October 31, 2014

My Goblins -- Alzheimer's and Dementia -- Stay with Me Year Round

Alzheimer's afflicts about one third of all Americans over 85. Becoming part of that group is probably my greatest fear.

Several developments this past week have given me more cause for concern:
  • After writing the post about our recent Nepali Tihar holiday celebration, I discovered I'd described another Tihar celebration two years ago. As if that weren't bad enough, I couldn't remember anything about that event at all. 
  • A major surge of fear accompanied my discovery that orthostatic hypotension -- a frequent issue for me these days -- is an especially strong predictor of Parkinson's dementia. 
  • Keyboarding and blog formatting are becoming more difficult and time-consuming. I met with my collaborator Stanley yesterday to discuss strategies for dealing with these issues. 
  • Regularly using the Dragonfly voice recognition software would be a big help, but my learning curve these days resembles a flat line. 
I know... simple aging might explain these developments. But my gut tells me I'm in the early stages of Alzheimer's or dementia.

October 30, 2014

Progress on the Ups and Downs of My NOH Blood Pressure

I thought I'd settled my decades-long problem with high blood pressure (BP) when I got my doctor's approval to quit the meds. Many authorities now say that people 80+ with no history of cardiac issues probably don't need BP pills. I gleefully reported this development in an April post.

I kept checking my numbers at home with my wrist monitor, because my favorite pill -- 5-HTP -- can cause a sudden increase in BP if I take too much of it. I was pleased to see that my normal readings did not exceed the adjusted 150/90 guideline for people 60 and older.

My recent medical history has resembled the whack-a-mole game -- I resolve one problem and a new one pops up. Here's latest example.

Sudden Drops In Blood Pressure
For several years, I've experienced occasional sinking spells -- feeling lightheaded and close to fainting. These incidents initially happened only on hot summer days when I was outside. I soon discovered that big drops in my systolic BP -- sometimes below 90 -- accompanied these incidents. 

In the past six months, these episodes have occurred much more frequently and at unpredictable times. One of my PD support group members recently talked about his fears of falling when he had similar sinking spells. His neurologist recommended eating salted pretzels to counteract those BP drops.

October 29, 2014

Half of All Seniors Receive -- or Need -- Assistance

About half of all seniors have care needs, according to a recent article in Medical News Today. That analysis was published in the September 2014 issue of the "Milbank Quarterly."

Here's how the research team framed the context of their study:
The cost of late-life dependency is projected to grow rapidly as the number of older adults in the United States increases in the coming decades. To provide a context for framing relevant policy discussions, we investigated activity limitations and assistance, care resources, and unmet need for a national sample of older adults. 
Using Medicare enrollment data from the 2011 National Health and Aging Trends Study -- a national sample of 8,246 older adults -- researchers from the University of Michigan and the Urban Institute determined that nearly 50 percent older Americans – 18 million people – have trouble, or receive assistance, with daily activities.

I’m already part of that half receiving help. A neighbor has been driving me to the grocery store – and on other errands -- for the past few months. With the progress of age, my Parkinson’s disease, and my increasing forgetfulness (more on that soon), I’ll need more and more assistance. 

As it is, I feel fortunate that – at 85, with PD and prostate cancer – I’m still as independent as I am.

Here’s how Vicki Freeman – UM researcher and, with the Urban Institute's Brenda Spillman, co-author of the report – broke down the numbers: "Although 51 percent reported having no difficulty in the previous month, 29 percent reported receiving help with taking care of themselves or their households or getting around. And another 20 percent said they had difficulty carrying out these activities on their own.”

The article in Medical News Today outlines other findings:

October 28, 2014

Electronic Gizmo Detects Depression Remotely

In recent months, I’ve highlighted a variety of new developments that are allowing seniors to remain in their own homes. “Aging in place” is what the majority of older people want to do; they don’t want to leave their familiar environments for the strangeness of a nursing home or assisted living facility.

Now, there’s a new twist in this “aging in place” saga: family members, doctors, and caregivers – all in different places – can now tell if their special senior might be experiencing depression.

Gerontologists know that people aged 70+ tend to follow fairly regular routines at predictable times – sleeping, watching TV, eating, washing, etc. When seniors vary from those normal patterns, something may be wrong.

Soon, seniors will be able to wear a small device on their forearm that records movement. Developed by researchers at the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM) of Mexico, the new gizmo – when hooked up to high-tech software and working in tandem with webcams – can give loved ones anywhere on earth a pretty clear picture of what’s going on with the monitored senior.

Looking for Irregularities
If there’s an anomaly in a senior’s activity course -- or in the time when they are positioned at a certain location -- the system issues an on-line alert to the computer or smartphone of any relative, physician, or caregiver.

Edwin Almeida Calderón -- Industrial Design researcher at UAM and project leader – said, "The sensor is connected to a modem using radio frequency systems. The processed information from the elder's movement pattern may include factors such as temperature, heart rate and deviations in the usual activity path."

October 27, 2014

Dashain and Tihar at Home in Washington

During the years when I traveled regularly to Nepal, I usually went in the fall. Those trips often coincided with at least one of the two biggest festivals of the year -- Dashain and Tihar. I always enjoyed them.

If I was at home -- not abroad -- I often celebrated these festivals at the homes of my local Nepali friends. Now I get to enjoy the celebrations in my own home, since the Nepalis outnumber me two to one in our household.

This year, the holidays were especially enjoyable because Bhawana's parents stayed with us during part of their U.S. visit. The photo above shows Bhawana with her parents as we did Dashain tika on the back porch a few weeks ago.

Here's a brief background on the two holidays: