should you see geriatric specialistYour loved one has multiple doctors already. Do they really need to add one more to the list? This post is designed to help you decide whether your loved one should consider seeing a geriatric specialist. A geriatric specialist provides comprehensive care for the elderly. They’ve completed their residency in Family or Internal Medicine, and have one or two years additional training in the various issues – physical, mental, and social – that affect this age group. There are several benefits to seeing a geriatric specialist. Seniors sometimes experience illnesses differently than younger adults, and so it helps for them to work with a doctor who understands their specific situation. Geriatric specialists are especially well-equipped to understand the particular complexity of senior health issues, which are typically caused by multiple factors. For example, they can examine a senior’s prescription drug regimine and make sure that they’re not over-medicated. They will also be familiar with the particular resources available to help your loved one in your specific local area. Whether or not a senior should see a geriatric specialist depends on their particular situation. After all, seniors themselves are different: one 80 year-old may be active with minimal health problems, while another may be struggling with serious health conditions. Geriatric specialists tend to step in when an individual’s health problems become complicated. It’s recommended that all seniors consider a visit when they turn 65, and highly recommended for those seniors who are in some way impaired, who have multiple medical problems, who are experiencing cognitive decline or dementia, or whose family members are struggling with caregiving. If you do decide to take your loved one to see a geriatric specialist, the initial assessment will take several hours. You’ll be given a detailed questionairre to fill out that your loved one will most likely need help with. Make sure you bring a list of all medications, hearing aids and dentures, eyeglass prescriptions, and information about other doctors your loved on is seeing or has seen recently. The following elements make up a typical assessment:
  • Complete physical exam
  • Detailed medical history
  • List of medications and their purpose
  • Dental exam
  • Hearing and vision tests
  • Pain level analysis
  • Cognitive evaluation
  • Osteoporosis screening
  • Dietary analysis and advice
  • Meeting with a social worker
  • Discussion with family members
Rather than being “just another doctor” a geriatric specialist can help you with managing the extensive medical care your loved one is already receiving. Many seniors and their caregivers find these physician’s particular expertise helpful.
is dementia hereditaryIf you’re diagnosed with a disease, often one of your biggest worries is whether or not it’s hereditary. Will you pass it on to your children and grandchildren? Or those who are watching their parents struggle with a disease wonder, “Will this be me one day?” Dementia is no exception. The good news is that in most cases, dementia is not a hereditary disease. However, this does vary depending on the type of dementia, and it may be that the inherited nature of dementia is too convoluted for researchers to fully understand it yet.  Genetics is complicated, after all. We can see this with more basic traits: even if both parents have brown eyes, their child’s eyes might turn out to be blue. Or a trait like height may be influenced by several different genes. Alzheimer’s disease is usually not inherited, though if someone in your family has had the disease there’s a slightly greater chance that you’ll have it too. Early onset Alzheimer’s is one specific form that does tend to occur within families – though this version of the disease is more rare. Huntington’s disease, on the other hand, is clearly hereditary, and it’s a little known fact that this is a form of dementia. Other types of dementia that run in families include fronto-temporal dementias: as many as 50% of those cases seem to be hereditary. While genetics has its influence, our environment and our lifestyle have perhaps an equally powerful role. Since families share similar ways of living, it can be difficult to sort out what happens due to genetics and what happens due to environment. If you’re worried about you or someone you love developing dementia, rather than look at family history you may find more connections by considering the following:
  • Women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than men are.
  • Researchers have determined that diseases of the heart, blood, or arteries are linked with an increased chance of dementia. This includes heart attacks, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and especially strokes.
  • Those who have a history of depression are more likely to develop dementia.
  • Repeated or severe head injuries are also a risk factor.
If you have concerns that you or a loved one will inherit a form of dementia, talk to your doctor. They can provide guidance about how likely it is that your form of dementia is inherited, and can give you guidance about whether a step like genetic testing and counseling might be worth it.
caregiving for in-lawsYou expect to have to care for your own parents in their old age, but often times we find ourselves caring for our in-laws too. For many this isn’t a problem, as they’re your spouse’s parents and part of your family. But sometimes, this situation presents issues when we have conflicts with our in-laws. It’s also not unheard of for someone to be caring for their former spouse’s parents, even when they’re no longer married to that person. Then things become a little more complicated. Though gender roles are changing in contemporary life, it’s often women who find themselves in this situation. Sometimes their partner is helpful and supportive, but too often this isn’t the case. Men aren’t used to taking on nurturing roles like this and tending to someone physically. They may manage their parents’ finances or help with more manly tasks like mowing the lawn if his parents still live in their own home. And of course he calls the shots for the big decisions. But the women in his life end up taking on the responsibility for tasks like preparing meals and bathing – and this role is not always welcome on the part of the woman. If you find yourself in this situation, try appealing to your spouse’s desire to be a good caretaker. Once their parents have passed away, many children regret not doing more for them while they were still alive. Remind him that he’ll want to be proud of what he’s done for them. You’ll also want to remind him that doing so-called “feminine” tasks doesn’t make him less of a man – he’s getting hung up on stereotypes. If you work, you can also make it clear that you have just as much of a right to spend time on your career as he does. You have your other obligations too. In the end, you need to decide how much care you’re willing to take on, and then leave it to your spouse to handle things from there. Set strong, clear boundaries: ultimately his parents are his responsibility. Of course, if you’re married, you’ll need to take the health of your relationship into account with any decision you make. However, if you’re divorced, you have no obligation, though some women feel they should care for their former in-laws because they are, after all, their children’s grandparents. But the key point to remember is that you are in charge of your contribution.
lewy body dementiaLewy body dementia is a particular form of dementia, characterized by abnormal brain cells called Lewy bodies. The disease gets its unusual name from its discoverer, Dr. Levi of Germany, who uncovered the disease in 1912. “Levi” was changed to “Lewy” in the English translation. Lewy body dementia is one of the most common forms of dementia, occurring in 15% or more of all cases. However, the general public and even some health professionals are not as familiar with the disease as they are with better-known dementias like Alzheimer’s. Researchers at this time don’t know why Lewy bodies form. They are made up of alpha-synuclein protein, which is also connected to Parkinson’s disease and other disorders. Indeed, Parkinson’s disease patients and Lewy Body dementia sufferers display similar symptoms, especially in later stages of the disease. Lewy bodies collect in the nuclei of the neurons that help manage motor control and memory. They can accumulate by themselves, but they also sometimes appear in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s. Because it is easily confused with similar diseases, Lewy Body dementia is under-diagnosed. However, seeking a diagnosis is critical, as it can lead to proper care that will make a real difference in quality of life and the length of time the patient is able to maintain their independence. Unlike Alzheimer’s, in which the disease eventually kills most of the victim’s neurons, in Lewy Body dementia the patient only loses 10 to 15% of neurons, though other areas of the brain are damaged as well. Lewy Body dementia tends to affect different areas of the brain than Alzheimer’s does. The disease interferes with language, memory, and higher-level mental functions. Lewy body dementia also often occurs in connection with anxiety and depression. As with other forms of dementia, there is no cure currently available. Doctors will prescribe various medications to treat the different symptoms, however. Drugs like rivastigmine and donepezil are used to treat cognitive problems, and may also help with motor control and psychiatric issues. Motor control can also be helped by levodopa. Drugs that treat hallucinations however usually are not used since there’s the possibility they could make motor control issues worse. The life expectancy for someone with the disease is about eight years. Lewy body dementia is an area of active government-funded research, with the immediate goal of better understanding what causes the disease. Scientists hope to eventually discover ways to treat it, prevent it and cure it.
mythsThere are many misconceptions out there about Alzheimer’s. Below are some of the most common, along with explanations about what the real deal is. There are cures that will stop the development of Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, at this time there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and no way to halt its progress. However, there are drugs that will, temporarily, pause the deterioration of or even improve cognitive skills and memory. But they only, for a period of time, treat the symptoms and not the disease itself. These drugs only work for some people, so there’s no guarantee that they can help your loved one. These drugs include cholinesterase inhibtors like Aricept and Exelon, and memantine (also known as Namenda). Cholinesterase inhibitors are used in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s, and memantine is prescribed later on. The aspartame in artificial sweeteners contributes to memory loss. Aspartame is an artificial sweetener approved by the FDA in 1996. It is made by combining two proteins, phenylalanine and aspartic acid, with methanol, a chemical found in various plant foods. The studies that have been done on this issue so far have yielded no evidence of a connection between memory loss and aspartame. The use of aluminum in cooking or with food can cause Alzheimer’s. Current studies do not show that eliminating aluminum, such as that in pots and pans and soda cans, reduces one’s chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease. The jury is still out on aluminum’s relationship to the disease, but scientists generally think that it is unlikely that it has any significant effect. Alzheimer’s disease can be caused by a head injury. This one is partially true: researchers have proven that having a severe head injury with loss of consciousness during one’s life will increase the chances that the individual will get Alzheimer’s disease. However, researchers don’t yet understand why this occurs and what is happening in the brain during these incidents that leads to Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease won’t kill you. Alzheimer’s is, in fact, a fatal disease. It first destroys brain cells that assist with memory functions, but over time the damage will spread to parts of the brain that control essential bodily functions. It can be hard to attribute death to Alzheimer’s disease, however. Many Alzheimer’s patients, due to their age, are experiencing a number of health issues. It is likely that several different problems contribute to the actual cause of death.