Sleep is important for many aspects of our health and wellbeing. When we sleep our bodies and our minds are given the ability to slow down and repair itself. Eating healthy and exercising regularly help your brain function at its highest level and can help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. A recent study at John Hopkins School of Public Health recently found that older adults (70-years-old or older) who slept short periods of time had higher levels of a brain plaque that has been linked to Alzheimer’s.
The study isn’t saying that if you don’t get good sleep that you’re going to develop Alzheimer’s, but it does appear to indicate a link between restless nights and its progression.
Adam Spira, PhD, a researcher in the study was quoted as saying, “These findings are important in part because sleep disturbances can be treated in older people. To the degree that poor sleep promotes the development of Alzheimer’s disease, treatments for poor sleep or efforts to maintain healthy sleep patterns may help prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer disease,”
While sleep may not stop Alzheimer’s, seeing the connection between “poor sleep and increased amyloid in the brain is a sign of Alzheimer’s disease.” The study will move forward and try to determine whether addressing and correcting poor sleep habits may reduce the incidence of Alzheimer’s.
What can you do to get a good night’s sleep? Here are some tips:
• Get some exercise every day. Taking a walk, working in the garden or even doing housework – anything that can get your heart rate elevated – is good for both body and mind. Exercise can also lead to a better night’s sleep.
• Keep caffeine and alcohol intake at a minimum. Caffeine, while a great pick-me-up in the morning will disrupt sleep if you drink it later in the day or in the evening. Alcohol may make you sleepy but will likely lead to wakeful periods in the middle of the night.
• Get into a bedtime routine that involves yawning, stretching and simple relaxation. Take about a half an hour to 45-minutes prior to bedtime and practice relaxation techniques. Did you know that yawning and stretching can also lead to a better night’s sleep? It can. Try this. Fake a yawn and while you’re doing that reach your arms above your head for a stretch. If you do this three more times, you will likely trigger a real yawn and a deep muscle stretch and this will help to relax you and lead to a better night’s rest.
• Make certain your bedroom is restful. Keep the room dark and cool. Keep electronics, televisions and radios out of the room or turned off when you’re falling asleep. If you feel you need noise to get a good night’s rest, try a sleep machine.
• Take a warm bath or a warm shower as part of your bedtime ritual. Once you’ve begun your bedtime ritual resist the urge to watch television, walk the dog, or raid the refrigerator. Get yourself into a mindset of “this ritual is leading toward a more relaxing sleep.”
Whether you can slow or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s with a good night’s slumber, getting a restful sleep will benefit your body in many ways; do what you can to make certain you’re making the most of the night time hours.
Dealing with an aging parent or a spouse afflicted with a memory disorder such as Alzheimer’s could be one of the most stressful life events that a caregiver has to cope with. Adding to that stress can be the sometimes misleading myths or even preconceived notions we have about memory disorders.
Here are some thoughts to keep in mind:
- “It can’t be Alzheimer’s because he can remember some life events.” The loss of short term memory is the first to be noticed, but memories created from past life events may still be as clear as day to your loved one. Having an understanding of the way the memory is impacted will help the caregiver or spouse understand the progression of the memory loss and helps them to plan for the future.
- Your loved one is not acting to make you angry. The caregiver needs to keep this front of mind and direct anger or annoyance at the disease, not their aging relative.
- While there is no cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s there are non-drug and drug therapies on the market that can improve quality of life and slow the decline of memory loss. Simply implementing a daily routine of tasks, physical activity and social interaction can help your loved one, and the rest of the family, better cope with the memory loss.
- Resist the urge to correct your spouse or aging parent when they offer an incorrect fact or bit of advice. Keep in mind that using logic with someone suffering dementia is a losing battle for both sides and will likely lead to anger and more confusion. Allow for slips in logic or gaps in the retelling of family stories.
- Staying home and keeping your relative out of the public eye is not the best course of action. Social stimulation coupled with physical activity is what your relative needs at this point, regardless of whether she will retain the memory of the outing. Bringing happiness into your relative’s life is more crucial than the memories she may retain.
- Many caregivers experience guilt when the task of caring for an aging parent or spouse simply becomes too much for one person to tackle. Even if the home is age-proofed and there is adequate help, there may simply come a time when your relative’s medical needs are better met in an assisted living facility and while it is not an easy decision, it is one the entire family needs to discuss prior to the need arising.
Asking for advice and assistance from the family physician and reaching out to local agencies that deal with the issues of the elderly can help the caregiver and family cope with eventualities that arise from the onset of dementia.
When retirement rolls around, many seniors are unsure of what to do with all of their free time; as a caregiver or family member, it’s crucial that you help your elderly family member find ways to remain active and involved. Volunteering is a gratifying venue for many retired individuals as it gives them a way to give back to the community and gets them out of the house. Remaining active and involved and having a purpose in life, benefits your loved one in both mental and physical ways as well.
Studies have been conducted to show the benefits of volunteering. Consider talking to your parents and determine if volunteering might be an avenue for them to consider as it could enhance their life and allow them to age in place for many more years. In addition to volunteering and remaining active, having a home medical alert device for your aging loved ones also allows them to remain independent in their own home.
Here are the benefits volunteers reap:
- It can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Because volunteers report a higher satisfaction and quality of life than those individuals who don’t remain involved, they are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease (according to researchers at the University Medical Center in Chicago).
- Volunteering can lower the mortality rate in senior citizens. A study in the Journal of Gerontology showed that “those who gave social support to others had lower rates of mortality than those who did not, even when controlling for socioeconomic status, education, marital status, age, gender, and ethnicity;” this, alone, should be a motivating factor for volunteering.
- Remaining physically active lessens the risk of trips and falls and prevents frailty. In a report by UCLA, it was shown that productive activities “prevent the onset of frailty.” Frailty is marked by physicians as being low energy, strength, low physical activity and weight loss.
Remaining active and involved helps improve brain function.
- Volunteering provides a sense of purpose and accomplishment and helps improve social skills. If your aging loved ones are involved with their peers, they will find a sense of community among them and that will enhance their retirement years.
If your retired parents are feeling at loose ends, you can help them uncover volunteer opportunities by starting with their hobbies and interests. If your parents have a particular skill (carpentry, crocheting, cooking etc.) that they could pass along to others, look into adult living centers as a place to share the skills they possess. Look into volunteer opportunities at local museums, theaters, schools, senior centers, youth organizations and places of worship. The volunteering activity should be one that your parents enjoy and look forward to so make certain it is a good fit for both them and the organization.