Alzheimer's and Dementia Caregivers Blog

Do We Get Nicer With Age?

Our personality makes us who we are. It influences our lives, from what career we choose to how we get along with our families.  It even influences who we choose as our friends, and even who we marry.

Researchers believe that our personality does change as we age, because most people have personality changes over a period of their lifetime. My experience working with older adults is that they take the time to be more pleasant each day.  Many older adults have learned how not to sweat the little stuff in life!

There are "Five" big personality traits--conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness and extraversion. One well known Psychologist, Sanjay Srivastava, PhD., reports that personality traits are largely set by a person’s genetics.  Psychologists Oliver P. John, PhD, and Samuel D. Gosling, PhD, and computer scientist Jeff Potter contributed to the research that long held assumptions about our personalities being set before we are born, may not be correct. 

These Big Five personality traits are often used to measure change in personality from age 10 to 65.

Extraversion, makes us talkative and sociable.  It is the one trait that makes us need to seek social support.  This trait also declines in women as they age, and it changes very little in men as they age.  Some research suggests that shyness might be linked to a shorter lifespan.

Conscientiousness, is a trait described as being organized, disciplined, and being dependable.  These are also linked to success in your work ethic and your relationships which increase with a person’s age. This trait declines starting in late childhood to adolescence, but then increases again from adolescence into adulthood.  Dr. Srivastava states that "Conscientiousness grows as people mature and become better at managing their jobs and relationships, and agreeableness changes most in your 30s when you're raising a family and need to be nurturing."

Agreeableness, a trait associated with being friendly, generous and helpful. This trait helps you to be polite and trusting, and you will most likely try to avoid competition. This trait starts generally in our 30’s and continues to improve through our 60’s.  

Neuroticism, causes worrying, stress, and feeling anxious or moody.  During this study the personality changes were generally consistent between men and women, except for neuroticism and extraversion.  Young women scored higher than young men, but that changed as men and women aged over time.  Worry and our sense of instability actually decrease with age for women, but worry does not decrease for men. This may be why the statistics of suicide have increased among older men.  Over time, people with a high level of neuroticism find new reasons to complain, worry, and be dissatisfied

Openness, during this study showed declines in both men and women over time.  Our desire to try new experiences declines slightly with age for both men and women. This change indicates that the older we become the less interested we are in forming new relationships.  Socialization is much more difficult for older adults.  So, if an older adult appears cantankerous or eccentric, it is probably because he or she was that way as a younger adult.

Therapists suggest that we can change our personalities or at least certain undesirable traits with therapy.  Many people consider seeking therapy to achieve better relationships at work and with their families. 

 

 

Alive Inside

 Dancing Man

The documentary “Alive Inside” was recently released in theatres in Atlanta.  After all of my years of working with Alzheimer’s patients, I am convinced that there is still a real person inside who is still hearing and thinking even though their brain is impaired.   This movie follows the story about a social worker Dan Cohen, who is the founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory.  Dan is noted for his fight against what he calls, a “broken healthcare system” to demonstrate music's ability to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it.  

Many family members have witnessed the miraculous effects when music is personalized for their loved ones. The Journey Remembered DVD’s also offers music and visual therapy while holding their attention for longer periods of time while they are being entertained with positive images.

Researchers are convinced that music and music therapy offers an effective method overall for treating symptoms of memory loss associated with dementia. People with Alzheimer’s and dementia would experience improved social, emotional, and cognitive skills, while decreasing their behavioral problems.  Multiple studies regarding music therapy have proven to be an effective intervention for maintaining and improving active involvement.  In all of the studies the effect of music and music therapy were found to be highly significant.

These same studies showed that without the use of Music Therapy after four weeks however, the effects had mostly disappeared. Music therapy when used on a regular day to day schedule is a safe and effective method for treating agitation and anxiety in moderately severe and severe Alzheimer’s disease.

In many situations Music Therapy has become a proven way to stop medicating people as a form of treatment for the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. Today, I still find many health care professionals and families continue to push doctor’s to add anti-psychotic medications to control behaviors. 

As more and more studies show significant reductions in patient’s aggressiveness and anxiety, why are we not compelled to try a different method?  According to one Geriatric Psychiatrist that I have worked with over the years, states openly that he believes that we medicate patient’s to keep them in the wrong environment. 

The “BIG” question is why is Music Therapy or The Journey Remembered DVD’s not used as the first choice before using anti-psychotic drugs?

As a Geriatric Nurse Consultant, I have been actively involved working with Alzheimer’s patients for over 17 years and I still do not have the answer. 

 

 

Don't Sweat the Little Stuff!

Do you ever worry about the small stuff in life?  Not having trust in the outcome makes it hard not to worry!

As I work with many families in crisis situations, I felt compelled to write about this topic.

When we worry about all of the “little stuff” in life, how will we ever be prepared to handle the “Big stuff” life throws at us! As early as Adam and Eve, we humans have been blaming someone else for our problems.  We have a choice in what our friends will call us; a whiner, a martyr, a cynic, or last but not least a perfectionist! 

  • Whiners, get up every morning and see a glass that is half empty.

  • Martyrs, complain about everything and never do anything to change their attitude.

  • Cynics, have the attitude that no matter what they do it won’t make a difference.

  • Perfectionists, are always looking for perfection and no one can ever please them.

Recent research suggests that we can train ourselves to not sweat the small stuff, says Michael D. Robinson, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at North Dakota State University. "Thinking differently calms down your brain's emotional region," says James Gross, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Stanford University.

To be a more even-keeled person, you first need to think like one, says Rosalind S. Dorlen, Psy.D. a clinical psychologist in New Jersey. That means practicing mental strategies that exercise the region of your brain that is responsible for reasoning. Eventually you will begin to have more control when you stop overwhelming other parts of your brain by “emoting” or acting in an emotional or theatrical manner. 

When we begin to see the big picture and readjust our perspective, we can then begin to voice our feelings in a less angry way and still get results. When we continue to focus on the present situation and only think about what we are afraid might happen, nothing will ever change.   

Taking control of any situation by slowly taking time to breathe will help you think more clearly. When you inhale it speeds up your heart rate, and when you exhale it slows your heart rate.  It is important to remind yourself that when you are feeling emotional about a situation, your feelings may not be realistic. Your brain can trigger an emotional response very quickly when you do not control your thoughts, but your reasoning brain can help you focus on fixing the problem.  

People who speak positively about any situation when they feel uncertain are using their reasoning brain rather than their emotional brain. Consider letting go of your problem for a day, because you may decide that it may look entirely different. 

People who have control over their emotions or the “even-keeled people” can resolve their problems more quickly and they rarely become a victim of their emotions. These amazing people can feel optimistic about the future even in the midst of adversity.  The natural pessimists are forced to condition their brains to begin to see each problem through “rose-colored glasses,” so it will get easier for them over time with practice. 

Unfortunately problems will still come no matter what we do, but will we be ready to handle the “Big stuff” or let it totally consume our lives.

 

 

Loss of Smell

A poor sense of smell may be one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer's. Scientists have found that certain biological changes in the sense of smell, may help predict whether people with no symptoms of memory loss, may develop the progressive brain disease according to findings presented at this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.

Laboratory mice that have been manipulated to develop Alzheimer’s disease have resembled people with Alzheimer’s.  Scientists from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have shown that removing the plaque-forming protein restores the animals' sense of smell.  Researchers involved in these studies believe that the smell centers of the brain may be among the first areas affected by the toxic beta-amyloid, followed by brain areas critical for memory and thinking.

Smell is an important area of study because the odor center of the brain appears to be particular vulnerable to Alzheimer’s pathology and the ability to identify different smells become impaired relatively early in the disease process according to a recent study done at Columbia University by Dr. Davangere Devanand. 

Loss of the sense of smell can be caused by other factors that influence smell, including medications, viral illnesses or injuries to the olfactory systems. But a poor sense of smell has also long been recognized as an early sign of Alzheimer's. It may also be an early sign of mild cognitive impairment, a form of memory loss that sometimes precedes Alzheimer's. However, not all Alzheimer’s patient’s lose their sense of smell.

The new research shows how and where in the brain this happens, and that the impairment is likely to be treatable. During the experiments in the lab the mice that were exposed to a very small amount of beta-amyloid lost their ability to detect odors. The Plaque made up of the toxic proteins appeared to be in their brain in the areas responsible for smell long before they showed up in other areas of their brain associated with memory. The mice became incapable of remembering smells or telling the differences among odors in lab experiments possibly because they spent more time trying to smell a typical object.

The researchers tried to reverse the effects. Then the mice were given a drug that would clear the beta-amyloid from their brains. After several weeks using the drug, the mice could then process smells normally. Interestingly after one week they had withdrawal from the drug and the memory impairments returned.

People with Alzheimer's may have a poor sense of smell like the mice, and be unable to detect common household odors. Unfortunately there are no drugs currently available that will clear beta-amyloid from the brain.  Scientists continue to test new people in research studies. 

“The evidence indicates we can use the sense of smell to determine if someone may get Alzheimer’s disease, and use changes in sense of smell to begin treatments, instead of waiting until someone has issues learning and remembering,” Dr. Wesson said. “We can also use smell to see if therapies are working.”

A Quick smell test helps diagnose Alzheimer’s disease:

Try using a little peanut butter on the bottom of a ruler, and then measure the distance from one nostril where the patient can first detect the smell. People who were able to not smell the peanut butter at a significant distance with the left nostril being worse than the right nostril, were also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. People with other forms of dementia and healthy older people did not show this left to right nostril difference. This test is reliable and it is a noninvasive way to test people who may have early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.  

This evidence was concluded by Research support:  National Center for Research Resources:  TL1RR029889.  NIH Roadmap for Medical Research at the University of Florida’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Suggests the smell area of the brain, particularly on the left side, is the first area affected

 

Our DVDs combine images
with high quality music that will engage those with cognitive decline. They are currently utilized by caregivers at multiple dementia units, nursing homes and home care environments.

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