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Posts tagged: alzheimer's

One more damn thing to worry about

We get a lot of cold sores in my extended family. In old family photos, there's usually one of us kids with an ugly sore on his or her lip. When we get colds, we break out with them.

In recent years, prescription creams have helped prevent the cold sores. But you have to apply the cream upon the first tingle on your lip. (The tingle is the warning sign that a cold sore is in the making.) We share the cream like it's an illicit drug because it's done such a good job preventing the family lip “curse.”

Now comes a report, from HealthDay News, that older people prone to cold sores might also be at increased risk for Alzheimer's disease.

“Researchers found that of more than 1,600 older adults, those with signs of chronic infection with herpes simplex and certain other viruses and bacteria scored lower on standard tests of mental skills. But the findings, published in the March 26 issue of Neurology, do not prove the infections are to blame. 'They could just be bystanders,' said lead researcher Dr. Mira Katan, a neurologist with Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City.”

The report offers one note of hope for cold-sore sufferers worried about later Alzheimer's.

“The study hinted that exercise might play a protective role. The research team found that infection 'burden' was related to mental impairment only among sedentary people — and not those who said they got some exercise.”

One more excuse for me to nag my non-exercising siblings. Get moving!


Trend alert: “Friends with Benefits”

No, it's not the friends with benefits trend I'm taking about here. That's so 20s and 30s (as in people in that generation.)

The trend I'm talking about is the father character in the 2011 movie of the same name which I watched this weekend on cable. The father of the main character has early Alzheimer's. And though movie reviewer Roger Ebert calls it “movie Alzheimer's” which he describes as: “the form of the disease where the victim has perfectly timed lucid moments to deliver crucial speeches, and then relapses.”

But I found the depiction pretty true to life. (My dad had Alzheimer's for seven years). And so this is the trend I'll be tracking: more characters in movies and plays with Alzheimer's as more playwrights and screenwriters experience it with their older family members.

Find a purpose, keep your brain

If you have a purpose in life, you might not lose your memories.

HealthDayNews released a story today about a study that looked at how having a strong purpose in life can keep your brain strong.

“Somehow, having a purpose allows people to cope with the physical signs of Alzheimer's disease,” said Patricia Boyle, an associate professor at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Among those who had a lot of brain gunk — known as plaques and tangles — the ones who had greater purpose in life appeared to be less affected by a decline in their mental (or “cognitive”) powers. “The rate of cognitive decline was about 30 percent slower for someone with greater purpose in life, compared to someone with less purpose,” Boyle said.

(The researchers defined a purpose in life as the “tendency to find meaning from life experience, to be intentional and focused,” Boyle said. “It's an indicator of well-being, that life is good and you are contributing to your life, you're making decisions.”)

What older folks did you know who retained a sense of purpose late into life?

(S-R archive photo of Betty White, a 90-year-old actress filled with life)

Worried that you’re losing your mind?

I gave up worrying for Lent. No kidding. I reflected on the futile nature of worrying about things beyond my control, as most things are, and how much wasted energy I've put into worry in my 56 years.

It's been easier to give it up than I imagined, because once I begin down the worry chain, I catch myself. Today, a story reinforced the negative practice of worrying.

Turns out that anxiety (and depression) might increase a person's chance of developing Alzheimer's. According to The Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation, scientists in the U.K. followed 70,000 men and women.

“All were free of dementia at the start of the study period, in 1994, and their average age was 55. Study participants were giving annual health questionnaires that asked about problems like anxiety, depression, poor social functioning and loss of confidence. All are general measures of psychological health, and the higher the scores, the greater the likelihood of anxiety and depression. By the end of the study period, 10 years later, more than 10,000 of the study participants had died from various causes. According to death reports, 455 had died with a diagnosis of Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. Those men and women with the highest mental distress scores were more likely to have died from dementia than those who were psychologically healthy. The link between psychological distress and death from dementia was independent of other factors that may raise dementia risk.”

Alzheimer’s updates: Mice, poor sleep

Mice give people the creeps if they creep into your home, but lab mice might be the new best friends of older folks worried about Alzheimer's disease. In a promising study with mice, those given a decades-old cancer drug — bexarotene — saw fewer deposits of the toxins that build up in Alzheimer's brains. Read here.

And in unrelated news, sleep problems in mid-life might be linked to Alzheimer's later on. Read here.

(S-R archives photo)

Carol’s final gift: Speaking about Alzheimer’s

Ran into Carol Speltz today at the Veterans Day benefit her husband Karl organizes every year at Jack and Dan's.

Carol, who is in her early 70s, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease two years ago. The longtime educator and Christmas Bureau volunteer has been open about her diagnosis from the beginning. See story.

I haven't seen her for several months but saw her today and Carol seems to be still tracking well. And she looked great. She has given talks to seniors groups on what it's like to live with early Alzheimer's, and she asked me to spread the word that she is willing to give more of those talks. Carol is still amazing eloquent, especially about what it's like to know you are losing your memories.

If you are interested in contacting Carol let me know at

(S-R archives photo)

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About this blog

Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

Ask a question: Catherine welcomes questions about aging issues and grief. Email her at

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