The twentieth anniversary of 9/11 took place this past weekend. It was a day of reflection, heavy with the sentiment that we must “never forget” what transpired. There were endless stories on the heroism of first responders in Ground Zero but the story that gave me the most pause was this Washington Post article on “The Mystery of 9/11 and Dementia”.
The article by Patrick Hruby starts with Ron Kirchner. Ron was a firefighter in Queens. He was in his thirties on September 11, 2001. By 2009, Ron was retired on disability. He had asthma and lung disease that were both linked to Ground Zero exposure. By 2015, Ron was diagnosed with dementia. He was only 52 years old at the time. Ron’s neurologist thought that his brain scan resembled the brain scan of an 85-year old. Ron now requires full-time care as he has trouble speaking, eating, and bathing.
In one study, 9/11 first responders were found to report instances of cognitive impairment three times the rate of people in their 70’s.
In another study, first responders with PTSD and cognitive impairments were found to have both blood and brain protein abnormalities as those with Alzheimer’s.
The article notes that cognitive ailments are not currently covered under the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, a federal statute that provides health care and compensation to responders, survivors, and victims. In order to add cognitive ailments to the Act, more research is needed to show that the condition is substantially likely caused by 9/11 exposures.
Hopefully, with the media attention on 9/11 first responders and their needs, funding for all necessary research will be made available to effectively help this tremendous group of individuals.
Thanks for reading.
Yes, you’re reading this blog on a Monday. As week days go, Monday isn’t nearly as fun as a Thursday, or Friday. But that doesn’t mean you should be unhappy. A recent study purports that repetitive negative thinking is linked to cognitive decline.
The authors of the study propose that repetitive negative thinking may be a new risk factor for dementia. Based on various tests, the study found that when compared to non-pessimists, people who think negatively have a greater buildup of certain proteins in the brain that cause Alzheimer’s disease (the most common type of dementia), a worse memory, and greater cognitive decline.
Based on this correlation, it is believed important to think happy thoughts. Whether you are a glass half empty or half full kind of person, the brain can be trained to be more optimistic. This can be done in a number of ways, including:
- meditating – one study found that only 30 minutes a day over a two week period produced a measurable change in the brain
- practicing gratefulness – taking a few minutes each day to write down what you are thankful for
- reframing negative thoughts –changing your perspective on a situation to give more of a positive or beneficial meaning to you
As Bobby McFerrin sings, ‘In every life we have some trouble / But when you worry you make it double / Don’t worry, be happy / Don’t worry, be happy now’.
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Eighty percent of people with Parkinson’s develop dementia within 20 years of their diagnosis. In a recent article in Science Daily, I learned that researchers discovered that the genetic variant APOE4 spurs the spread of harmful clumps of Parkinson’s proteins through the brain. Findings suggest that therapies that target APOE might reduce the risk of dementia for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
In making the above-noted finding, scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, analyzed publicly available data from three separate sets of people with Parkinson’s. It was found that cognitive skills declined faster in people with APOE4 than those with APOE3. People with APOE2, showed no cognitive decline over the period of the study.
Although APOE does not affect the overall risk of developing Parkinson’s or how quickly movement symptoms worsen, an APOE-targeted therapy might stave off dementia, the researchers suggest.
We often blog on the issue of dementia as it affects many aspects of our practice as estate litigators. It is always encouraging to read about a positive study or breakthrough in the area of this debilitating disease.
To learn more about this study, please consider visiting here.
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Do you smell that? Good!
The sense of smell, or lack of it, can be an indicator of the future onset of dementia.
In a study of 3,000 adults, researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center found that those who could not identify four out of five common odours were twice as likely to develop dementia within five years.
The study, “Olfactory Dysfunction Predicts Subsequent Dementia in Older US Adults”, was published in September 2017 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The scents used, in increasing difficulty of recognition, were peppermint, fish, orange, rose and leather. The study found that 78.1% of those studied had a normal sense of smell, and could identify four out of the five scents. 18.7% could identify only three of the scents, and 3.2% could only identify one or two of the scents.
After five years, almost all of those who could only identify one or less scents were diagnosed with dementia.
According to the study, the sense of smell may signal a key mechanism that also underlies human cognition. The olfactory system has stem cells which regenerate, and “a decrease in the brain’s ability to smell may signal a decrease in the brain’s ability to rebuild key components that are declining with age, leading to the pathological changes of many different dementias.”
Because the smell test is so easy to administer, it is believed that the test could lead to an earlier determination of the possible onset of dementia.
Canada, as most people will know, has an aging population and the issue of dementia has become more and more prevalent over the years, as it affects the ability of those afflicted, to live and function independently.
A strategy to address this problem is important given the statistics, however, another interesting aspect of this live issue is the work being done to develop a means of preventing and minimizing the impact of this disease on people in the future.
Dr. Rosanna Olsen is the leader and director of the Olsen Lab and a scientist at the Rotman Research Institute (RRI) at Baycrest as well as an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto.
Dr. Olsen noted that early detection of dementia is important for effective treatment of the disease. Given that no test can currently detect dementia before the onset of symptoms, Dr. Olsen has undertaken research that will help in the development of non-invasive and cost-effective eye-tracking tests that will identify those at risk of dementia before the onset of the symptoms.
Dr. Olsen will receive $546,975.00 over five years for her work in establishing a set of new eye-tracking and brain-imaging biomarkers that will assist in the earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease.
I, for one, am very interested in seeing the results of this study and how they may impact the detection of Alzheimer’s disease in the future.
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We’ve blogged quite a bit recently on the various technologies and breakthroughs that are being made in Alzheimer’s, including the use of Artificial Intelligence in detecting early signs of the disease and research on new treatment methods. As anyone who has worked with affected individuals and their caregivers can attest, Alzheimer’s and dementia are extremely challenging and will increasingly affect more families. It’s no surprise then that researchers and governments are taking steps to address Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Last month, the Canadian Federal government announced its comprehensive dementia strategy (for news coverage, see this CBC article). The release of the strategy comes on the heels of the passage of the National Strategy for Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias Act in 2017 which allowed the government to take steps to begin developing a national dementia strategy.
The strategy aims to broaden awareness of dementia and advance the following “national objectives”:
- Prevent dementia by advancing research and expanding awareness of and support in adopting lifestyle measures that can increase the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia;
- Advance therapies and find a cure by supporting and implementing research; and
- Improve the quality of life of people living with dementia and caregivers by eliminating stigma, promoting early diagnosis and care, and better supporting caregivers.
As part of the national strategy, the Federal budget (released on March 19, 2019) allocated $50 million over five years towards implementing the dementia strategy. The release of the national strategy and funding to address this issue has been welcome news to organizations in Canada dedicated to tackling Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Hopefully, the release of this strategy will promote the continued advancement of breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s and dementia research.
Thanks for reading!
These days, life expectancy is longer than ever. We have previously blogged (for instance, here and here) about some considerations and consequences of having a longer life expectancy. A recent article in The New Yorker considers aging, and in particular, anti-aging now that people are generally living longer. The online version can be found here: Can We Live Longer but Stay Younger?
One of the problems with living longer, as highlighted in the New Yorker article, is that we still must deal with the challenges and realities of aging. What we really want is not eternal life but rather, eternal youth.
The article discusses several efforts to address or counteract the types of issues that we face as we age. For instance, a geneticist at Harvard has successfully extended the life of yeast, and is moving on to human trials. A Harvard molecular biologist, George Church, has had success reprogramming embryonic stem cells to essentially turn an old cell into a young cell. Church’s work has been done so far on mice and dogs, but there are plans to commence human clinical trials within the next five years.
The goal of the work being done by Church is to live better, not necessarily longer: “The goal is youthful wellness rather than an extended long period of age-related decline.” The article discusses the nature of this age-related decline, through the illustration of a “sudden aging” suit that allows the wearer to experience the physical challenges of aging, including boots with foam padding to produce a loss of tactile feedback, and bands around the elbows, wrists, and knees to simulate stiffness. The point of the aging suit is to help create empathy and understanding about how difficult each and every task (an example was reaching up to a top shelf and picking up a mug) can be for older adults, both physically and mentally. So the question becomes, if we are living so much longer, but with age, every day and every task becomes much more difficult, what can we do to counteract that?
The work being done related to anti-aging and the creation of products to make older people’s lives easier is interesting and seems to be moving in new directions. For instance, the article mentions the difficulty of marketing certain products aimed at older people, because we do not like the idea of buying something that reminds us that we are old. So instead of selling a personal-emergency-response system to send an alert and seek assistance in the event of a fall, or some other physical emergency, in the form of a pendant worn around the neck, it is suggested that the most effective such device would be an iPhone or Apple Watch app.
Unfortunately, the issue of dementia is still a concern. There still does not appear to be a cure in sight for Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. The causes remain unclear. The effects, however, are evident. One of the individuals mentioned in the article was Professor Patrick Hof, who studies brains. On the physical effects of dementia on our actual brains, Professor Hof notes that “[y]ou can’t tell any difference, even under extreme magnification, between an aging non-demented brain and a younger human one…But, holding an Alzheimer’s brain in your hand, you can see the atrophy.” It appears that there is still a lot of work to be done in this area, in particular.
Thanks for reading,
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This is an actual headline from an October 23, 2018 post on “Tennessean”, which is part of the USA Today Network.
Apparently, the doctor borrowed $300,000 some time ago from a long-time patient who was also a friend and the administrator at the doctor’s clinic. When the patient later requested repayment, the doctor diagnosed her with dementia in an apparent attempt to escape the debt. The doctor forwarded the diagnosis to the patient’s daughter, who in turn forwarded the letter to the patient’s financial company. The patient was then denied access to her assets.
The doctor later admitted that the diagnosis of dementia was based solely “on observation”, and that she did not use any testing methods or obtain a second opinion.
A later assessment by a psychologist stated that the patient had no indication of dementia.
As a result of disciplinary action that was brought against her, the doctor voluntarily retired her licence.
In an interview with the Tennessean, the doctor said that she was “set up” by a vindictive patient, and that she retired after state attorneys “presented her with an unwinnable legal case.” The doctor said that she borrowed the money 20 years ago and that she had been making repayments.
The doctor said that the patient did in fact “exhibit erratic behavior and signs of memory loss”. She said that the patient “later misled the psychologist so the dementia diagnosis would not be confirmed.”
What is not clear from the report is how the doctor could have expected to avoid the debt by having the patient declared incapable. Surely the patient’s daughter or someone else on her behalf could have taken steps to enforce the debt. That is, however, assuming that they knew about it.
A takeaway is to ensure that your legal and financial affairs are in order and are well documented, so that someone can step in and protect your assets and enforce your rights in the event that you are found to be incapable, legitimately or not.
Another takeaway may be to be careful when getting medical assistance in Tennessee. The headline to another story posted October 11, 2018 reads: “This pain clinic nurse gave a patient 51 pills a day. And she kept her licence.” (For the record, the pills consisted of 32 tablets of methadone, 8 Roxicodone, 4 Soma, and 6 Xanax throughout the day, topped off with 1 Ambien.)
Have a great weekend.
A recent report on the healthista.com website discusses ways to avoid or slow the progress of dementia.
First, the bad news: In the UK, one person is diagnosed with dementia every three minutes. One in twenty people develop dementia under 65, and after turning 65, a person’s risk of developing dementia doubles every five years.
Now the good news: there are various things that we can do to reduce the risk of developing dementia. These include:
- Stimulate your brain. This means doing more than “brain training”. Social interaction is seen as the key. Also, taking up new hobbies, interests and intellectual challenges is more beneficial than doing the things that you have always done.
- Develop a “cognitive reserve”. A high cognitive reserve, based on higher education, a complex lifetime occupation and high levels of social engagement helps maintain brain health. Lawyers, social workers, teachers and doctors were better protected from Alzheimer’s than shelf-stackers, machine operators and labourers.
- Take Aspirin. Long term use of aspirin is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s. Low doses of aspirin, traditionally associated with heart health, was found to lead to better memory and cognitive function.
- Take fish oil. This one is a bit controversial. Some studies have shown that fish oil slows the decline of cognitive function. However, a Cleveland Clinic post has suggested the research is not conclusive on the benefits of fish oil, and suggests that you should simply eat more fish.
- Help your heart, help your brain. The same processes that cause heart attacks and strokes are also associated with the development of dementia. Conversely, the lifestyle factors that help your heart can also help maintain cognitive function.
- Drink, eat and exercise. Drink champagne: one to three glasses a week. The phenolic compounds found in the grapes used to make champagne have the ability to increase spatial memory, improve cognitive function and promote learning and memory retention. Further, regular moderate exercise can prevent the onset of dementia. Even better is engaging in a sport, as this adds a social element, as well. Finally, a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, has been found by a number of studies to slow cognitive decline and lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
More good news: in the next ten years, it is expected that research will reveal more specific actions that can help prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Have a great weekend.
Canada’s population of seniors continues to rise and with that comes the concerns of attending to the unique needs of an ageing demographic. In 2016, Canadian census data showed that the number of seniors in Canada was slightly higher than that of children 14 and under. Canada, like the rest of the world, has been undergoing changes to account for the population changes that include a growing number of individuals struggling with dementia. Today, I’ll explore an innovative new project in British Columbia aimed at providing a safe yet independent living environment for seniors with dementia.
The Village is a new residence which will accommodate those with dementia in an environment meant to provide the feel of a small village or community. Residents will live in cottage style residences with nearby amenities such as a grocery store, a salon, a coffee shop and a community garden. While residents will be able to go about their lives in the community, they’ll also have the care they require. The project is modeled after the first “dementia village” that was opened in Amsterdam. The goal behind such communities is to move those with dementia away from an institutional setting so as to improve their quality of life.
With estimates that approximately 940,000 people will have dementia in Canada by 2031, it’s great to see new and innovative options available for those with such an illness. Right now, the project in BC is slated to open in 2019 and is a private endeavour meaning residents (or their family) will be responsible for the full cost.
While the project is still in its infancy, it will be interesting to see how it develops and how it might be implemented in the rest of Canada.
From a legal (and Ontario-centric) perspective, it is interesting to note how the goals of “dementia villages” align with the Residents’ Bill of Rights under Ontario’s Long-Term Care Homes Act, 2007. The Residents’ Bill of Rights includes a lengthy list of rights of residents of long-term care facilities designed to promote recognition of the dignity, security, safety, and comfort of residents. Included in the Residents’ Bill of Rights is “the right to receive care and assistance towards independence based on a restorative care philosophy to maximize independence to the greatest extent possible.” The development of dementia villages shows one way in which this right may be furthered.
Thanks for reading!