Tag Archives: Dementia

Addiction in Older Adults: Prevalence, Effects and Solutions

Is an addict a teenager using heroin? Or a young adult drinking excessive amounts of alcohol? Recent studies challenge these assumptions. 20 to 30 percent of adults between 75 and 85 years of age have had problems with alcohol consumption, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also found that 3.6 percent of 60- to 64-year-olds have used illegal drugs. Between 2006 and 2012, the number of older adults who sought emergency treatment for improper drug use jumped to 78 percent.

Photo Credit: Pixabay
Photo Credit: Pixabay

Substance abuse can exacerbate other pre-existing conditions, including dementia, which in turn could lead seniors to use too much or too little of their prescriptions or forget to take them entirely. Confusion could also prompt people to mix substances and prescription drugs, which can produce dangerous results. Additionally, ageing bodies do not process alcohol and drugs the same way that younger bodies do. Seniors could become drunk, high, or impaired faster than younger people who consume the same amount of intoxicants. This could lead to a greater risk of health problems, injuries such as falls, and addiction.

There are many different reasons why older adults become substance-dependent. Many seniors use alcohol or drugs to cope with life changes such as divorce, retirement, or death of a loved one. For others it is a residual habit from when they were younger; adults who experimented with substances in the past could continue to use drugs and alcohol for recreational purposes, without realizing the risk of addiction increases with age. The long-term use of pain medication to treat other conditions is also likely to turn into a substance addiction if not monitored carefully.

Fortunately, the recognition of this issue brings a plethora of rehabilitation solutions specifically catering to older adults. Seniors can now pursue addiction treatment in the company of their peers. In fact there are rehab programs and facilities especially for older adults, including programs that provide alternative medications as they wean patients off prescription painkillers. Some doctors recommend alternating prescription and nonprescription drugs to treat pain.

Acknowledging addictive behaviors and substance abuse among seniors is the first step to recovery. As these issues garner national attention, society is likely to see the development of more and more innovative solutions to help prevent seniors from becoming unduly addicted to harmful substances.

Pam Zuber is an editor and writer on many topics such as addiction, recovery, biology and psychology. She is particularly interested in topics that relate to achieving and maintaining good health. Zuber has written for various treatment centers including Elite Rehab Placement, Monarch Shores and Willow Springs Recovery.

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The Dementia Diaries: A Great Resource for Dementia Awareness Week

In honor of Dementia Awareness Week held May 15-21, Emma Barrett, Programme Manager for Social Innovation Lab Kent (SILK), and Matthew Snyman, Author of The Dementia Diaries, have written a great piece about The Dementia Diaries. The book a collection of stories about young people and their experience with dementia.

Dementia. It does not care about geography, place or time. Dementia will touch all at some point in their lives, whether it be grandparents, parents, friends, partners or acquaintances. It is often difficult to talk about or share.

Dementia is a real life problem that we wanted to try and solve, so we asked for advice from grandchildren in families living with dementia. Children and young people have amazing talent for problem solving; they are fearless and often blunt, but can approach problems that adults struggle with in surprising, empathetic and intuitive ways.

So when we asked young carers what to do about dementia in our local communities in England, they were amazingly incisive. One teenager Jack, whose great-uncle had dementia, said “we need a book, where the facts are true and the feelings are real… a bit like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but about dementia… so my friends in school understand what I’m going through”. It was as simple as creating an accessible and shareable way to talk about dementia.

And this was how The Dementia Diaries was born. A story that started in a community center in Kent, UK, but has touched hearts worldwide. The Dementia Diaries is about more than dementia. It is about giving a voice to people who do not have a voice. Ultimately it is about love, relationships and what it means to be human.

“…It is also a book about the wisdom of children and young people…it is a book about the surprising depths of love between generations. Written by young people who have the courage to face the brutal facts of life. It is carefully leading you by the hand into new perceptions and discoveries of one of the diseases we all fear. I have a sister who is now in the final stage of Alzheimer’s, and the book has made me laugh and giggle with her over and over again…”, said Jens Peter Jensen (Social Innovation Platforms, Denmark)

The Dementia Diaries was as much about the process of bringing people together as the book itself. We found many people facing isolation, dealing with day-to-day challenges alone. “Sharing my story, I now feel more open about living with someone with dementia and it’s not a big hush hush. I feel it should be shared now, and not kept to yourself”, said Raisa, one of the younger contributors to the book.

We are equally proud of the accompanying Learning Resource that is available to download for everyone who purchases the book. Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. What better way to inspire a dementia friendly generation for the future? The Dementia Diaries helps people to learn from real life human experience with a bit of humor thrown in for good measure. “Life can sometimes be hard, but guess what you can still live well with dementia”, said Brian, one of the contributing grandparents.

In this book, people will find heart-warming stories about the good days, bad days and everything in between with dementia. Full of handy tips, facts and activities, The Dementia Diaries reveals the other side of dementia through the eyes of those who know it best. Join Fred, Sam, Brie and Sarah to read all about their escapades with their grandparents. “These are not just Diaries, they are a real beacon of hope for the future”, said Angela Rippon, OBE. Read testimonials from other people here.

Join The Dementia Diaries communities on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.


From May 15 – 31, readers can win a copy of the award-winning Dementia Diaries! To enter, LIKE Dementia from Jessica Kingsley Publishers on Facebook or FOLLOW on Twitter. The winner will be selected on June 1, 2016!


Matthew Snyman is an award-winning writer and filmmaker based in London, born in South Africa, but grown in Kent, UK. He is focused on creating great stories for young people and for the young at heart. Follow Matthew on Twitter and visit his website

Emma Barrett Palmer is a social innovator and part of SILK’s founding team, the first lab of its kind in a UK government setting. She facilitated the co-creation of The Dementia Diairies and the book and learning resource. Emma is happiest with a pen and a blank sheet of paper. Follow Emma and SILK on Twitter.

Music and Memory: How Radio Stations Impact the Health of Older Australians

Older Australians represent a significant proportion of individuals with diverse ethnicities, cultures and religious backgrounds. This increasing population requires different interventions and programs to break down language and cultural barriers, hence music plays an important role. From love songs to memorable music from TV shows, music represents certain moments in time that are rooted in the minds of individuals, despite forgetting the occasions. It appeals to a person’s most inner self and holds a special place in people from all works of life.

Photo Credit: William Li
                                                                                Photo Credit: William Li

While music can trigger positive thoughts and memories, the use of speech, song, memory, cognition, intellect, creative imagination and expressive motoric responses may be activated and developed in therapy, both as new means of self-expression and as a therapeutic goal. Music improves both health and well-being, therefore people with no musical background or prior skill can benefit from music therapy. For instance, patients with dementia can gain from music reminiscence therapy, a non-pharmacological approach to managing symptoms and behaviours of dementia such as agitation and wandering.

Various studies have shown that older adults are found to respond most positively to repertoire that was popular when they were in their early 20s and 30s, stimulating long-term memories. In Australia, Silver Memories helps residents remember their youth and early stages of adulthood. The new nostalgia radio station is for older adults who are lonely and socially isolated in the community, especially residents of aged care homes. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and provides therapeutic benefits to people with dementia, since research has shown that the service is a unique approach in managing the effects of dementia – the first of its kind. Now the radio station has been rolled out to numerous aged care homes in Australia using satellite technology. The video below includes an excerpt from a documentary called Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory.

Hazel Dompreh is currently a Diversional/ Recreational Therapist at a nursing home in New South Wales, Australia.

Keeping Brains Healthy Across the Lifespan: Is It Really As Easy As Counting to 5?

Photo Credit: Allan Bergman
Photo Credit: Allan Bergman

Research over the last 20 years on the impact of lifestyle on brain health indicates that how people live each day can strongly influence the delay and potential prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. To appreciate the full weight of these findings, the World Alzheimer’s Report 2014 estimates that if dementia is delayed for just five years, incidence would be cut by half! By 2030, this delay translates to nearly 44 million people who will not succumb to dementia, and estimated financial savings for individuals, their families and global health systems is projected to exceed $600 billion.

Risk for age-related brain disease, the number one fear of people over 50 in the USA, begins decades before symptoms appear. The appeal of embracing a protective lifestyle is a welcomed alternative and becomes increasingly important from middle age onward. While the brain’s plasticity across the lifespan means that it is never too late to benefit from healthy lifestyle choices, the rule of ‘use it or lose it’  implies that loss of unused neural networks, skills and healthy habits are harder to recapture the older people get.

Figuring out how to live each day may not be so simple. Though multiple studies show a difference in types of daily activities for people who did not develop dementia versus those that did, pinpointing WHAT activities is complex. Researcher Jaak Panksepp’s work sheds light on wired at birth brain networks that need to stay active across the entire lifespan to effectively promote survival and longevity for mammals. These include seeking, play, care and restoration. Scientific news reports also tout the importance of sleep, exercise, diet, leisure activities, antioxidants and other factors supporting brain health. In general, beneficial lifestyle activities create awareness and reflection, involve physical activity, promote heightened engagement and connection to people, pique interest, and more.

Frequency counts! The above-referenced research suggests that those who did not develop dementia engaged in at least five beneficial activities per day, five days a week. Given that average cognitive decline for people over 60 is 1-2 percent per year, frequency appears to be very important to avoid this slippery slope. Actual improvement in cognitive function will also likely require MORE than these activity levels. For most, this runs counter to conventional thinking about aging, which tells people to slow down or retire as they age.

Brains are better off if individuals participate in beneficial activities such as good sleep, exercise, learning and play; and people engage in interesting, fun hobbies five times a day, five days a week. Due to the slippery slope of decline per year, people need to maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout their lives by staying active. The goal is not to overwork the body to keep brains healthy, so below are two mechanisms that promote wholesome lifestyles and offer protection if people take time out because of illness, injury, or vacation.

1. The longer people engage in beneficial activities, the more cognitive reserves they build, which protect against cognitive decline. Education and physical exercise are the primary ‘reserve’ builders. Education across the lifespan is the best way to maintain and improve brain functioning, and the more physical exercise people do over many years, the greater resiliency their bodies have to fight unhealthy aging. Reserves will kick in for protection if injury, illness or an abundance of stress occurs. Even those with ailments can partake in tailored activities that ensure the highest possible quality of life.

2. It is possible to multiply the benefit of each activity by adding ‘boosters’. There are a number of ways to do this, but for simplicity’s sake, counting to five is ideal:

  • Add social engagement to any activity throughout each day.
  • Weave a physical element into whatever you are doing – work up a sweat as you vacuum, go for a walk while on the phone, take action breaks when sitting for extended periods.
  • Choose activities that are meaningful to you – be with people you care about, do things you consider important and have always wanted to do.
  • Love what you do! Choose activities that make you and others laugh, that make you feel great, and that bring out the best in you.
  • Try new things, meet new people, stretch your mind and body in ways you have not done before.

By counting to five – five activities a day, five days a week, five boosters that add up to five more years of brain health – one can reap a potential lifetime of health benefits for both the brain and body.

Joan Parsons, MBA and MS Certificate in Interpersonal Neurobiology, is founder and CEO of Lifestyle Rewired. The company offers lifestyle assessments, High Value Activity Programs and Immersion Travel Programs that enrich and protect brain health. Joan’s mother Sally developed dementia in her 70’s, becoming the inspiration to identify how such a vital woman could succumb to brain disease at a relatively young age. Researching hundreds of studies on the impact of lifestyle on the brain enabled the team to develop concepts and models to support life long brain health, hence Lifestyle Rewired was born. The company’s programs and tools focus on activities that inspire learning, new experiences, and meaningful human connection. 

Family Caregivers: The Unsung Heroes of Society

Photo Credit: Vicki Tapia
Photo Credit: Vicki Tapia

In 2004, my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s-related dementia and a few months later, my mother with Alzheimer’s disease. That was the year I became a caregiver. While my parents did not reside with me, I was still intimately involved in their daily care for the next 4 and 5 years. Traveling down that rabbit hole of dementia with my parents was difficult and sad. I watched helplessly as this disease steadily and ruthlessly chipped away at their brains, one memory at a time. That said, it was also a time of considerable personal growth for me. I learned to parent my parents with patience and compassion, caring for them much as they had cared for me as a child so many years before. Interspersed with the challenges were times of fleeting lucidity as well as moments of poignant tenderness, which I still remember and cherish, even today. These are moments I would have missed forever, had I not been a family caregiver.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2015 Facts and Figures, 85 percent of unpaid caregiving help for older adults in the USA is provided by family members. Women make up two thirds of that number, and over half of women caring for people with dementia are taking care of parents.

How many people actually plan on being an unpaid caregiver? Whether it is a spouse, parent or well-loved aunt, it is unlikely that most of us will ever anticipate the reality of wearing the label “caregiver.” As the boomer population continues to age, the number of unsung heroes caring for a family member is on the upswing. According to the report, *Caregiving in the U.S. 2015, there is currently an estimated 34.2 million American adults caring for a loved one 50 years or older.

Caregiving can be overwhelming, both emotionally and physically, bringing with it a myriad of emotions, all of which I experienced at one time or another, including frustration, helplessness, anger, sadness, depression, and guilt. The experience can also be lonely. At times I remember feeling like I was on a deserted island, with nary a person who really understood what it was like.

While speaking at a caregivers meeting recently, two women approached me afterwards to share their stories. One woman told me that her spouse with Alzheimer’s is slowly becoming more than she can handle, but her children are insisting that she keep him at home. The other woman suspects that her elderly father who lives next door to her is showing signs of dementia, but he flatly refuses to go to the doctor. They were both searching for answers. Like growing old, caregiving is not for sissies.

I sensed in these two women what experts label caregiver burnout, a very real phenomenon and the number one reason why it is imperative for all caregivers to recognize the importance of self-care.

If you or someone you know is experiencing the below symptoms, I encourage you to please make time to see a doctor.

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Social withdrawal
  • Sleeplessness
  • Exhaustion
  • Poor concentration
  • More susceptible to illness

*Caregiving in the U.S. 2015 – A Focused Look at Caregivers of Adults Age 50+ was published by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and the AARP Public Policy Institute.


Over the past several months, four other authors from across the country and I have crossed paths, all of us affected in some way by Alzheimer’s disease/dementia. Two watched both their parents’ memories disappear and one is a nurse who was a caregiver for those affected. Another is a granddaughter that was forgotten by her beloved grandpa, and the other is experiencing the disease himself.

For the month of November, the 5 of us have joined together together in recognition of both National Caregiver Appreciation Month and National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month to acknowledge those family caregivers who are unsung heroes. From each other, we learned that all of us felt compelled to write our books, eager to make a difference…hoping that we might make the pathway for others traveling this road a little less painful and lonely.

Check out this commentary for more information on these great books!

Vicki Tapia, long-time lactation consultant and published author of numerous lactation articles, found her energies redirected to the other end of life when both her parents were diagnosed with dementia in 2004. Her diary documenting their journey resulted in the publication of Somebody Stole My Iron: A Family Memoir of Dementia, a 2015 finalist for the High Plains Book Awards. The mother of three grown children and eight grandchildren, Vicki lives with her husband and Mini Schnauzer in South Central Montana.

Montessori: Changing the Face of Dementia Care

Montessori in Aged Care is a fairly new concept that is picking up momentum in Australia. It revolves around the idea of maintaining independence rather than creating excess disability. Excess disability simply means to increase the dependence of the individual when they can independently complete the activity or task. For example, if an elderly woman can brush her hair, often a staff worker will do it for them with the impression that they are helping, when in actuality they are taking away the resident’s independence. Imagine living in a nursing home away from the comfort of your own home and not being allowed to do the things you enjoy.

Photo Credit: Edwin M Escobar

Montessori in Dementia Care enables individuals to maintain that independence, make choices and boost their self-esteem. It also empowers people to make important contributions and have a meaningful place in their community. The impact of dementia affects the resident in various ways including perception, attention, planning, insight, language, emotions, apathy, behavior, physical function and memory.

Therefore, the Montessori Method offers more choices and opportunities that promote self-determination and individuality to provide the best quality care for all. Here are strategies to provide relevant activities for people with dementia:

  • Take advantage of the known and remembered and use it to create meaningful activities for residents.
  • Offer more social interaction opportunities with people of all ages.
  • Provide more physical activity to keep residents, even those in wheelchair, active such as indoor bowling or ball games.
  • Provide mental stimulation for residents such as crosswords, word games, etc.
  • Utilize music therapy to play familiar music and trigger well-preserved memories and improve quality of life.
  • Delegate roles for different residents, if possible. Responsibility gives residents a sense of purpose.
  • Prepare resources ready to be used to minimize noise and distractions.
  • Know the residents individually: This involves personal history, employment, hobbies, interests and culture.
  • Always have a plan B, C, D, E, F, G because things never go as planned.

In conclusion, I think this new concept of dementia care focuses on the strengths and abilities of people with dementia rather than their condition. Montessori programs provide individuals the opportunity to engage the five senses, such as touch, sight, smell, taste and sound, and stimulate their minds. As success is easily achieved, people are encouraged to focus on tasks at hand. This creates a sense of security and high self-esteem, which contributes to the attainment of a life full of purpose and meaning.

Hazel Dompreh is currently a Diversional/Recreational Therapist at a nursing home in New South Wales, Australia.