care grants, visit www.HelpForAlzheimersFamilies.com.

Sundowner's Syndrome: Sundowning and Daylight Saving Time

Daylight Saving Time — every year I hear more and louder voices insisting we do away with springing ahead, when we are forced to lose that precious hour of sleep. I don’t hear quite so many voices in the fall, when we “gain” an hour, except for many of my friends in the senior caregiving community.

Sundown Syndrome occurs in approximately 25 percent of persons with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. When someone is “sundowning”, they can become hostile and agitated, angry and confused. Experts speculate that Sundowner’s can be triggered by end-of-day exhaustion, when all the stimulus from the day overwhelms the senses. In institutional settings, like nursing homes, Sundown Syndrome can occur during evening shift change, when there is a lot of commotion.  Although the causes of sundowning are largely unknown, it seems to happen to many late in the day, when afternoon turns to dusk. In the evening, shadows can be confusing, and people can become upset when they can’t see in the dark.

Spring Daylight Saving Time means there’s an extra hour of light at the end of our day. I wonder if this is helpful to caregivers working with those who experience Sundowner's. Even though I couldn’t find any data to suggest that Sundowners experience fewer symptoms when we “spring ahead,” I found plenty of anecdotal evidence that those with Sundown Syndrome experience it more acutely during the fall time change, when it gets dark much earlier. 

In any case, Daylight Saving Time messes with the natural rhythm of sleep, which can also trigger or exacerbate Sundowner’s symptoms and the stress they cause in elderly and caregivers alike.

The idea of Daylight Saving Time has roots in ancient civilizations, where the sun’s schedule set daily routines. Benjamin Franklin in 1784, proposed the notion jokingly to the editor of The Journal of Paris in “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light,” pointing out that Parisians could save money on candles by extending the hours of natural daylight. The U.S. implemented DST on and off since 1918, when President Woodrow Wilson signed it into law. But it wasn’t until Congress established the Uniform Time Act of 1966 that America reached a DST standard. Today, over 70 countries have adopted DST, including the United States (except for Hawaii and most of Arizona.)

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are some coping strategies you can employ if you care for someone with Sundowner’s:

  • Keep the home well lit in the evening.
  • Keep the sleep environment comfortable and safe. The temperature should be comfortable and nightlights provided for safety when a person gets up in the middle of the night.
  • Maintain a consistent schedule of waking, bedtime and meals.
  • Avoid big dinners, nicotine, alcohol, and restrict sweets and caffeine so as not to interfere with restful sleep.   
  • Plan more active days and discourage afternoon naps..
  • As a caregiver, if you are feeling stressed late in the day, the person may pick up on it. Make sure you get respite help.
  • Share your experience with others.

For those of you who care for Sundown seniors, do you find that extra hour of sunlight helpful? Have you found  any sundowning therapies particularly useful? Share your caregiving strategies for coping with Sundown Syndrome in Caregiverlist’s Caregiver Stories or in the Comments section below.

Foods that Could Lower (or Raise) Your Risk of Dementia

I’m at that age where misplaced keys or a forgotten word gives me pause. I write so much about Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other memory loss diseases, I know the havoc they wreak, not only on the patient, but on their entire family. That’s why I take a proactive approach in decreasing my odds of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Keeping activeboth mentally and physicallycan go a long way in keeping those diseases at bay. Research now shows there are certain foods that can also help or hurt brain health.

The Good
AARP suggests the following foods may lower your risk of dementia. Remember, whole foods are better than supplements for nutritive value, but supplements are better than nothing, so I’ve listed the foods and their corresponding vitamins/minerals. Time to stock up your fridge and pantry with these goodies:

  • Beans and green peas (vitamin B-1 and folic acid)
  • Citrus fruits and berries (vitamin C)
  • Almonds (vitamin E)
  • Fatty cold-water fish like salmon, cod, mackerel, and herring (omega-3 oil)
  • Spinach (flavonoids, vitamins A and K, folic acid and iron)
  • Coffee and chocolate (caffeine)


The Bad
From the Alzheimer’s Association, here are some foods that contain toxins. The resulting inflammation can lead to a build-up of plaques in the brain resulting in impaired cognitive function. They should be avoided as we age.

  • Processed cheeses such as American cheese, mozzarella sticks, Cheez Whiz and spray cheese (causes protein and plaque build-up)
  • Processed meats like bacon, smoked meats, hot dogs (nitrosamines)
  • White foods like white bread, white rice, pasta, white sugar (causes insulin spikes)
  • Microwave popcorn (diacetyl)
  • Beer (nitrates)


If you are a caregiver to someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, have you seen a change in the disease severity when you’ve altered their diet? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments section.

Also, be sure to watch the Golden Globe Awards, for which Julianne Moore is nominated as Best Actress in a Drama for her star turn in “Still Alice”, the story of a woman, a brilliant professor, wife, and mother, who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Thanksgiving with Seniors: Checking for Signs of Dementia

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and with it, the holiday season officially begins. If you are like the host of other Americans that celebrate by gathering with family and sharing a delicious meal, it’s a great time to assess the health, both physical and mental, of the aging member(s) of your group.

Holidays are a prime time for families to detect dementia in a family member, according to the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve seen your older family members. While it’s certainly an exciting time, it’s also an extremely stressful time — regular routines are disrupted, and large groups of people means noise and excitement — it’s sort of a perfect storm of a time to determine if your aging loved one is exhibiting signs of memory loss.

If you spend Thanksgiving at your senior’s home, a quick bit of detective work will give you some insight into their mental health. Remember to do this stealthily! This is not the time for confrontation, but an opportunity to gauge if your loved ones are living their best lives.

Take a good look (and smell)
Has there been obvious weight loss? People with memory loss often forget to eat. If they are depressed, which often happens when someone begins to experience mental acuity changes, they may decide that cooking is too much bother.

How is their personal hygiene? Are clothes clean? Make note of their grooming to determine any odd or peculiar changes in their regular appearance.

In the house
Check the refrigerator for expired food. Or multiples of the same food. Take a look in the living areas; are they clean and free of clutter? Peek at more personal spaces. While common areas might have been picked up in anticipation of guests, out-of-the-way areas like bathtubs and closets might give a truer picture of a senior’s ability to keep up with general tasks. If they have plants or animals, are they thriving?

Is there any unopened mail hanging about? Paying bills, especially, may seem overwhelming. According to Forbes, financial decision-making capacity erodes early on in those suffering with memory loss, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease.

Talk to neighbors
If you aren’t around much, talk to those who are. If you happen to see neighbors, ask if they have noticed any changes in your senior loved one. A certain red flag is isolation. If they don’t see your senior as often as they used to, it can be cause for concern. Now is the perfect time to exchange phone numbers and ask them to contact you if they see anything remiss.

If you do suspect that there are changes in your senior loved one’s mental acuity, don’t hide your head in the sand. Take the opportunity to talk to other family members and make a plan of action. The first step? Consult your elder’s primary care physician and in the meantime, perhaps enlist some help.

From all of us at Caregiverlist, we wish you a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.

Glen Campbell Says Farewell in Documentary

When Glen Campbell, 78, received the news about his Alzheimer’s disease in 2011, he was told to “hang up his guitar and prepare for the inevitable.” The singer/songwriter instead decided to embark on a “Goodbye Tour” that was to last 5 weeks. Instead, the tour lasted a year and a half, and Glen Campbell played to sold-out audiences in 151 performances around the country.

That tour, along with the chronicle of Mr. Campbell’s advancing disease, has been captured by the documentary, Glen Campbell . . . I’ll Be Me, which opened this past week across the U.S. Documentarian James Keach captures not only the amazing performances, but also the struggles with his advancing Alzheimer’s disease. However, not only do we see the anger, frustration, and moments of lucidity that are the hallmarks of memory loss disease, we also get to see the triumph of Mr. Campbell’s spirit on stage. Of his film’s subject, Keach has said, “It became not so much the story of Glen Campbell, but the story of the gift that is being taken away from him. And us."

Even if he sometimes forgot the words, the music is so ingrained in this man’s mind, body, and soul, that he could still do this:

For those too young to remember, Glen Campbell is a 6-time Grammy winner, including an Album of the Year in 1967 and is a recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award (2012). He was a session guitarist with the Beach Boys and Elvis Presley and in 1975, his hit “Rhinestone Cowboy” was No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list. He is back on the list at No. 90 with the film’s "I'm Not Gonna Miss You." It’s his first chart appearance since Sept. 5, 1981—marking a 33-year hiatus.

Since the tour ended, Mr. Campbell’s family, including his wife, Kim Woolen and the couple’s daughter Ashley, 27, were caring for the singer at home until this past April. It was then that the 24-hour care Campbell needed became too much for the family to provide themselves. They decided to place Mr. Campbell in a memory care facility near their home in Nashville, TN. Ms. Woolen told People magazine about the decision. "No one was getting any sleep and we were just struggling every second to keep him safe – we felt like it wasn't safe anymore."

An estimated 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease in 2014. Most of us know someone or love someone with some form of dementia. We know how difficult it is to watch that person slowly slip away. It used to be that we wouldn’t acknowledge memory loss disease. What was referred to as “old-timer’s disease” was rarely spoken of and it’s sufferers stigmatized. It takes a lot of courage for someone like Glen Campbell, along with his family, to open their lives and share publicly what so many families are experiencing privately.

Julianne Moore is Still Alice

It happens to everyone, I think. The missing keys, the lost word, that moment when you walk into a room and forget what you came in for. When it happens to me, I get a brief moment of fear that it might be something a little worse and a little more frightening than simple forgetfulness. At my age, I worry that it might be just a harbinger for more serious things to come.

Still Alice is a story that takes us into the world of a woman — a scholar, wife, and mother — for whom that fear becomes a reality when she’s diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Based on Lisa Genova's 2007 bestselling novel of the same name, it’s the story of a linguistics professor who struggles to hang on to her memories, and herself during her swift deterioration. And by all accounts, Julianne Moore's performance is incredible.

Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is a fairly rare form of dementia that strikes people younger than 65. As in the movie, it’s common for those with the disease to exhibit symptoms beginning in their 50s. Most early-onset Alzheimer’s is genetic, and although not backed by hard data, the perception is that early-onset Alzheimer’s progresses more quickly than Alzheimer’s disease experienced later in life.

The movie co-stars Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish as Alice’s three grown children who watch their brilliant mother fade away while learning they may inherit her disease. Alec Baldwin co-stars as her husband, and after the great chemistry they showed on 30 Rock, I can’t wait to see them together here in a more dramatic pairing.

Here’s a clip from the movie in which Julianne Moore’s Alice discusses the short but beautiful lifespan of butterflies with her family caregiver, daughter Lydia:

The movie, and especially Ms. Moore’s performance (The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg calls it “nuanced and heartbreaking,”) were such a hit at the Toronto International Film Festival that there’s been a lot of talk about this role finally garnering her an Oscar. She’s had four nominations but no wins to date.

If you live in New York or Los Angeles, you’ll be able to see the movie on December 5, 2014 (in time to be considered by the Academy). For the rest of the country, the film is set for U.S. wide-release on January 16, 2015.

I remember reading the Caregiverlist Alzheimer's Diary by Norm McNamara back when we published it in 2011. Mr. McNamara gave us a peek into what living with Alzheimer’s is like in that one-day entry. I imagine the heartrending research Julianne Moore must have gone through to prepare for her role. These point-of-view looks into the life of those afflicted with memory loss disease is as close as I want to get, but I think it’s so valuable for us to see and try to empathize with the millions of Alzheimer’s sufferers around the world.

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