Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Find me at

That's right! I've purchased my own domain: You can find me there, from this day forward. I'm in the process of moving in and setting up shop, so please let me know if you notice anything amiss.

Thanking you in advance,
Amber Smith

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A call for mainstreaming people with Alzheimer's; 'what's the harm in that?'

As soon as a person is diagnosed with dementia, friends often disappear--even quite early on when the person is just a bit forgetful.

"They think it might all be a bit too awkward," Julian Hughes says of the friends.

"But attitudes must change. Those friends can adjust, let the conversation go with the flow, accept the person with dementia may be living within a few minutes of experience, so you may have to repeat your stories. But what's the harm in that? If they are enjoying it, then it's still a meaningful experience."

Hughes is a British psychiatrist who specializes in aging--his academic interest is the notion of personhood--and recently he spoke throughout Australia, calling for mainstreaming of those with Alzheimer's and other dementias and for governments to recognize this significant health issue. He also made the point that research funding for Alzheimer's lags hugely behind other areas, such as cancer. "As the numbers (of diagnosed) rise, funding will need to increase by a factor of six to eight times to keep pace," Hughes points out.

Dementia is the third-leading cause of death in Australia, behind heart disease and stroke. About 257,000 Australians have dementia today, and that's expected to rise to more than a million by 2050.

In America, deaths from Alzheimer's disease are almost equal to those from diabetes, and both rank below heart disease, cancer, respiratory disorders and accidents. But that's expected to change in the coming years, as Baby Boomers begin hitting age 65. Today, 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease; that number will climb to 13.5 million by 2050, says a report from the Alzheimer's Association, which says the costs of care will inevitably rise, too, from $172 million today to more than $1 trillion by 2050.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Apple juice found helpful for those with Alzheimer's disease

Behavioral and psychotic symptoms related to dementia seem to improve when people with moderate-to-late stage Alzheimer's disease regularly drink apple juice.

That's what researchers from the University of Massachusetts found in a study published in the June 2010 issue of American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias.

For their study, the researchers assigned 21 individuals with moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease to drink a 4-oz glass of apple juice twice a day for one month.

Though caregivers reported reduction in anxiety, agitation and delusion, the individuals with dementia showed no changes in the Dementia Rating Scale.

Previous studies have suggested that apple juice may provide health benefits including reduction of central nervous system oxidative damage, suppression of Alzhiemer's symptoms, improved cognitive performance and more organized synaptic signaling. Thomas Shea says other researchers have shown similar effects with blueberries. "We have also shown similar effects with purified vitamins and nutriceuticals." Shea is professor of biological sciences and Director of the Center for Cellular Neurobiology & Neurodegeneration Research at Massachusetts.

Would apple juice be helpful in people with other dementias?

"We saw in mice that apple juice boosted neurotransmitter production, so it might help us all with mood, and the major effect would be seen on those individuals, disease or not, that had behavioral issues," he says. "However, it is certainly worth a try."

Shea says he would like to compare apple juice with apple cider in another study because "cider has the potential benefit of being fresher, and less processed."

Friday, June 18, 2010

Donate for Memory Walk through DementiAwareness, get your loved one on this blog

While I'd love to have a huge group of people walking together at Long Branch Park Oct. 2 for the Alzheimer's Association's Memory Walk, I know that life sometimes gets in the way!

If you'd like to join us, but can't, let DementiAwareness walk in honor or memory of your loved one. Make a donation of $50 or more through our team, and we'll post your loved one's photo on this blog through the end of October. (See my example at left.)

Now, if this recession is hitting you like it's hitting me, you may appreciate this reminder: participation in the Memory Walk is free. You can raise awareness regarding Alzheimer's and other dementias just by showing up--and that costs only your time.

Honoring Dads who are being stolen by dementias

Since I really could not have said it better myself, I'm turning my blog over to Loren B. Shook in honor of Father's Day. He is president and chief executive officer of Silverado Senior Living. My Dad residents in one of Silverado's 34 facilities. Here's Mr. Shook:

All of us fortunate enough to grow up with loving fathers are who we are today thanks to the lessons they taught us. Whether it was how to fish, ride a bike, or throw a baseball, or the values of hard work, integrity, kindness and strength, what Dad showed us decades ago remains at our core.

As one who works with the memory-impaired, I believe the growing number of now-elderly fathers whose memories are disordered are teaching us a new kind of lesson. Understanding this lesson can resolve the anguish many of us so-called "adult children" of those with Alzheimer's disease are feeling as Dad's recognition of us and his ability to communicate slip away.

It's the lesson of selfless love.

Time and again, I hear the same question from sons and daughters: "Why should I visit Dad if he doesn't know who I am and if he won't remember I was there?" Written out, it sounds shocking, but when spoken, it's always tinged with profound sorrow and hurt. It's understandable. When a father is so much a part of your own being, who are you if he no longer knows you?

My answer is always this: Your father needs you now more than ever, and what he needs from you is simpler than ever, too. Because the greatest pleasure you can give your father now is the gift of your time and your presence. You see, the worst pain suffered by the memory-impaired comes from their sense of loneliness and worthlessness. Just as you may feel that your father's condition has come between the two of you, he feels increasingly isolated from the world and from the things that have always mattered. It's no wonder that depression goes hand-in-hand with memory impairment, and sadly, it further aggravates health, both emotionally and physically.

While your dad might no longer realize who you are or greet you by name, it's more important than ever for you to spend time with him. Just being at his side brings him greater joy than you can likely even imagine. He may not be able to express this pleasure in a way that you understand, or that the world at large comprehends, but without a doubt, he feels it and he feels that he is loved. In this way, you are nourishing his spirit, and the value of this is indescribable.

So I encourage you to take the occasion on Father's Day to honor your dad in this way. Whether he resides in a senior care community or is receiving care in his own home, visit him and stay by his side for a while. Even if you can't have the kind of conversation you used to have, there are still ways to make the time together meaningful.

The great thing is that they're simple. If he has always loved a certain kind of music, bring a CD of it and listen to it with him. Those fishing trips and baseball games Dad took you to when you were a child? If you have pictures of them, go through them. Long-term memories are more durable than short-term in the memory-impaired, and I am certain he will enjoy looking through those photos with you. Even a box of candies that he has always fancied can brighten his day.

Yes, I know, after you leave you will have no assurance that he will remember that you were there.

But understand that it doesn't matter.

What matters is that during the time you spent with him, he knew he was loved, and that intangible emotion will definitely have a lasting positive impact on him.

The longer that I work with those with memory-impairment, the more clearly I understand the importance of something that I once heard: that it's when you give a gift selflessly that you will get the most in return. When you give your love selflessly to your father, not only will he benefit, but you will, too. You strengthen his spirit and your own.

So you see, your dad is still teaching all of us a very important lesson.

Thank you, Mr. Shook.

Make a $250 Memory Walk donation, and your busienss gets an ad on this blog

If your company makes a donation of at least $250 to the Alzheimer's Association 2010 Memory Walk through my DementiAwareness team, here's the deal: I'll give your company an ad on my blog from now to the end of the year -- free.

This is the primary fundraiser for the Alzheiemer's Association, with a series of Memory Walks taking place throughout the country. Ours here in the Syracuse area is a 3-mile walk starting at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 2, at Long Branch Park.

I'm honored to be asked to serve as honorary chair.

If you don't know someone with Alzheiemer's disease or another dementia, or someone caring for a person who is afflicted, chances are very good that you will in your lifetime. And more than one.

A growing number of people are dealing with a dementia, either as patients or caregivers. More than 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer's, which is thought to only represent 60 to 80 percent of all dementias. It's a disease that affects primarily older people. And with the first of the Baby Boomers turning 65 in 2011, many health experts are saying we are not adequately prepared.

One of my roles as honorary chair of the Memory Walk is to make sure businesses understand the impact this disease has on their workers. It's profound. Sure, there are signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's, but often it sneaks up before a family realizes their matriarch or patriarch is so afflicted. One day, a dutiful daughter is a hard-charging career woman, and the next, she's struggling to take the car keys away. Caregivers are thrust into a role that is, quite simply, overwhelming. The stress is constant and can be debilitating. (Read more of my blog for multiple posts by and about caregiver issues.)

This disease is not just a personal medical issue. It is already making a huge impact on our nation's health care system and the insurance industry--the cost of the disease is estimated at $20.4 trillion over the next 40 years, by the way. Businesses large and small are impacted not only in increasing health costs, but in worker absenteeism when one must care for a loved one.

Donations to the Alzheimer's Association go toward care, support and research. Dollars raised at the Syracuse Memory Walk stay right here in Central New York. Remember, if you donate through DementiAwareness, I'll put your ad on my blog through the end of the year. (The sooner you donate, the longer your ad appears!)

Need more information? Email Amber Smith at with "Memory Walk" in the subject line. Thanks!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Finding a link between PTSD and dementia raises the question of why

Male military veterans with PTSD were found to have a nearly 2-fold-higher risk of developing dementia, compared to those without post-traumatic stress disorder, an anxiety disorder that is highly prevalent because of combat. Results of a study into this link are published in this month's Archives of General Psychiatry.

The study involved 181,093 veterans 55 years or older without dementia from 1997 through 2000. Between 2000 and 2007, researchers discovered 17 percent of the men developed dementia, according to the abstract by Dr. Kristine Yaffe and colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco, and San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center. They presented their work last year in Vienna at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease.

"Mechanisms linking these important disorders need to be identified with the hope of finding ways to reduce the increased risk of dementia associated with PTSD," they write. Some theories: that PTSD contributes to the cause of dementia, that chronic stress plays a role, or that stress damages the hippocampus or cause alterations in neurotransmitter and hormone levels that could precipitate dementia.

Finding a link between PTSD and dementia was not entirely surprising. "We already know that traumatic brain injury and certainly chronic stress increase the risk of cognitive decline and what this paper refers to as 'accelerated aging,' which may in turn lead to early dementia. So it makes sense that PTSD would increase the risk for dementia in the long run," Maria C. Carrillo, a senior director for the Alzheimer's Association, told Medscape.