How can overall health and well-being be maintained in a person suffering from Alzheimers disease?
Its important for the person with Alzheimers to be under the continual supervision of a qualified medical doctor in order to stay in the best overall health possible. Poor overall health is associated with greater symptoms of Alzheimers, so maintaining healthy habits may reduce symptoms. Attention must be paid to proper exercise, diet and to any new or long-standing health problems. Hearing and vision should also be evaluated regularly and treated appropriately if faltering. Ongoing consultation with a primary care physician may be supplemented with visits to specialists or other health professionals as necessary to address specific needs.
Co-existing medical conditions should be identified and properly managed, as they may negatively impact Alzheimers behaviors. For example, frequent urinary tract infections may increase wandering, and depression disrupts sleep and deepens social withdrawal.
Do people with Alzheimers need to follow a special diet?
People with Alzheimers should eat well-balanced, nutrient-rich meals, but a special diet is usually not necessary. However, even healthy older people experience changes in eating habits as they age: Food may not smell or taste the same; it may become more difficult to chew and digest food, and our cells may not be able to utilize the energy from food as efficiently. These problems may be more pronounced in people with Alzheimers and may be compounded by other challenges posed by the disease. In addition, Alzheimers may cause appetite control systems in the brain to malfunction as nerve cells in those areas deteriorate, resulting in extreme eating behaviors (overeating or not eating at all).
In early stages of the disease, people with Alzheimers may have difficulty preparing meals. They may forget they have food in the oven or cook something and forget to eat it. Step-by-step written or verbal instructions clearly delineating what to do to prepare and eat meals may be beneficial in such cases.
Food preparation problems may progress to difficulty eating. Nerve cell death eventually steals the ability to recognize thirst or hunger. At the same time, depth perception may be compromised due to changes in the visual and mapping areas of the brain, making the process of eating more frustrating. The person may no longer know how to use a knife or fork and may lose interest in food altogether.
Severe eating problems put the person with Alzheimers at risk for weight loss, dehydration and malnutrition. See your doctor if you notice significant weight loss or changes in eating behavior. Ask about ways to increase your loved ones food intake and find out if nutritional supplementation might be warranted. Keep in mind that supplements should be used with caution and only under a doctors supervision, as they may interact with prescription medications.
Is it important for a person who has Alzheimers to exercise?
Maintaining a reasonable level of exercise is important for many reasons, both for overall health and to address issues specific to Alzheimers. Exercise can improve mobility and help one maintain independence. In normal people, moderately strenuous exercise has been shown to improve cognitive functioning.
In people with Alzheimers, studies show that light exercise and walking appear to reduce wandering, aggression and agitation. Incorporating exercise into daily routines and scheduled activities can also be beneficial in alleviating problem behaviors. The type of exercise should be individualized to the persons abilities. Talk with your doctor about what is right.
What kinds of complementary health approaches might benefit a person with Alzheimers?
Health treatments for people with Alzheimers disease can also employ so-called complementary health approaches. These may include herbal remedies, acupuncture, and massage. This area of treatment is presently the subject of a great deal of research, with far more proposed. Its important to understand that complementary or alternative health approaches, including vitamins and herbal supplements, are not subject to the same kind of critical government review for safety and efficacy that new drugs are, so one must be cautious when considering such approaches. While there are a growing number of legitimate researchers investigating these approaches, there is also a great deal of misinformation in the public domain, and unsubstantiated claims are rampant. Ask your doctor to help you understand the benefits and risks of such approaches, and do not take herbal or vitamin supplements without first discussing it with your doctor, since many of these pills can interact negatively with prescription or nonprescription medications.
Gingko biloba, an herbal supplement with antioxidant properties, has been the subject of much hype regarding its supposed effects on cognition and memory. Some studies have shown that some people with dementia (of unspecified types) may benefit from gingko biloba supplements, but rigorous evidence of the herbs effectiveness is so far lacking. More studies are ongoing, including ones that are investigating whether gingko biloba can help improve symptoms of Mild Cognitive Impairment. Like other herbal supplements, gingko biloba can have side effects and may interact with prescription medications, so it should only be taken under a doctors supervision.
Acupuncture, a core component of traditional Chinese medicine that has been used for thousands of years to treat all manner of health complaints, has recently been investigated for its use in Alzheimers disease. Scientists at two medical institutions, the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women in Wellesley, Mass. and the University of Hong Kong, reported the promising findings of two small studies at a recent medical meeting for Alzheimers researchers.
In the Wellesley study, 11 people with dementia (10 with Alzheimers, one with vascular dementia, a related condition) were treated with acupuncture twice a week for three months. Tests completed before and after the study measured cognitive function and mood in the study subjects, and an analysis showed that the treatments significantly reduced depression and anxiety. The Hong Kong study, in which eight patients with Alzheimers were treated for a total of 30 days each, demonstrated significant improvements in cognition, verbal skills, motor coordination and in an overall measure of the severity of Alzheimers symptoms. Additional studies are ongoing to repeat the results and further explore the effectiveness of acupuncture for treating mood and behavioral disturbances associated with Alzheimers disease.
Massage can be therapeutic for a number of health conditions, and a great deal of research has documented its benefits in general health. Fewer studies have investigated its usefulness in Alzheimers, but there is some evidence that massage therapy may reduce behaviors such as wandering, aggression and agitation.
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