What’s New in Dementia, Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s Disease is a form of dementia and considered to be a progressive, fatal neurologic disease. Medications to slow it down are successful in about 50 % of patients for a very limited amount of time (6 -12 months).  As Baby Boomers age and move into the retirement sector, we are always looking for positive data regarding the disease to offset the expected epidemic of dementia.  We have a limited amount of good news to report.

Japanese researchers report that they have developed several types of contrast material for imaging studies which will allow doctors to see accumulating plaque in the brain and possibly the tangles of neurons associated with the disease at a much earlier stage.  At the same time researchers now claim to be able to do a spinal tap and, by examining the spinal fluid, make an earlier and more accurate diagnosis. At this point there might not yet be an advantage to early detection of the disease but as research proceeds it may become an important advantage.

The British Medical Journal is reporting that cognitive decline actually starts in midlife. They studied a mix of 7,300 men and women at five years intervals beginning in 1997 and found a decrease in intellectual functions beginning at 45 years old. They concluded that “what is good for our hearts is also good for our heads.”  They stressed the importance of controlling hypertension, obesity and abnormal cholesterol as a way to prevent dementia.

You might ask why I consider the fact that dementia begins in midlife a positive?  It’s a positive because we have the ability to control our weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and exercise level. Anytime a disease is modifiable by how we live our life we are given the chance to prevent it or limits its impact. This fact is supported by a recent study published in the Archives of Neurology looking at individuals with a genetic variant which predisposes them to develop Alzheimer’s Disease.  They found that older adults with the genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s Disease who exercised regularly, at or above the American Heart Association recommended levels, developed “amyloid deposits” on scans of their brain less than expected and in line with the general public who did not have a genetic predisposition to develop the disease.

These are small but positive steps in facing dementia. We can find it earlier and slow down or turn off genetic predisposition by living a healthy life.

Financial Hurdles of Aging – Guest Post by Andy Berger of Senior Wellness Specialists

There’s no getting around it, aging is very expensive! Hard fact: Tens of millions of Boomers are stressing out over caring for their parents while at the same time trying to map out a course for themselves for the day they lose their independence. We have officially entered a Tsunami of Seniors. But there is hope.

We’re living longer and paying for increased medical procedures. We also have to place parents in assisted living facilities for special care, where they go through their life’s savings quickly. The fastest growing segment of the aging population is the 85 group. As was pointed out by many of you in your comments, Medicare and Medicaid may not be able to handle the demand placed on them. Signs of problems manifested over a decade ago when Florida and Tennessee put a moratorium on the construction of nursing homes; they had simply begun to run out of money to pay for the care of the elderly. Somehow the rapid growth of the senior population fell under their radar. Further cuts to both programs will take shape by 2012, as Congress tries to balance the national budget.

Suffice it to say a greater burden will be placed on families to take care of their own.  So much for parents not wanting to be a burden to their kids or to be an inconvenience to friends.

It’s been reported in the various media time and again that compared with their parents’ generation, Boomers have amassed significantly greater wealth. It’s fair to say, in light of current economic hardships placed on them, they will now have to strike a balance between the dream of a fun, relaxed lifestyle and the changing realities that aging has brought to the landscape.

The government has incentives for families that decide to take in loved ones who would otherwise be placed in a nursing home. It is significantly less expensive to write a monthly check to the family than to pay for the 24/7 care provided at a nursing home.

Other new concepts in senior living are also emerging. In the planning stages in Florida is a village where seniors live on their own in lushly landscaped suburban communities and are able bundle all expenses at discounted rates with their neighbors. This would include doctor visits, transportation, entertainment, etc. Homes are universally designed and technologically enhanced so residents can age safely, worry-free in a 21st Century approach to senior living.

Less costly alternatives to assisted living and nursing homes exist. Concierge programs and services allow you to live independently in your own home through technological innovations that make it possible to stay connected to loved ones and friends.

Long-term care insurance providers are also taking a fresh new look at selling policies that will help pay for expenses related to aging. If purchased by people in their 30s and 40s the costs would be very reasonable. Let’s all try to be better prepared for the second half of our lives.

This guest post was authored by Andy Berger of Senior Wellness Specialists.