Holistic care delivered with compassion - supporting families with Dementia

Prevention of Vascular Dementia with a Healthy Lifestyle

Photo Credit: Garry Knight

Photo Credit: Garry Knight

“Why bother trying to keep my brain healthy? If I’ve come up short in the genetic lottery, there’s not much I can do.” We’ve heard variations on this theme from many who are under the impression that there’s nothing they can do to prevent dementia. Mainly, this is caused by a confusion between Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Alzheimer’s is not preventable and is also irreversible; vascular dementia can be preventable and you may be able to prevent it from getting worse with diet, exercise and other proactive choices.

What is vascular dementia, exactly? It’s the second-most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s – dementia caused by a lack of blood to the brain. If the system of blood vessels within the brain becomes blocked or damaged, brain cells start dying – leading to a wide range of symptoms, including (but not limited to):

  • Problems communicating
  • Memory problems
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Other psychological problems
  • Behavioral changes
  • Trouble getting around
  • Problems with continence

Many of these symptoms are present with other causes, so it’s important to get checked by a medical professional to determine what’s going on. Sometimes it takes a diagnosis to get clients to quit unhealthy habits.

Ways to Help Prevent Vascular Dementia

As an added bonus, all of the things you will do to prevent vascular dementia will also help you stave off cardiac arrest and stroke. In today’s fitness conscious society, you’ve no doubt heard some of these tips before – so why wait to get started?

  • Keep active. Exercise helps stimulate blood flow and contributes to your overall health. Cardio is great, but really, any physical activity can be helpful.
  • Say no to “just one more drink.” Drinking in moderation may not be a problem – and might even help to regulate certain aspects of your health. But overdrinking is absolutely linked to negative health outcomes and dementia is just one potential consequence.
  • Don’t smoke. We get that in an age where it’s not even legal to smoke anywhere except the street and the inside of your own home, if you’re still smoking it’s probably not because you feel like you have a choice. The truth is that you do have a choice, though: people can and do quit smoking every day, often with professional help. For some, it’s as easy as substituting with those new vapor cigarette devices. This is one of the most important changes you can make.
  • Eat healthy. Fat, sugar and cholesterol are not your ideal food groups. Your body is a biological machine that can only take in so much garbage before it starts breaking down – and vascular dementia is just one potential outcome. You don’t necessarily need to cut out all of your favorite foods – often, it’s a simple matter of adding another portion of fruits or vegetables and cutting out portions of the stuff you already know can cause problems. See a dietician if you feel completely lost.

Lifestyle choices can help you prevent vascular dementia – and if you’re around the Vancouver area, now could be the time to get started. We’re part of the Mt. Kilimanjaro Grouse Grind event happening September 28 – getting active for a good cause. We’ll have more details shortly, but in the meantime, think about joining us for a healthy hike in one of our area’s most spectacular settings. Get off to a healthy start today.

Caring for the Caregiver. How Do I Take Care of Me?

Caring for the Family Caregiver

Photo Credit: Casey Muir-Taylor

“I feel so overwhelmed, like I’m losing my mind. I can’t keep track of everything that’s going on. My home life is a mess. Work is even worse – I don’t even want to see what my employer is going to put on my quarterly progress report. I never have time to do the things I want. I feel like my life is falling away from me.”

Those aren’t the words of a person with dementia. Actually, it was from a family caregiver for someone with dementia – and these sentiments are unfortunately all too common.

By the time dementia is diagnosed, the person may already be experiencing advanced symptoms. A relative who is not a professional caregiver and is doing their best to provide quality care may feel out of their depth. Running errands, cooking, cleaning, helping their mother or father go to the toilet or take a bath – all the while trying to cope with their loved one’s confusion and (if their needs aren’t being met) irritability can put even the strongest person into a spiral of depression and exhaustion. Work and home life can suffer. Relationships die off. But this is the reality for so many in the so-called “sandwich generation”: adults in their late 30s to 60s, who may have just finished raising their own children, who now feel obligated to be the primary caregivers for their own declining parents.

Far too often, those in the sandwich generation don’t get help fast enough. They feel a responsibility to care for their own, thinking that no one else could provide the loving care they can give.

In actuality, well-meaning but non-professional family caregivers may do more harm than good. They may not be able to recognize the signs of what their loved one really needs, for the simple reason that dementia makes it so much harder to communicate. If there are medical complications, as there often are, these may go unseen – and as a result, dementia and the overall health condition declines even worse. The caregiver from the sandwich generation doesn’t feel merely overwhelmed, but guilty for not being able to understand and answer their loved one’s needs.

We understand what the family caregiver is going through. We’re not here to judge – we get that you are doing the best job that you can, the best way you know how.

But you should know that you don’t need to do it alone. You don’t have to be tired and feeling at your wits’ end all the time.

Staying Active to Give Your Brain a Workout

Staying Fit for Mental Health . Dementia Care TipsWe recently raised over $2,000 for Alzheimer Society of British Columbia by doing a sponsored climb of the “Mt. Kilimanjaro Grouse Grind” – with our team of 6 going up the equivalent of 7 times (since our local hiker’s mecca in North Vancouver isn’t quite as long as the real thing in Tanzania: 5,895 meters). This is a cause very close to our hearts and we’re looking forward to raising even more funds for this great cause with our team next year. We’re also looking forward to being inspired by our fellow climbers – including our new friends, Martin and Esther.

While we were on our local trek for charity, we met this lovely couple, seniors who had climbed the real Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2012. Since they entered their seventies, they sure haven’t slowed down. ““Every day after 70 is a bonus day,” Esther says. “We live and enjoy each day to the full! To reach a happy old age you have to remain fit: mentally, physically and socially.” Great sentiments – but they sure back up their words with action!

They keep their minds active by doing activities to stimulate their brains: reading books and newspapers paper, writing stories, doing crosswords, playing chess and other games and going to shows and lectures. They also take courses at their local school, studying everything from the Spanish language to Photoshop, painting and more!

Staying fit and active also helps their minds stay sharp. “All our lives we have both been enthusiastic nature lovers,” Martin says. “Now we hike two or three days most weeks. In winter, we do two days downhill skiing and an icy trail hike up Grouse, often accompanied by friends.”

Having an active social life is the third pillar that helps them stay on top of their game. “We are members of the BC Mountaineering Club (joint Honorary Presidents), a canoe club and Brockhouse Senior Centre. Our wide circle of friends and Esther’ss love of cooking mean that we have many dinner parties at our home. We also have very close, loving contact with our two adult children. Being active socially requires effort, but it also energizes you!”

Martin and Esther also find meaning in being active in worthy causes. In 2006, they went with the Trans-Himalayan Society on a visit to a remote part of northern India in support of a large residential school. “We travelled from Delhi to Shimla, where the two of us bought 400 toothbrushes for the children. Then we travelled by Landrover, truck-camping all the way to Spiti’s Munselling school. The kids sang and a local Lama prayed as we placed cornerstones for a TRAS sponsored infirmary.” More recently, on their trip to Mt. Kilimanjaro with an 11-person team, they raised over $25,000 for the Alzheimer Society of BC. Esther and Martin are now in the Guinness World Record book as the oldest man and woman to get to the top!

We’re often inspired by our at-home dementia care clients and their families for the effort their efforts in creating a genuinely attractive quality of life. You don’t have to literally climb a mountain to see great results; put together some realistic goals and start improving one step at a time.

Early Warning Tests for Alzheimer’s Disease?

Early Warning Test for Alzheimer's?

Photo Credit: Peter Sheik

“If only we’d known sooner!” Providing at-home care for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, we often see that regretful sentiment in the primary family caregiver. Presently, diagnosis requires a full battery of testing; doctors look at medical history, results from tests for mental status and a complete physical exam. It’s important to rule out other causes of dementia-like symptoms that could be caused by other illnesses, wrongly prescribed medication or other factors.

Adding further to the difficulty of getting an ‘early warning’ for Alzheimer’s disease, people may try to cover up symptoms out of misplaced embarrassment. When a diagnosis does finally come, the primary family caregiver can feel guilt. They see how their parent or other relative has been living, after being unable to take care of basic functions like going for groceries, getting dressed or taking care of personal hygiene. They regret that they weren’t able to give their loved one the help they needed until the situation reached an intolerable state. They can feel as though they weren’t there for their loved one when they were needed, even if a medical professional might have had difficulty generating a definite diagnosis in the early stages.

We’re hopeful that this kind of situation will be more rare, sooner than later. Some medical research that is increasingly devoted to Alzheimer’s care sounds promising, like this research for an Alzheimer’s early-detection eye test reported by the BBC:

The new study uses specially-developed computer software to analyse high-definition images of the eye from multiple instruments to establish whether such changes in the eye could act as an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.

They’re still in the early stages with this – but that’s not the only method scientists are trying. A blood test being developed by the National Institute on Aging in the USA is showing promise in detecting the disease a full decade before it could show up thanks to other clinical methods.

I could easily point to a dozen such initiatives going on in the USA, Canada and beyond; the point is that while a lot of this research is in early stages, we’re seeing a trend of more support for this research. It’s good to see that society in general is now taking this challenge seriously.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease – but as we’ve often seen with our at-home care dementia clients, early detection can make a huge difference in their quality of life. Once you know there’s a problem, you can take steps to ensure that they eat right, stay active and get the help they need. We can’t cure Alzheimer’s (yet) – but we can make sure our mothers, fathers, spouses and other loved relatives live with in comfort and dignity.