Saturday, February 9, 2008

Strange First Sign of Dementia

Women who have dementia start losing weight at least 10 years and as long as 20 years before major symptoms of memory loss occur and the disease is diagnosed. But since the weight loss is small, it can't really be used as a tool to determine early on who will become senile later in life. What it does show is the incredibly long incubation time for dementia.

This is the finding by researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who examined the records of 481 people with dementia and compared them to 481 people of the same age and gender who did not have dementia. The average weight was the same for those in the two groups from 21 to 30 years before the year the disease was diagnosed. But the women who would later develop dementia started losing weight up to 20 years before the disease was diagnosed. On average, those with dementia weighed 12 pounds less than those without the disease the year the disease was diagnosed.

"One explanation for the weight loss is that, in the very early stages of dementia, people develop apathy, a loss of initiative and also losses in the sense of smell," said study author Dr. David Knopman. "When you can't smell your food, it won't have much taste, and you might be less inclined to eat it. And, apathy and loss of initiative may make women less likely to prepare nutritious meals and more likely to skip meals altogether."

Unlike women, men in this study who later developed dementia did not lose weight in the years before diagnosis. Knopman said the difference could be due to hormones, but a social reason seems just as likely. "Middle-aged and elderly men are less likely to be preparing their own meals," he said. "Their spouses or adult children were more likely making meals for them, which would lessen the effect of the apathy, loss of initiative and loss of sense of smell."

The study conflicts with others that suggest obesity in middle-age may be a risk factor for dementia. Obesity is also associated with diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, which are risk factors for dementia. In fact, having just one of these risk factors in middle age doubles your chance of developing dementia later. If you have all three, your chances just increased a whopping six fold.

The study, which was supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging, was published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

--From the Editors at Netscape

If you'd like to read some in-depth advice, here's a selection of books about dementia that you can find online at Barnes & Noble:

36-Hour Day : A Family Guide to Caring for People with Alzheimer Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss in Later Life

Revised in 2006 for its twenty-fifth anniversary, this best-selling book is the "bible" for families caring for people with Alzheimer disease, offering comfort and support to millions worldwide. In addition to the practical and compassionate guidance that have made The 36-Hour Day invaluable to caregivers, the fourth edition is the only edition currently available that includes new information on medical research and the delivery of care.
The new edition includes:
-new information on diagnostic evaluation-resources for families and adult children who care for people with dementia-updated legal and financial information-the latest information on nursing homes and other communal living arrangements-new information on research, medications, and the biological causes and effects of dementia.

Keeping Busy : A Handbook of Activities for Persons with Dementia

"Provides detailed information about programming activities and developing an atmosphere that is responsive to patients with dementia. Topics include exercise, horticulture, communication, pets, humor, social events, and music. Each description include the rationale for the activity and some of the trial and error involved in developing the activity." -- Connections from the Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center

When a Family Member Has Dementia : Steps to Becoming a Resilient Caregiver

McCurry (psychosocial and community health, U. of Washington) points out that no two people with dementia are alike, and that caregivers must learn to rely on their own creativity and innate resources to help their loved ones. She clearly and honestly describes a number of situations in which caregivers may find themselves and their loved ones, and also shows how caregivers choose to react can affect not only the quality of life for the loved one but also for the caregiver. She gives caregivers tools can use to develop resilience as their loved ones' behaviors change and advises them to practice five core principles: do not argue, accept the disease, nurture yourself, create novel situations, and enjoy the moment. She also provides a list of resources and a bibliography. Annotation © 2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

Alzheimer's Early Stages : First Steps for Family, Friends, and Caregivers

This edition includes the latest information on Alzheimer’s risk factors, treatments, and prevention, as well as a new chapter, “Voices of Experience,” composed of reflections by family members. It also provides information about new drugs approved since 1999 and the federal government’s decision to cover counseling and other health-related services through Medicare.

When Your Loved One Has Dementia : A Simple Guide for Caregivers

"A succinct, original tool for caregivers of people with Alzheimer disease and other dementias. Highly recommended." -- Peter V. Rabins, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, and co-author of The 36-Hour Day