Hourglassalbum.com Hopes to Slow Memory Loss and Dementia

Staying Put at Home Tips for Senior HealthSean Christensen, former employee of Bliss Tubs, has not stopped thinking about how to help seniors. The current University of Southern Carolina medical student has partnered with his classmate, Robert Gereige, to establish a new website that they hope will help seniors and their caretakers slow memory loss and dementia.

Hourglass (www.hourglassalbum.com) uses images from pop culture to reignite memories from the user’s youth. All you need to do is put in your year of birth, your hometown and your gender. The website will then give you a series of images with the prompts of “Like” and “Nope.” Clicking either will move you to the next image.

According to the website’s founders, Hourglass also allows facilitators to work with Alzheimer’s patients to customize the series of images, using photos that they know will evoke a response. Along with their colleague Regis Blanc, Christensen and Gereige have come up with an algorithm to best match the photos to a person’s age, gender and location, finding the images that will have the most potent effect.

The students hypothesize that a trip down memory lane could help seniors preserve their recollections longer. Research has shown that reminiscence therapy might be a viable method to fight dementia.1 This is demonstrated in the documentary Alive Inside, a clip of which is embedded below:

By triggering memories, seniors would be able to improve their power of recall. In doing so, dementia’s impact on the elderly could be severely weakened. This change would make it easier for seniors to continue aging at home, as they would not need to relocate to a senior living center in order to get support.

So far, Hourglass has been pilot tested on non-dementia patients in the geriatric unit at the Palmetto Health Richland. These initial tests were promising, as the patients’ anxiety levels decreased as they flipped through the images.

Hourglass was developed from the duo’s social media website TimeStash (www.timestash.com), which used videos and photos from pop culture to stimulate users to share content. However, Hourglass focuses more on senior audiences. At this moment, the website is still developing. The pair hopes to interview more older patients to build their database and get a more comprehensive impression of what pop culture photos will provoke a response. Christensen and Gereige are also concentrating on finishing medical school.


1. Reminiscence therapy: Finding meaning in memories | Return to Text

Dementia Behaviors: What They Mean

Staying Put at Home Tips for Mental HealthShirley Magee* cares for her husband, Jim, who has Alzheimer’s disease. Though Jim is accustomed to taking the occasional nap, his wife noticed that he was sleeping more during the day. He also appeared lethargic. But apart from these slight issues, which can be normal for Alzheimer’s patients, Shirley didn’t see other changes. Jim wasn’t coughing. He wasn’t complaining of chest pain. He wasn’t even breathing hard. But Shirley soon found out that Jim’s excessive sleeping was due to an undiagnosed bout of pneumonia.

Shirley’s story is not uncommon. As many caregivers know, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can significantly diminish the communication efforts of those with it. Sufferers may initially forget words and phrases only to eventually lose most verbal faculties, making it difficult for them to tell loved ones or doctors that they feel unwell. So as the disease progresses, caregivers must watch for non-verbal signs that may indicate physical needs and health concerns.

Distress

As their oral abilities decline, individuals with dementia may become more anxious and aggressive. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, agitation often indicates frustration. In many cases, that frustration may stem from a growing lack of personal autonomy. However, distress can also point to physical problems. For instance, caffeine-induced stimulation or exhaustion can make a person act in an agitated manner.

Roaming

Caregivers might also notice that loved ones increasingly want to roam for no apparent reason. What friends and family may not realize, though, is that wandering can be a sign of distress. Some dementia sufferers roam because they can’t locate the bathroom or verbalize their discomfort to a loved one. Others may wander because they want food or a drink but can’t express their hunger or thirst.

Fatigue

Dementia sufferers often sleep during daylight hours. However, friends and family members should note if a loved one suddenly sleeps more than usual. Such a change may indicate a physical health problem such as pneumonia, which requires professional medical attention. Checking the temperature of a dementia patient on a regular basis could also help to quickly identify a fever brought on by infection that a loved one may not be able to point out.

Are you caring for a spouse or parent with dementia? What behaviors do you most often encounter and how do you address them?

*The names in this story have been changed for privacy reasons.

Don’t Let Stress Get the Best of Your Health

Staying Put at Home Tips for Mental HealthThe golden years.

It’s a phrase that suggests an existence of unadulterated serenity. However, the reality of older age can sometimes play out differently. Especially when you suffer from a health problem or care for a spouse with a medical condition, the golden years can quickly tarnish.

Seniors are no strangers to stress. But what you may not realize is that it can complicate existing health issues, including heart disease and diabetes, or increase the likelihood of their development. So it’s important to cultivate effective strategies to keep stress at bay.

Reach Out to a Friend

Socializing does more than give you an excuse to try out that new restaurant. Spending time with friends can also suppress the production of cortisol, a stress hormone. When cortisol levels remain high over a sustained amount of time, they can negatively impact many facets of health, including immunity and metabolic function. So when you’re feeling stressed, grab a friend for coffee or a movie. If you live far from loved ones, research senior centers in your neighborhood. It might take a few visits, but as you meet people, you can form new nurturing friendships.

Find an Activity You Love

There’s no denying that exercise is imperative to your physical health. Did you know, though, that physical activity can also boost mental wellness? According to the Mayo Clinic, working out is one of the best ways to alleviate anxiety and improve mood. Want more good news? You have a seemingly endless array of exercise options. Love feeling the wind in your hair? Go for a bike ride. Too cold or rainy for a bike ride? Then step on a treadmill to stay warm, dry and stress-free.

Indulge Every Once in a While

When stress initiates a fight or flight response, sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all. So go ahead and book that massage. Research shows that massage therapy can be a highly effective stress management tool, though individuals with certain conditions like osteoporosis should first consult their physicians. Not comfortable with the intimate nature of massage? You can still reap its benefits without a masseuse. Products such as walk-in bathtubs often come with water jet systems that can massage away tense muscles, stiff joints and stressed bodies.

How do you respond to stress? Let other readers know how you handle your stressors by leaving your tips in our comments section.

Spotting the Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

Staying Put at Home Tips for Mental HealthAlzheimer’s disease might not yet have a cure, but healthcare providers can offer medications and other strategies to manage progressing symptoms. With early detection, you and your loved ones can also have more time to create a course of action regarding medical, financial and caregiving issues. To get ahead of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, though, it’s important to talk to a physician as soon as early warning signs present.

Communication Struggles

We’ve all had those “tip of the tongue” moments where you search for the right word only to remember it long after it could have been of use in a conversation. Those instances are often normal. But when it becomes difficult to have a conversation, or if a loved one can’t recall the proper names of simple objects, Alzheimer’s may be to blame.

Emotional Distress

Many circumstances can lead to an emotional outburst. A fender bender. A fight with your spouse. Even a particularly intense football game can be enough to make you frustrated and irritable. But when Alzheimer’s is at play, upsetting emotions—anger, panic, confusion—can arise on a frequent basis for seemingly unknown reasons.

Waning Judgment

Most people learn to bathe and dress themselves by early childhood. But as the Alzheimer’s Association notes, Alzheimer’s sufferers can find it difficult to perform these tasks. Logic and reason may also suffer. For example, someone with this condition might give confidential data like his social security number to strange callers or visitors.

Declining Perception

Perhaps one of the most evident Alzheimer’s symptoms is lost sense of time. Disorientation, such as not remembering how they got to work, can be common among Alzheimer’s patients. Others may struggle to keep track of their calendars. While a healthy person might mix up the occasional date, an Alzheimer’s sufferer can confuse months or even years.

Alzheimer’s disease can develop in other ways as well. If you have a friend or family member with this condition, what were the signs that first pointed to its presence?

Understanding Memory Loss

Staying Put at Home Tips for Mental HealthYou left the refrigerator door open last night. You found your “lost” coffee mug in the garage. You forgot the name of your best friend in high school. Are these recall lapses normal or signs of a memory loss problem? Like gray hair and wrinkles, some memory loss can be a normal part of the aging process. With a growing awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, though, you and millions of other senior Americans may be wondering if these occasional memory failings point to a more serious condition.

Why Memory Loss Happens

Older age changes the brain’s makeup. For instance, the chemicals that support brain cell health diminish with time. Some seniors also suffer from conditions such as cardiovascular disease that can reduce blood flow to the brain and impact its recall abilities. Your sense of taste can wane as well with age, and if you don’t eat enough nutritious foods, your brain can’t function properly. Certain areas of the brain, namely the hippocampus, can also experience decline. If this memory consolidation center deteriorates, you might notice memory loss.

What Distinguishes Normal Memory Loss from Dementia

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia can gradually rob a person of their cognitive abilities, including recall. Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia; Huntington’s disease and vascular dementia are other conditions that can also deteriorate brain function. So how do you know if your memory loss indicates a bigger problem? Dementia affects reason and logic. It can also impact a person’s ability to perform common tasks. So someone with this condition might forget how to shower or find their way home.

How to Address Memory Loss

If you have concerns about your recall abilities, talk to a doctor. In many instances, controllable factors such as stress, vitamin deficiencies, and medication can influence memory loss, and a physician can determine if your issues stem from a fixable source. However, even if a doctor diagnoses dementia, management strategies ranging from prescription drugs to exercise to socializing with loved ones can help to delay the progression of the disease. First and foremost, understanding the problem is the most important step for improving your quality of life.

Summary Points:

  • The brain can experience some normal aging changes that may prompt memory lapses.
  • Dementia typically interferes with routine activities.
  • Both controllable and uncontrollable causes can contribute to memory loss, but in either case, a physician can recommend management strategies.