Thursday, 29 May 2008


Mary Helped Out As Much As She Could

My story is about my mother, who passed away six years ago after a 10 year struggle with Alzheimer's. My father was her primary caregiver; however, I lived nearby and helped out as much as I could.  The story I wrote, "Stories of Home," reflects on what I learned from that experience.


The author's story originally appeared in Hungryhearts, a newsletter published by the Office of Spiritual Formation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a ministry of the General Assembly Council.

Stories of Home


Caring for someone who had always cared for me was hard to accept. Some part of me was ripped apart as I watched the daily losses Mom suffered as she slowly slipped away. Yet, as devastating as Alzheimer's is, our family somehow managed to grasp every bit of life, every bit of hope, and every bit of love that was possible. Of course, there were times when I would have preferred to remove myself from the chaos around me. Days when I simply did not want to walk into my parents' house because I didn't know what to expect on the other side of the door. Or maybe it was because I did know what to expect on the other side of the door that made turning around and walking away so appealing. What kept me from turning around and going back to a house where no one had Alzheimer's? Why didn't I hide out in a place where conversations made sense and things seemed normal? What gave me the strength on those days when I thought I had none? It was the stories that held me up. Stories I had heard all my life. Stories of home


Now I've always loved stories, and I'm even known as the unofficial family historian, the keeper and teller of stories, the one you could always count on to remember that it was a blueberry milkshake we had at the Howard Johnson's in Wytheville, Virginia, 35 years ago. I was the one who listened with fascination as my parents told what it was like growing up during the Depression, what life was like in the days when people owned radios and not televisions, when homes had only one telephone and it was black and attached to a cord. I loved the stories I heard about my mother, back when her name was Margaret Billinghurst, long before she was Margaret Shull, and even longer still before her name became Mom. And I still remember the day my mother handed me a stack of faded letters to read, letters she had kept tucked away in a box in the corner of her dresser. They were the letters my father had written her in the early days of their courtship. For hours, I poured over them, one after another, as the opening chapters of the story of Margaret and Peter unfolded before my eyes.


Yet as fascinating as these stories may be, they come with no guarantees of how they will turn out, no revelation of what might lie ahead. Some stories are easy, some hard. Some we have to live with for a while, allowing them both time and room to settle. And then there are those stories that never seem to settle. But none are without purpose. Those stories, at their very best, have given me deep and strong roots, plus wide and clear perspectives. As I lived through those 10 years of my mother's gradual descent and inevitable death to Alzheimer's, the stories were a reminder of what was real, what was truth, what mattered. And it was through the remembering of these stories that I came to understand where I was supposed to be. My stories kept me home.


How strange that it took a disease known for robbing memories to bring so many to mind. As I watched my father care for my mother, I would remember hearing of how he and his sisters took care of their dying father. Dad would go to work, then go to his parents' house and help take care of his father before finally going home to his own family. Years later, when it was his wife who was ill and needed the care, my father's insistence and determination to be there for her didn't come as much of a surprise to me.  Every day he spent caring for her he counted as a blessing. He was just doing what he had always done. That was the lesson learned, the value passed down, the truth for me. Family was important. Taking care of one another was important. Being there was important. Presence mattered. 


Sitting with my mother at the piano, I would play her favourites. Some days the music would spark a memory and she would sing along. But more often than not, she would just smile. Watching her smile, I would recall all those piano lessons my mother insisted I take, all the practicing she made me do. She said one day I would thank her. And she was right. I did thank her. We shared music until the end.

And we shared memories, too. I just had to look at my mother to remember how much we did together. How we'd take the bus from Grandma's house to downtown and then go on to the A&P for groceries, to one bakery shop for rye bread, and to another one for the cheesecake. We'd stop for a bite to eat at the luncheonette, next door to the Buster Brown shoe store. Sitting at the lunch counter, I'd swing round and round on those chrome swivel chairs as I waited for my hamburger and real soda-fountain cherry coke to arrive. So when my father said that he was glad I loved my mother so much that I would care for her the way I did, all that went through my mind was, "What else would I have done?" All I was doing was what Mom would have done. I learned what I needed to do from a lifetime of watching her.


Family Presence, Commitment, Love.  That is what I learned from our family's stories whether it was about a mother who cut crusts off sandwiches and made special casseroles "just because," or a dad who cleared his work schedule so we could make a promised trip to see Abraham Lincoln's birthplace, or a brother who let me be his co-pilot as we'd go to Mars and beyond in our imaginary spaceship. 


But stories come with an obligation. And the obligation is that we need to remember them, listen to them, learn from them, passed them on. One of my favourite biblical stories is a story about the importance of stories. After the Israelites finally crossed over the Jordan, God told Joshua to take twelve stones out from the river and lay them down where they set camp. The stones were to be a reminder to the Israelites of how the waters of the Jordan were cut off, allowing them safe passage across. But it wasn't a story meant only place just for them. It was a story meant for their children, and their children's children as well. They were given the story so they would never forget how God provided for them (Joshua 4:1–7). Our stories are like that as well. They remind us of what we need to know, and if we listen, they will show us what we need to do.


Alzheimer's made me listen to my stories. And my stories told me to stay where I was and to plant myself in the midst of a new story, one definitely affected by Alzheimer's, but ultimately never stopped by it. Sometimes it takes staying where you are, regardless of how unpleasant or sad that place might be, in order to find out that your story is stronger than anything that might try to come in its way to stop it. Stronger because it is so intricately connected to God's story, the story of God's amazing and overwhelming love for us. For me, it took staying to discover that even in the midst of Alzheimer's, even in the midst of death itself, a family was still being shaped and a story was still being told. It took staying to discover that sadness and joy can stand side by side. It took staying to see that tears and laughter, anger and acceptance both have their place. It took staying for me to see that you can grasp hope in the midst of despair, and even life in the face of death. It took staying for me to experience the breadth and length and height and depth of love. 


If I had gone away, if I had not made myself available, I might have shed less tears, but I wouldn't have the memory of one particular evening that took months before my mother died. I walked into the house as I had done so many times before, and said "Hi, Mom . . . Hi, Dad" as I had done so many times before. I walked into the family room, kissed my dad, then walked over to my mom, gave her a big "Hi, Mom" and bent down to kiss her, just as I had done so many times before. But this evening, this one evening, she did more than just smile back and give me a little kiss. This evening, for the first time in a very long time, she clapped her hands and said, "Mary." And then she smiled and that was it. Not another word. Just  Mary.  It was the last time I would ever hear my mother call out my name. Mary. How wonderful it sounded to my ears! And as gut-wrenching as it felt years before when Mom didn't recognize me, it was somehow assuaged by how exhilarating this felt. She called out my name. And that moment lifted me higher than you could imagine. Never would I have thought that there would come a day when something as simple as that would mean so much. 


So when I felt exhausted, when I thought I could not go on, when the sadness became too much, I remembered the stories. I remembered that once upon a time my mother made a special heart-shaped casserole just for me.



Monday, 26 May 2008

Demonstration Talk "Rapid Response System" 21 June '08 Organized By The KL-PJ Alzheimer's Caregivers Support Group Committee

Dear Caregivers/Members




Kindly be informed that the next monthly gathering for the KL-PJ Alzheimer's Caregivers Support Group will be held on 21 June 2008.


In conjunction with our gathering, The Caregivers Support Group Committee is organizing a Demonstration Talk on "Rapid Response System" by Meditama Lifecare Sdn Bhd on:


Day / Date:   Saturday, 21 June 2008

Time:           2:30 pm

Venue:         No. 9A, Lorong Bukit Raja

                   Taman Seputeh

                   58000 Kuala Lumpur


Brief Description:


The Life Care "Rapid Response System" is a home safety and personal security system designed to cater for individuals, the elderly, the sickly, the disabled and young children who are alone at home.


The System is linked to any existing land-line.  It comes with a small mobile gadget which has a button.  The User has a choice to choose to wear it as a Pendant or Wrist Band, or the User can put the gadget beside him/her.  In an emergency, the User just PRESS THE BUTTON and THE Consultants will respond immediately from their Control Centre.  Another feature available is if the Users feel lonely and wish to chat with someone, they can press the button and chat with their Consultants.             


The "Rapid Response System" is manned by their Team of Telecare Consultants at their PJ headquarter providing 24-hours a day, 7  days a week coverage.  Their Response Centre Consultants are trained to handle any immediate emergency calls.  Upon receiving an emergency call, their Consultants will remain online with the callers until appropriate help arrives for the callers.  Their Consultants are able to communicate fluently in many local dialects and languages.


For more information, visit their Website at:


TO REGISTER, kindly call Kath Leong / Janet Low at:  603 – 2260 3158 / 2274 9060 or Email to:  OR for Members, To Register ONLINE with The National Alzheimer's Caregivers Online Network.


Best wishes,

Sean Tay

Chairman, KL-PJ Alzheimer's Caregivers Support Group Committee

The National Alzheimer's Caregivers Online Network               

Sunday, 25 May 2008



The findings are stunning: Offering simple training to people struggling to care for loved ones with Alzheimer's disease not only eases their burden ---- it even can keep patients out of nursing homes for an extra 1.5 years.

But the exciting research also runs headlong into a grim reality.

Alzheimer's caregivers seldom can make time in their daily grind to seek out that kind of help.

And when they do, they too often find waiting lists for services, or programs geared only toward people with advanced disease and not the larger pool in the purgatory that is dementia's decade-long middle ground between independence and helplessness.

That is one of Dolores Melnick's biggest frustrations.

Her husband refused to enroll in the "day care" for Alzheimer's patients near their Hainesport, N.J., home. It was hosting a singalong, and workers were setting up plastic bowling pins, too childish for Bob Melnick.

That meant no time for her to sneak off to a caregiver support group. On weekdays she worries about whether he'll be OK because he's home alone while she's at work.

"I feel bad sometimes because he's home. I feel bad that I have to leave in the mornings," Mrs. Melnick says, eyes brimming with tears. "I think he realizes he can't do much."

'What we're up against'

More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease. It afflicts one in eight people 65 and older, and nearly one in two people over 85.

Worse, as the population ages, Alzheimer's is steadily rising. Sixteen million are forecast to have the mind-destroying illness by 2050, not counting other forms of dementia.

Those figures are cited repeatedly in the push for more research into better treatments. But a frightening parallel goes largely undiscussed: As Alzheimer's skyrockets, who will care for all these people?

And will the long-term stress of that care set up an entire population ---- once-healthy spouses and children ---- to suffer years of illness, even early death?

"I don't think society and policymakers have fully grasped the future magnitude of what we're up against, and how massive an operation we have to begin ... to deal with this," says Dr. Richard Suzman of the National Institute on Aging.

Already, an estimated 10 million people share the task of caring for a relative or friend with dementia, the Alzheimer's Association estimates. Nearly one in four provides care for 40 hours a week or more.

Handling the wandering, aggressive outbursts and incontinence ---- plus eventual round-the-clock monitoring ---- is very different than, for example, learning to lift someone who's physically impaired but won't fight the caregiver.

Those are skills that families must be taught, says Mary Mittelman of New York University's School of Medicine, who is leading a new movement to develop customized training programs for Alzheimer's care.

Today, most learn through trial and error.

'I want to hit you'

Louise Eckert sits her 85-year-old mother, Dorothy, in a chair backed against the wall and pushes a heavy table in front of her. It keeps her from tipping her chair backward like a schoolchild.

It's noon, but Dorothy roamed her Norristown, Pa., home for much of the night and just woke for breakfast. Louise spoon-feeds her mother: grapes and prunes mixed into cereal; toast cut into bites; Alzheimer's pills crushed into cottage cheese so she no longer can spit them out.

The conversation is, well, unconventional.

"I want to hit you," Dorothy whispers.

"You do not want to hit me," Louise calmly responds. Minutes later, mother and daughter are grinning affectionately.

"She'll hit you and two minutes later, she loves you," says Dorothy's husband, John Eckert, 88.

Not too long ago, the Eckerts despaired of achieving this calm. Dorothy's mild-mannered Alzheimer's suddenly morphed into outright aggression. She climbed furniture, pulled the TV on herself, tried to climb out the window.

Area aging services offered little advice. The Eckerts finally found the right mix of medication and caregiver tricks. Take Dorothy's night roaming, a dementia trademark. Her husband installed bed rails; she crashed over them. He slept holding a belt tied to her waist; she slipped it off without waking him.

Now the couple sleeps on a mattress on the floor. Large wind chimes jangle when Dorothy's up.

"In the beginning there was pressure. Now we expect it's going to happen," her husband says of new symptoms. "You go along with the flow."

John Eckert brushes aside questions about the strain. He looks fit but has had prostate cancer, a small heart attack and mild stroke. Louise tried to hire a respite-care service so her dad could take a walk. But it requires a four-hour daily minimum, more than they need. Alzheimer's day care runs in the mornings, when Dorothy sleeps.

They manage because Louise, the couple's youngest daughter, lives with them and can rush home from her counseling job at a nearby school if needed.

They're determined to make Dorothy's days as lighthearted as possible.

"You could be mad about it, or constantly sad about the whole thing, but why? This is just who Mom is now," Louise explains.

So, they play Bobby Darin, and Dorothy dances around the dining room. Song done, she curls onto her husband's lap, head tucked under his chin. She can't recall his name, or the last name they've shared for 60 years. But she can cuddle.

"She knows I belong here, I guess," John says.

Custom training can help

NYU's Mittelman says customized training can help caregivers ease the chaos that the Eckerts battled through, and proved it with a one-of-a-kind experiment.

She tested 406 elderly New Yorkers caring for spouses with Alzheimer's. Half received training tailored to their family's unique needs. Half got today's standard: a list of Alzheimer's resources.

Mittelman tracked these families for up to 17 years. Custom-trained caregivers kept their loved ones out of a nursing home for an average of 1.5 years longer than their untrained counterparts.

With annual nursing home costs now averaging $60,000, that's a savings of $90,000 per patient, Mittelman reported last fall in the journal Neurology.

It didn't come at the spouse's expense as trained caregivers experienced less depression, and fewer physical health problems.

Importantly, the training was simple: Social workers met with caregivers once a week for six weeks, to assess each family's circumstances, discuss how Alzheimer's worsens, and teach coping skills. Caregivers were given phone numbers to call counselors for more advice whenever they wanted.

That ongoing tailored care is "a really crucial element," stresses Mittelman. Without it, when the patient "has a personality change and hits somebody for the first time in her life, you won't have anyone to turn to."

Mittelman has begun new studies targeting training to early- and middle-stage Alzheimer's.

And the National Institutes of Health is studying a similar program that mixes in-home and telephone training, sessions that include role-playing to let caregivers practice the coping skills they're learning.

The NIH study has tracked 640 dementia caregivers in five states for just six months so far. But initial results agree with Mittelman: Trained caregivers report improved quality of life, and feel they do a better job.

Together, the research represents a major shift in scientists' approach to Alzheimer's caregiving -- from an emphasis on just giving families a break through respite care, to the idea of empowering them to better handle the stress of the job.

The challenge is how to spread those findings.

Often-hidden middle stage

Have a short conversation with Bob Melnick, and it's not immediately clear that anything's wrong with the smiling 67-year-old. He'll reminisce over old fishing photos; proudly tell of his two grown children; ask socially correct questions:

"How are you today?" "Want to come along while I walk the dog?"

Then the phone rings, and this former accountant fumbles it, unsure how to answer. He can't close the sliding glass door in his kitchen. At lunch, he carefully sets his hoagie on his place mat, next to the empty paper plate.

This is the often-hidden middle stage of Alzheimer's disease, the stage where caregivers seem to struggle most.

"Many people have a stereotypical idea that Alzheimer's disease is what you see in a nursing home," Mittelman says. But, "in the middle stage, there are behavioral problems which are difficult to cope with."

Dolores Melnick has looked, in vain, for help.

As her husband was turning 60, Mrs. Melnick noticed he'd lose his wallet or keys a lot. Trouble with routine accounting work soon forced him to retire.

Worried, Mrs. Melnick sought long-term care insurance. She listened in as her husband was screened over the phone, aghast that he was failing simple memory tests. The insurer turned him down, and soon Alzheimer's was diagnosed.

To fill his days, Melnick got a job at a nearby convenience store, mopping floors and doing other easy tasks until he was fired for forgetting instructions.

Mrs. Melnick is 63, two years shy of Medicare and three years away from her normal retirement date. She loves her job, a statistician at a cancer centre. But she considered quitting to care for her husband, only to learn that retaining health insurance for herself plus his Medicare expenses would cost a staggering $700 a month.

"It's kind of hard to retire," she says with a weary smile.

But what to do with Melnick while she's at work?

He can't remember a plot long enough to read or watch movies. He used to take pride in household chores, but now can't work the appliances. Even emptying the dishwasher ended when "dishes were all over and I couldn't find them!" Mrs. Melnick says with a laugh.

He refuses adult day care. Insurance won't pay the $17 to $22 an hour that local home-health agencies charge for a visiting aide, and Mrs. Melnick couldn't afford that.

So she cobbled together a compromise: She pays a friend about $30 a day to stop by around noon for three hours, to make lunch, help walk the dogs and provide some companionship. Melnick spends the mornings and late afternoons alone, outfitted with an electronic tracking bracelet provided by the sheriff's department in case he wanders outside and gets lost.

When she has an out-of-town business meeting, her 85-year-old mother-in-law comes to stay. Every few weekends, her daughter makes the three-hour drive from Washington, D.C., to help out.

And Mrs. Melnick races home from work at 5:15. If she's late, she'll find her husband pacing, wondering where she was. It's a hint of Alzheimer's classic "sundowning," where agitation increases with dusk.

Trying to help

Some states are trying new ways to increase Alzheimer's services. In Colorado, for example, officials experimented with giving $1,000 stipends to help families hire monitoring for their loved ones so they could attend a six-session training program called the Savvy Caregiver.

That doesn't buy much respite, but it's a good investment, says Cheryl Dunaway of the Colorado Alzheimer's Association.

"The caregiver is the one who sets the stage for whether it's a good day or bad day, calm day or chaotic day, in how they respond to the way the person with dementia is behaving," she explains.

In Congress, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., is pushing legislation that would provide a $3,000 federal income tax credit to offset some of the expenses and lost income incurred by caregivers of patients with Alzheimer's and other diseases.

NIH's Suzman says those costs increase as dementia worsens, from about $7,400 a year for moderate dementia to $17,700 for severe dementia.

Back in New Jersey, Mrs. Melnick is anxiously hoping that tax credit will help. Within the year, she expects to have to hire someone to watch her husband all day while she works.

Trying to plan beyond that brings only fear.

"Do I have to think about a nursing home in a year, two years? ... It's not like cancer, where they say you have six months to live. They really can't say that with Alzheimer's."

(Source: By Lauran Neergaard - AP Medical Writer -



When late-stage Alzheimer's reduces the ability to communicate through words, it might seem useless to try to make a connection with your loved one. However, those with late-stage Alzheimer's can still experience the world through senses such as touch, smell, sound and sight. It's crucial to continue providing comfort to those with late-stage Alzheimer's disease by nurturing your personal connection with them. Try the following methods to provide comfort to your relative:

• Tap into his or her senses. Think about your loved one's history. Was she a gardener? Perhaps she'd enjoy the smell of fresh cut flowers or herbs. Does he love animals? He might find pleasure in stroking a dog or cat (if you don't have a pet, find a neighbour with a pet you can trust). If she enjoys the outdoors, she might enjoy bird watching. If he likes music, sounds that represent a happy time in his life or a cultural/spiritual tradition could be very comforting to him. The key is to find a way to tap into your loved one's senses by remembering his or her unique qualities.

• Use touch. Simply holding a person's hand or providing a gentle massage can communicate reassurance and caring to a person with late-stage Alzheimer's.

• Speak in a soothing tone. Even if your relative can no longer understand what you're saying, speaking in a gentle, soothing tone of voice can provide comfort and a feeling of safety.. Similarly, the rhythm of reading to her can be relaxing, even if she doesn't understand what you're reading.


Caregiver Accounts About Dementia

Laurie's Story of Alzheimer's

Caregiver Accounts About Dementia


"Is your mother okay?" my cousin asked. "I didn't get a Birthday card from her." That's when I knew for SURE that Mom was going away.


For all of her life, my mother was known for sending cards, without fail, to EVERYONE, even people she barely knew. Meet her once, she'll remember you forever. And she was also known to give every visitor "strange" gifts: Toilet paper, a can of tuna, stamps, cans of coffee, whatever. Slightly eccentric, always loving. That's my Mother. That's my Fern. "Do unto others...." was her Mantra.


She's fading now, though still loving and wonderful. She says to me, "I'm YOUR child now", so she understands that her mind isn't where is used to be. She asks the same questions over & over, she thinks she's eaten, or showered, or written letters, or called someone, or sent gifts. Sometimes she remembers that she hasn't, but she'll "Do it tomorrow". OK, Fern.


My daughter-in-law's sister wrote something about their Grandmother when she suffered from Alzheimer's. It was a beautiful "essay". I will paraphrase here what hit home to me the most: It takes years for us to see the light from stars; they could have burned out years ago, but we still can see them.


As they fade, let's all remember the stars.. I still see you, Fern





Can You Prevent Alzheimer's Disease?

Can You Prevent Alzheimer's Disease?


An estimated 3.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, and the number keeps growing every year. Is there anything you can do to lower the likelihood that you will develop this devastating disorder?


As of now, there is no certain way to avoid getting Alzheimer's disease. But available research suggests a number of measures you can take to reduce your risk:


·         Exercise your brain

 Keeping your mental skills sharp by playing chess and computer and card games, doing crossword puzzles, and maintaining an active social life, have long been recommended as ways to combat Alzheimer's.


·         Exercise your body

 Recent studies suggest that physical exercise can also help to slow brain deterioration.


·         Eat your vegetables

 While nutritionists emphasize the importance of eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, recent studies suggest that vegetables, but not fruits, may help prevent Alzheimer's. One study showed that people 65 years or older who ate 2.8 servings of vegetables a day had a 40 percent lower rate of developing Alzheimer's disease over a 6-year period than those who ate less than 1 daily serving of vegetables. Intake of fruit had no impact on the development of Alzheimer's in this study, but fruit is still important because it provides other helpful nutrients to maintain overall health.


·         Go Mediterranean

 A report from Columbia University found a lower incidence of Alzheimer's in people who adopted a Mediterranean diet-a style of eating in which small amounts of red meat are used as a garnish while increased amounts of vegetables, fruits, olive oil, and fish make up most of the meal. 


·         Get your Omega-3s

 According to a recent finding of the long-standing Framingham Heart Study, people with the highest levels of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) had a 40 to 50 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's or any type of dementia. And a study from Sweden noted that dietary supplements of fish oils and their omega-3 fatty acids slowed the progression of Alzheimer's in people with a mild form of the disease.


Other actions that you can take to prevent Alzheimer's are less clear. Some research suggests that the benefit of eating vegetables to prevent Alzheimer's is due to the vitamin E contained in the vegetables themselves or in the oils added in salads. But studies of vitamin E supplements have shown mixed results on the prevention or progress of Alzheimer's. For this reason, some researchers advise eating foods rich in vitamin E (found in vegetable oils, nuts, green leafy vegetables, and fortified cereals) rather than taking supplements of the vitamin. One reason for this advice is the evidence for possible adverse effects of taking the common dose of 400 IU of vitamin E supplements.


Other studies have focused on the effects on Alzheimer's of taking statin drugs. But the findings here are mixed as well. Some small studies show slight benefits, while reviews of multiple studies suggest statins do not provide significant protection against Alzheimer's.

Where does all of this leave us? Even if there's no guarantee you will never develop Alzheimer's disease, exercising regularly and eating more fish and vegetables are certainly sensible prescriptions for maintaining general health. And keeping the brain sharp with mental exercises sounds like lots of fun, whatever its effects on Alzheimer's or dementia in general. However, I would wait for more definitive evidence before trying to prevent Alzheimer's disease by taking statin drugs or supplements of vitamin E or fish-oil.


(Source:   By Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D,

A Senior Moment or Early Alzheimer's Disease?

A Senior Moment or Early Alzheimer's Disease?


 As we hear more and more about the dreaded consequences of Alzheimer's disease, it's easy to be concerned that every little memory lapse we suffer might be an early warning sign of dementia.


But it's normal, as we grow older, to have more difficulty recalling names or choosing the right word. Such garden-variety forgetfulness — formally called "age-associated memory impairment" or "normal age-related forgetfulness" (NARF) — must be clearly distinguished from Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. The normal forgetfulness of older age may be frustrating, but it is not disabling like dementia.


Here are some examples of the differences between normal age-related forgetfulness and dementia, taken from the 2008 Johns Hopkins White Paper about memory:


·         A person with NARF may at times misplace keys, eyeglasses, or other items; a demented person forgets what these items are used for or puts them in inappropriate places.


·         Someone with NARF may momentarily forget the name of an acquaintance; a demented individual may not remember knowing that person.


·         A person with NARF may on occasion forget to run an errand; persons with dementia, because they do not know what day or time it is, cannot run any errands at all.


·         People with NARF may joke about their forgetfulness; demented people are unaware of their memory loss and other cognitive problems.


·         While driving, a person with NARF may briefly forget when to make a turn; a demented individual can easily become disoriented or lost, even in a familiar place.


A common, and generally correct, guideline is that people who worry about their forgetfulness are unlikely to be suffering from a serious memory abnormality. People with a serious impairment of memory tend to be unaware of their memory problems, don't worry about them, or else blame other factors when memory lapses are brought to their attention.


(Source:   By Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D, 9 May 2008,


Meditation May Sharpen Attention

Meditation Appears to Hone the Brain's Attention Skills, Study Shows.


Meditation may train the brain to pay close attention, a new study shows.


The study comes from researchers including Richard Davidson, PhD, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.


They studied 17 people who were experienced in meditation and 23 people of similar backgrounds who were novices in meditation.


For three months, the experienced meditation practitioners attended an intensive meditation retreat at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass. During the retreat, they practiced Vipassana meditation for 10-12 hours daily.


"In this common style of meditation, one starts by focusing or stabilizing concentration on an object such as the breath," Davidson's team writes.


"Then one broadens one's focus, cultivating a nonreactive form of sensory awareness or 'bare' attention," the researchers continue. "This form of attention is nonreactive in the sense that ideally one does not become caught up in judgments and affective [mood] responses about sensory or mental stimuli."


For comparison, the 23 meditation novices attended one hour of meditation training and were asked to meditate for 20 minutes daily for one week.


Attention Test


At the end of their meditation training, the researchers tested participants' attention skills.

In the attention test, participants watched a series of letters shown one by one on a computer screen. Each letter was displayed for less than a second.


Every now and then, a letter was followed by a number, instead of another letter. Participants were asked to name the numbers, which (like the letters) only appeared for a split second.

The researchers didn't ask participants to meditate during the tests.


Compared with the meditation novices, participants who had attended the three-month intensive meditation retreat were better at noticing the numbers mixed into the string of letters.


The researchers say the findings show that meditation served as mental training that improved control over attention.


The study appears in Public Library of Science Biology.


(Source:  By Miranda Hitti, WebMD Medical News, 9 May 2008)

Alzheimer's Disease: Tips for Maintaining a Normal Life

Alzheimer's Disease: Tips for Maintaining a Normal Life


Living with Alzheimer's disease is a challenge for anyone. It's difficult to remember things, make decisions, and find your way around the way you used to. It can be frustrating a good deal of the time, but there are good days and bad days. Here are some helpful tips and things you can do to make things easier for yourself -- to make things feel a bit more normal again.


How Do I Cope With My Memory Problems?

To help cope with memory problems:


·         Always keep a book with you to record important information, phone numbers, names, ideas you have, appointments, your address, and directions to your home.

·         Place sticky notes around the house when you need to remember things.

·         Label cupboards and drawers with words or pictures that describe their contents.

·         Place important phone numbers in large print next to the phone.

·         Ask a friend or family member to call and remind you of important things that you need to do in the day, like meal times, medication times, and appointments.

·         Use a calendar to keep track of time and to remember important dates.

·         Use photos of people you see often labeled with their names.

·         Keep track of phone messages by using an answering machine.


What's the Best Way to Plan the Day?

In planning your day:


·         Find things to do that you enjoy and are able to do safely on your own.

·         It will be easier to accomplish tasks during the times of the day when you feel best.

·         Allow yourself the time to do the things you need to do, and don't feel rushed or let other people rush you.

·         If something gets too difficult, take a break.

·         Ask for help if you need it.


How Do I Avoid Getting Lost?

To keep from getting lost:


·         Ask someone to go with you when you go out.

·         Ask for help if you need it and explain that you have a memory problem.

·         Always take directions for where you're going with you.


What Will Make Communicating Easier?

Communicating with others will be easier if you:


·         Always take your time, and don't feel rushed.

·         If you need to, ask the person you're speaking with to repeat what he/she is saying or to speak slowly if you do not understand.

·         Avoid distracting noises, and find a quiet place to talk.


What About Driving?

Driving can be of particular concern for Alzheimer's patients. Here are some things to consider:


·         Have someone else drive you where you need to go.

·         If you tend to get lost or confused easily, consider alternative modes of transportation.

·         Drive only in areas that are familiar to you.

·         Contact organizations like the Alzheimer's Association to learn what local transportation services are available.

·         The Department of Motor Vehicles will assess your driving skills if you're not sure whether you should drive.

·         At some point, it may no longer be safe for you to drive.


How Do I Take Care of Myself at Home?

To make sure you are well taken care of at home, put some of these measures into place early so they become routine:


·         Local Alzheimer organizations or your doctor will be able to tell you how to get help with things like shopping, housekeeping, meals (including home-delivered meals), and transportation.

·         Ask a neighbor you trust to keep a set of house keys.

·         Ask a friend or family member to help you to organize your closets and drawers to make it easier for you to find things.

·         Ask a family member to check things out around the house, such as electrical appliances, mail, and perishable food items.

·         Keep a list of important and emergency numbers by the phone.

·         Have family, friends, or a community service program call or visit daily to ensure that everything is all right.

·         Ask someone to check your smoke alarm regularly.


How Do I Maintain My Responsibilities?


·         Arrange for direct deposit of checks, such as your retirement pension or Social Security benefits.

·         Inform your bank if you have difficulty keeping track of your accounts and record keeping. They may provide special services for people who have Alzheimer's.

It is important to realize that at some point, it will become too difficult or dangerous for you to live by yourself. But, in the earliest stages of the disease, many people do manage on their own -- with support and help from friends, family, and community programs and with simple adjustments and safety practices in place.