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Helpful Resources

Dementia

What is dementia?

Dementia is a loss of mental functions that is severe enough to affect your daily life and activities. These functions include:

  • Memory
  • Language skills
  • Visual perception (your ability to make sense of what you see)
  • Problem solving
  • Trouble with everyday tasks
  • The ability to focus and pay attention

It is normal to become a bit more forgetful as you age. But dementia is not a normal part of aging. It is a serious disorder which interferes with your daily life.

What are the types of dementia?

The most common types of dementia are known as neurodegenerative disorders. These are diseases in which the cells of the brain stop working or die. They include:

  • Alzheimer's disease, which is the most common form of dementia among older people. People with Alzheimer's have plaques and tangles in their brain. These are abnormal buildups of different proteins. Beta-amyloid protein clumps up and forms plaques in between your brain cells. Tau protein builds up and forms tangles inside the nerve cells of your brain. There is also a loss of connection between nerve cells in the brain.
  • Lewy body dementia, which causes movement symptoms along with dementia. Lewy bodies are abnormal deposits of a protein in the brain.
  • Frontotemporal disorders, which cause changes to certain parts of the brain:
    • Changes in the frontal lobe lead to behavioral symptoms
    • Changes in the temporal lobe lead to language and emotional disorders
  • Vascular dementia, which involves changes to the brain's blood supply. It is often caused by a stroke or atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) in the brain.
  • Mixed dementia, which is a combination of two or more types of dementia. For example, some people have both Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.

Other conditions can cause dementia or dementia-like symptoms, including:

  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare brain disorder
  • Huntington's disease, an inherited, progressive brain disease
  • Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), caused by repeated traumatic brain injury
  • HIV-associated dementia (HAD)
Who is at risk for dementia?

Certain factors can raise your risk for developing dementia, including:

  • Aging. This is the biggest risk factor for dementia.
  • Smoking
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Having close family members who have dementia
What are the symptoms of dementia?

The symptoms of dementia can vary, depending on which parts of the brain are affected. Often, forgetfulness is the first symptom. Dementia also causes problems with the ability to think, problem solve, and reason. For example, people with dementia may:

  • Get lost in a familiar neighborhood
  • Use unusual words to refer to familiar objects
  • Forget the name of a close family member or friend
  • Forget old memories
  • Need help doing tasks that they used to do by themselves

Some people with dementia cannot control their emotions and their personalities may change. They may become apathetic, meaning that they are no longer interested in normal daily activities or events. They may lose their inhibitions and stop caring about other peoples' feelings.

Certain types of dementia can also cause problems with balance and movement.

The stages of dementia range from mild to severe. In the mildest stage, it is just beginning to affect a person's functioning. In the most severe stage, the person is completely dependent on others for care.

How is dementia diagnosed?

Your health care provider may use many tools to make a diagnosis:

  • A medical history, which includes asking about your symptoms
  • A physical exam
  • Tests of your thinking, memory, and language abilities
  • Other tests, such as blood tests, genetic tests, and brain scans
  • A mental health evaluation to see whether a mental disorder is contributing to your symptoms
What are the treatments for dementia?

There is no cure for most types of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease and Lewy body dementia. Treatments may help to maintain mental function longer, manage behavioral symptoms, and slow down the symptoms of disease. They may include:

  • Medicines may temporarily improve memory and thinking or slow down their decline. They only work in some people. Other medicines can treat symptoms such as anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and muscle stiffness. Some of these medicines can cause strong side effects in people with dementia. It is important to talk to your health care provider about which medicines will be safe for you.
  • Occupational therapy to help find ways to more easily do everyday activities
  • Speech therapy to help with swallowing difficulties and trouble speaking loudly and clearly
  • Mental health counseling to help people with dementia and their families learn how to manage difficult emotions and behaviors. It can also help them plan for the future.
  • Music or art therapy to reduce anxiety and improve well-being
Can dementia be prevented?

Researchers have not found a proven way to prevent dementia. Living a healthy lifestyle might influence some of your risk factors for dementia.

Health Risks of an Inactive Lifestyle

What is an inactive lifestyle?

Being a couch potato. Not exercising. A sedentary or inactive lifestyle. You have probably heard of all of these phrases, and they mean the same thing: a lifestyle with a lot of sitting and lying down, with very little to no exercise.

In the United States and around the world, people are spending more and more time doing sedentary activities. During our leisure time, we are often sitting: while using a computer or other device, watching TV, or playing video games. Many of our jobs have become more sedentary, with long days sitting at a desk. And the way most of us get around involves sitting - in cars, on buses, and on trains.

How does an inactive lifestyle affect your body?

When you have an inactive lifestyle,:

  • You burn fewer calories. This makes you more likely to gain weight.
  • You may lose muscle strength and endurance, because you are not using your muscles as much
  • Your bones may get weaker and lose some mineral content
  • Your metabolism may be affected, and your body may have more trouble breaking down fats and sugars
  • Your immune system may not work as well
  • You may have poorer blood circulation
  • Your body may have more inflammation
  • You may develop a hormonal imbalance
What are the health risks of an inactive lifestyle?

Having an inactive lifestyle can be one of the causes of many chronic diseases. By not getting regular exercise, you raise your risk of:

  • Obesity
  • Heart diseases, including coronary artery disease and heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Stroke
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Certain cancers, including colon, breast, and uterine cancers
  • Osteoporosis and falls
  • Increased feelings of depression and anxiety

Having a sedentary lifestyle can also raise your risk of premature death. And the more sedentary you are, the higher your health risks are.

How can I get started with exercise?

If you have been inactive, you may need to start slowly. You can keep adding more exercise gradually. The more you can do, the better. But try not to feel overwhelmed, and do what you can. Getting some exercise is always better than getting none. Eventually, your goal can be to get the recommended amount of exercise for your age and health.

There are many different ways to get exercise; it is important to find the types that are best for you. You can also try to add activity to your life in smaller ways, such as at home and at work.

How can I be more active around the house?

There are some ways you can be active around your house:

  • Housework, gardening, and yard work are all physical work. To increase the intensity, you could try doing them at a more vigorous pace.
  • Keep moving while you watch TV. Lift hand weights, do some gentle yoga stretches, or pedal an exercise bike. Instead of using the TV remote, get up and change the channels yourself.
  • Work out at home with a workout video (on your TV or on the internet)
  • Go for a walk in your neighborhood. It can be more fun if you walk your dog, walk your kids to school, or walk with a friend.
  • Stand up when talking on the phone
  • Get some exercise equipment for your home. Treadmills and elliptical trainers are great, but not everyone has the money or space for one. Less expensive equipment such as yoga balls, exercise mats, stretch bands, and hand weights can help you get a workout at home too.
How can I be more active at work?

Most of us sit when we are working, often in front of a computer. In fact, less than 20% of Americans have physically active jobs. It can be challenging to fit physical activity into your busy workday, but here are some tips to help you get moving:

  • Get up from your chair and move around at least once an hour
  • Stand when you are talking on the phone
  • Find out whether your company can get you a stand-up or treadmill desk
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Use your break or part of your lunch hour to walk around the building
  • Stand up and walk to a colleague's office instead of sending an email
  • Have "walking" or standing meetings with co-workers instead of sitting in a conference room

Healthy Aging

People in the U.S. are living longer, and the number of older adults in the population is growing. As we age, our minds and bodies change. Having a healthy lifestyle can help you deal with those changes. It may also prevent some health problems and help you to make the most of your life.

A healthy lifestyle for older adults includes:

  • Healthy eating. As you age, your dietary needs may change. You may need fewer calories, but you still need to get enough nutrients. A healthy eating plan includes
    • Eating foods that give you lots of nutrients without a lot of extra calories. This includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, low-fat dairy, nuts, and seeds.
    • Avoiding empty calories, such as foods like chips, candy, baked goods, soda, and alcohol
    • Eating foods that are low in cholesterol and fat
    • Drinking enough liquids, so you don't get dehydrated
  • Regular physical activity. Being physically active may help you maintain a healthy weight and avoid chronic health problems. If you have not been active, you can start slowly and work up to your goal. How much exercise you need depends on your age and health. Check with your health care provider on what is right for you.
  • Staying at a healthy weight. Being either overweight or underweight can lead to health problems. Ask your health care professional what a healthy weight for you may be. Healthy eating and exercise can help you get to that weight.
  • Keeping your mind active. Lots of activities can keep your mind active and improve your memory, including learning new skills, reading, and playing games.
  • Making your mental health a priority. Work on improving your mental health, for example by practicing mediation, relaxation techniques, or gratitude. Know the warning signs of a problem and ask for help if you are struggling.
  • Participating in activities that you enjoy. People who are involved in hobbies and social and leisure activities may be at lower risk for some health problems. Doing things that you enjoy may help you feel happier and improve your thinking abilities.
  • Playing an active role in your health care. Make sure that you get regular checkups and the health screenings that you need. You should know which medicines you are taking, why you need them, and how to take them properly.
  • Not smoking. If you are a smoker, quitting is one of the most important things that you can do for your health. It can lower your risk of several different types of cancer, certain lung diseases, and heart disease.
  • Taking steps to prevent falls. Older adults have a higher risk of falling. They are also more likely to fracture (break) a bone when they fall. Getting regular eye checkups, getting regular physical activity, and making your house safer can lower your risk of falling.

Following these tips can help you to stay healthy as you age. Even if you have never done them before, it's never too late to start taking care of your health. If you have questions about these lifestyle changes or need help figuring out how to make them, ask your health care provider.

Kidney Diseases

You have two kidneys, each about the size of your fist. They are near the middle of your back, just below the rib cage. Inside each kidney there are about a million tiny structures called nephrons. They filter your blood. They remove wastes and extra water, which become urine. The urine flows through tubes called ureters. It goes to your bladder, which stores the urine until you go to the bathroom.

Most kidney diseases attack the nephrons. This damage may leave kidneys unable to remove wastes. Causes can include genetic problems, injuries, or medicines. You have a higher risk of kidney disease if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or a close family member with kidney disease. Chronic kidney disease damages the nephrons slowly over several years. Other kidney problems include:

  • Cancer
  • Cysts
  • Stones
  • Infections

Your doctor can do blood and urine tests to check if you have kidney disease. If your kidneys fail, you will need dialysis or a kidney transplant.

NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Retinal Disorders

The retina is a layer of tissue in the back of your eye that senses light and sends images to your brain. In the center of this nerve tissue is the macula. It provides the sharp, central vision needed for reading, driving and seeing fine detail.

Retinal disorders affect this vital tissue. They can affect your vision, and some can be serious enough to cause blindness. Examples are:

  • Macular degeneration - a disease that destroys your sharp, central vision
  • Diabetic eye disease
  • Retinal detachment - a medical emergency, when the retina is pulled away from the back of the eye
  • Retinoblastoma - cancer of the retina. It is most common in young children.
  • Macular pucker - scar tissue on the macula
  • Macular hole - a small break in the macula that usually happens to people over 60
  • Floaters - cobwebs or specks in your field of vision

NIH: National Eye Institute