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ESSENTIAL OILS AND ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE

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Let’s face it, essential oils are not a new phenomenon.

Their use can in fact be traced back for thousands of years and they have a rich history of application in various cultures and civilizations around the world, for medicinal, spiritual and cosmetic purposes.

A quick glance through the pages of history reveals that ancient Egyptians were amongst the first to use aromatic oils for spiritual, therapeutic and cosmetic purposes. Essential oils were also widely used in ancient China, around 3,000 years BC, with aromatic plants and oils revered for their healing properties, with texts from this period describing widespread medicinal use. Further, the ancient Indian system of medicine, Ayurveda, has used essential oils for therapeutic purposes for thousands of years.

Ancient Greek phsyicians such as Hippocrates also documented the use of aromatic oils for medicinal purposes, and their use was widespread in the Roman Empire, with oils such as lavender, rosemary and chamomile highly valued and used in baths, massages and perfumes

Their use continued throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period and has endured into the nmodern era, with scientific study of essential oils commencing in the late 19th century, with the term “aromatherapy” coined by a French chemist in 1937, wheh he discovered the healing properties of lavender oil. 

Let’s be clear though – it’s not possible, nor would it be correct, in 2024 to claim that essential oils can cure medical conditions. However, there is a significant body of research that indicates that they can help with symptoms of certain medical conditions, when used in addition to mainstream medical care, not in place of it

Documented benefits of essential oils range from stress relief and mental clarity, to easing muscle aches and pains.

So what about potential benefits to someone living with Alzheimer’s disease? Well, there are not many studies that have specifically researched the benefits of essential oils for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease, but there are a number of studies that do suggest that the use of essential oils can improve symptoms such as insomnia, or anxiety, with few to no side effects.

The easiest way to use an essential oil is to place a few drops of the oil in an essential oil diffuser, together with water in the diffuser’s reservoir, and leave it on for 30 to 60 minutes. The mixture of oil and water is then diffused into the air and, when inhaled in this way, it stimulates the smell receptors, which carry positive (or negative) messages through the central nervous system to the limbic system, which is the part of the brain that controls emotions.

There are of course many different essential oils to choose from. Of them all, Lavender has been referred to as the mother of all oils, in part because it is usually well-received by almost everyone, from children to older adults, and because studies have shown that it can have a calming effect on people. There have been small studies that have shown that lavender can help improve behavior and also improve sleep in patients with dementia. There is also evidence that it can help with the management of agitation, which can sometimes manifest in someone living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

A few other oils and their potential benefits for Alzheime’rs are:

  • Lemon balm – studies have shown this oil as having potential benefits in reducing stress and anxiety.
  • Bergamot – it is an earthy scent, but can be uplifting and useful for helping people who are anxious or depressed, although the strong scent may not be to every individual’s personal taste
  • Ginger – has been shown to help alleviate symptoms of nauseas and upset stomach
  • Rosemary – rosemary oil can sometimes be used to help improve cognitive function and memory. While the evidence is not conclusive, some studies suggest that rosemary may have a positive effect on alertness and mental clarity.

CONCLUSIONS

  • While there is clearly a growing body of promising evidence, (and thousands of years of historical use), modern day research on essential oils and Alzheimer’s is still limited, and more rigorous clinical trials are needed 
  • Essential oils should not be used as a replacement for conventional treatments prescribed by healthcare professionals. They can, however, be considered as a helpful and complementary approach.
  • Essential oils clearly may offer some benefits for managing symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, particularly in terms of improving mood, reducing agitation, and enhancing sleep quality.

BEFORE YOU GO

  • If you have any comments or thoughts on this, feel free to email us at customerservice@amindtocare.com
  • If you’d like to dip a toe into the world of diffused essential oils, check out our new ultrasonic water-based essential oil diffuser here: 
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Adaptive Interaction and Nonverbal Communication in Dementia

Alzheimer's dementia communication cognitive non verbal

Adaptive Interaction and Dementia

Adaptive Interaction is a term that describes a method of communication that can help caregivers connect with people living with dementia who have lost the ability to communicate verbally. It is not difficult to learn and it can help to provide contact and engagement, even as the dementia advances.

A common effect of advancing dementia is that the ability to speak can be gradually diminished, until people retain little or no capacity for verbal communication, relying instead on sounds or movements. Despite this, research has shown that people living with advanced dementia do still retain the desire to communicate. (Ellis & Astell, 2006)

This is important, as often people who have lost the capacity for speech are regarded as being withdrawn and consequently shut off from the world around them. Being able to communicate without speech can reduce social isolation, improve quality of life and allow more opportunities for caregivers to engage with people living with advanced dementia.

Connection is Instinctive

Everyone is born with an instinctive desire to connect with other people. We see this in the way a baby will attempt to communicate, perhaps by smiling, crying, opening and closing their tiny hands, or making eye contact. As adults we recognize, enjoy, and respond to these actions, often encouraging them by imitating the sounds and gestures that the baby is making. By mirroring these actions we enable and encourage the baby to engage in social interaction, even before they are able to speak.

Social connection is something that we take for granted, but research indicates that it could also be a key skill that could help us to engage with people as they age and lose the ability to communicate verbally. The way we interact with babies may, in fact, hold the key to how we might communicate with people living with advanced dementia who have lost the capacity to speak.

Mirroring and Observation

Viewed through the lens of Adaptive Interaction, seemingly random actions by people living with advanced dementia, such as tapping, crying out, or repetitive bodily movements can be interpreted as possibly communicative, as opposed to random, or even problematic. It may be, in fact, that by copying, or mirroring the actions, and by paying attention to the mood of the person involved, the caregiver might find a way to communicate with someone unable to speak. More importantly, those individuals with dementia may once again, experience human connection and engagement with their loved ones.

The key principle of Adaptive Interaction is to view all behavior, such as sounds, movements and facial expressions, as potentially intentional attempts to communicate. This approach is primarily based on carefully looking for and observing actions such as sounds, movements, eye contact, gestures, etc., made by the nonverbal partner. These observations can then be used to try to develop an understanding of the ways in which the individual may be attempting to communicate. As these hypotheses are created, the observer can then experiment with reflecting back, or imitating (mirroring) these actions, which may develop into nonverbal conversations.

The actions in question can and will vary enormously from person to person. As mentioned above, examples may include tapping on a surface, touching hands, facial expressions, clapping, movement of feet, other bodily movements, smiling, or even crying out..

It is important to understand that Adaptive Interaction is not a panacea that will fit every person and every circumstance. Equally important for it to be beneficial, the caregiver must genuinely want to connect with the person involved, otherwise it could degenerate into simple mimicry, which would be harmful.

There is a lot of research and a lot of literature available on the subject of Adaptive Interaction and, for any caregivers struggling to communicate with someone who has lost the capacity to speak, it is potentially a valuable skill to investigate and learn.

If you need any assistance in connecting with additional information on the subject of Adaptive Interaction, contact us at customerservice@amindtocare.com and we will endeavor to connect you with material that will be helpful.

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Dealing with Sundowning

sundowning

What is Sundowning?

Dementia is a general term for any condition encompassing memory loss, mental confusion, mood changes and other cognitive impairment issues that increasingly have a detrimental effect upon the ability of the person living with the condition to maintain a normal daily life. Within the scope of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for possibly up to 80 percent of all dementia cases.

Every person and every case is unique, but some symptoms will be common across many people living with the condition, and one of them is known as Sundowners Syndrome, or Sundowning.

Sundowning is the term given for a situation where a person living with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia may start to experience a worsening of symptoms as the day begins to draw to a close and nightfall approaches.

At present, there is no definitive explanation as to why sundowning occurs, but it is believed that it affects something like 20% of all Alzheimer’s patients.

The progress of Sundowners Snydrome often appears to be in step with the progression of the Alzheimer’s disease itself. As the dementia worsens, so often does the recurrence and severity of the sundowning.

There is still a degree of mystery and uncertainty as to what exactly causes sundowning. There are a number of scientific and medical theories as to what may cause the phenomenon, and there are also believed to be certain “triggers,’ which can either cause or exacerbate it, but it is certainly something that Caregivers should be aware of and ready to try and manage, as far as possible.

The leading theory is that, as the condition of the Alzheimer’s patient worsens, the disease causes neuro-chemical changes in the brain that start to affect the internal biological “clock” of the patient; this can interfere with the part of the brain that would normally signal to a healthy person that it is time to wake up or go to sleep.

When someone experiences sundowning, it does not create any new symptoms, but rather it tends to exacerbate certain of the existing symptoms that the person has already been experiencing, particularly symptoms that adversely affect behavioral characteristics, rendering the person increasingly agitated, irritated, reckless and more and more difficult to manage.

Caregivers have reported that some people experiencing sundowning can become increasingly angry, irritated, anxious, agitated, paranoid and depressed; some even can become violent, hallucinatory, or overly emotional or upset and unable to sleep. Sleep deprivation itself can then contribute to a vicious cycle that can trigger further sundowning episodes.

Sundowning can start to occur from late afternoon and continue until late at night, and this can be especially challenging for a caregiver who may be already exhausted. It then tends to fade and the patient will return to a more normal state.

Common Sundowning Triggers

Sundowning can also potentially be triggered by certain situations or circumstances, and these could include:

  • Fluctuations in light levels – both low light and too much light have been found to be a trigger
  • Depression
  • Boredom
  • Lack of sleep
  • Hunger
  • Pain
  • Raised stress levels
  • Social isolation
  • Infection, such as a urinary tract infection

There is no cure yet for Alzheimer’s disease and, as sundowning is a known symptom that may manifest itself as the disease progresses, there is nothing that can be done to eliminate the phenomenon.

All a caregiver can do is be aware of the potential triggers and avoid them as far as possible, and to be ready to deploy strategies that have in some cases been seen to help manage the symptoms.

Management Strategies:

  1. Try to remain patient and calm

This is perhaps the most difficult of all things to implement, as dementia patients can often be extremely difficult to manage. In such circumstances, patience can be extremely elusive, but a raised voice, or sudden movement or changes in circumstances can worsen the situation

  1. Are there any immediate needs that can be met?

As mentioned above, feelings of hunger, thirst, lack of sleep, or pain, can potentially trigger a sundowning episode.

  1. Create a peaceful and tranquil setting as the day moves into the afternoon

Perhaps consider drawing the curtains early – this will reduce any lowering of light levels in the room as the outside light fades, as this has been noted as a potential sundowning trigger. A tranquil environment, with no distractions also can help, as will reducing noise, or the number of people in the room.

  1. Try to keep the patient active during the day

If possible, try to engage the person you are caring for with activities that will occupy their attention. One of the challenges in caring for someone with dementia is that they are often likely to nap during the day; this makes it harder for them to sleep at night. Board games, puzzles, craft exercises, even watching a favorite movie or TV show can all help.

A Mind to Care was born from a desire to make simple games and activities available to caregivers seeking to engage and retain the attention of people in their care. Many studies have confirmed that activities that engage the mind can significantly increase general well being.

Regular physical exercise can also help.

  1. Diet

Pay close attention to diet. Try to avoid caffeine or high sugar intake, particularly in the afternoon and strive where possible to maintain a good nutritional diet. Avoid alcohol.

  1. Stay Secure

One adverse effect of sundowning is that the patient may become prone to getting up at night, pacing the room, or trying to leave the home. It may be wise to fit locks on doors and windows, and perhaps a gate to prevent access to stairs, to avoid an accident or the patient wandering away and getting lost.

  1. Get some air

A brief walk or a short sit outside can be beneficial, as it is believed that exposure to daylight can help the body to reset its internal clock.

Other Resources about Sundowning are Available

There are many online resources providing advice and support on this and other issues facing caregivers; if you need help finding advice, let us know and we will steer you in the right direction.

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Dementia and Excessive Sleepiness

Excessive daytime sleepiness can be a problem for many folks, especially the senior population. There are also links between diseases like with conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of dementia and sleepiness as well. One common cause of excessive daytime sleepiness is related to inadequate or fragmented nighttime sleep.

How to Improve Sleep Quality

If you are able to identify the issues preventing adequate nighttime sleep, eliminate them to alleviate excessive daytime sleepiness. Barring that, here are some non-drug treatments tips to help your loved one stay active throughout the day and prepare them to increase their ability to get a full sleep at night, hopefully without interruption:

  • Participate in activities that may be helpful in providing stimulation to prevent daytime dozing.
  • Get physical exercise appropriate to your level of functioning, which may also promote daytime wakefulness.
  • Avoid sedentary activities during the day.
  • Get exposure to natural light.

In addition to the tips above to get a full night’s sleep, the following are suggestions to improve your loved one’s sleep routine:3

  • Establish good sleep hygiene, including a set bedtime and wake-up time.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the afternoon and night.
  • Limiting television viewing during periods of wakefulness, and not viewing in bed
  • Create a relaxation ritual before you go to bed.

Do you wonder if dementia and sleepiness are connected?

Excessive sleepiness can also be a resulting condition of Alzheimer’s disease and a number of other dementias.

Daytime napping and “sundowning” can be serious issues for those with dementia. As sleep and the quality of rest obtained can have a large impact on both physical health and quality of life, sleep issues may negatively affect every aspect of an individual’s life.

People with dementia, especially those in later stages, may spend a lot of time sleeping. Although the reasons why dementia affects sleeping patterns are not thoroughly understood, Alzheimer’s Society states that as the disease progresses, the damage to a person’s brain becomes more extensive and they gradually become weaker over time. This makes doing even tasks that we consider simple, like communicating and eating, tiring to the person with dementia.1 As a result, they will sleep more to recuperate.

Parkinson’s Disease and Sleep Disorders

Excessive sleepiness and other sleep disorders are also prevalent with those suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. Symptoms may also include insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and REM sleep behavior disorder. 2

Some Medication can Cause Sleepiness

Some medications contribute to sleepiness as well. The tips listed above may help mitigate the issue, even if there is also a pharmacological element involved as medicine prescribed may contribute to sleep disruption issues. Be sure to understand the side effects of their medications.

Consult Healthcare Professional about your Loved One’s Dementia and Sleepiness

If the person doesn’t appear well in other ways, you may want to consider consulting with your loved one’s healthcare professional to rule out an infection or other condition that could be affected their sleep. You may also want to have a discussion if you are concerned about any of the medicines. In addition to careful consultation with your doctor concerning sleep disruptions, other medical issues, and drug interactions, there are a number of non-medicinal approaches to improving sleep habits and minimizing sleep disrupting conditions.

Important ones to keep in mind among the recommendations for better sleep habits is the discouragement of daytime napping and the encouragement of participating in more activities during the day. A Mind to Care’s Game & Activity System is one way to encourage cognitively stimulating activities for those with Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s disease.


1 Alzheimers.org
2 National Institute of Health | National Library of Medicine
3 Parkinson Foundation

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Benefits of Activities for Seniors: Social Interactions

Activities for seniors that involve social interaction are important for seniors. Humans are social creatures, and social interactions are important for all humans for a number of very important, very basic reasons.

Humans are Social Creatures

Human society is based on our shared interactions: the coffee you drink in the morning, the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the book you are reading, the device you are reading it on – all were likely fashioned by a group of people, many of whom you may have never met, but with whom you have interacted – by the very process of buying, using and enjoying the fruits of their labor. No longer isolated hermits in caves, modern humans now depend on many interactions with other humans, directly or indirectly, to meet their daily wants and needs.

Benefits of Social Interaction

Studies, including National Institute of Health’s Tailored Activity Program study, have shown a positive correlation between social interaction and well-being. Further, research suggests that greater frequency and variety of social interaction, especially when coupled with physical or mental activities, have a very positive effect on both mental and physical well-being.

Impairments Make Social Interaction More Difficult

Social interaction can become more difficult for those with impaired mental or mobile abilities. When you are having difficulty hearing a conversation, it is harder to participate in that conversation. If you have trouble finding or forming the right words, it is harder to participate in a conversation. The importance of social interaction becomes magnified when it becomes more difficult or infrequent. Opportunities for social interaction are naturally reduced when social activity declines. As the quantity of overall social interaction declines, the quality of the social interaction that does occur becomes more important.

Those who suffer from cognitive or mobility issues sometimes begin to withdraw from social interactions in reaction to their reduced capabilities. But, attention by the caregiver to the quality and quantity of the social interactions of the senior can make a significant impact in counteracting this tendency.

The Importance of Activities for Seniors

These difficulties are more common as one ages. So finding activities for seniors to participate in, especially with social interaction, become more and more important for the senior’s well-being.

The A Mind to Care Game & Activity Therapy System is a unique, patented, no-batteries-required game and activity system, designed to allow seniors to continue to enjoy the games and activities they used to. Many of the system’s activities allow two or more to participate together.

Whether the activities are for those with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke or any number of conditions resulting in physical or cognitive impairment, the Game & Activity Therapy System was designed to allow people with impaired ability to engage in activities and games more easily – enhancing the well-being of both the subject and the caregiver. It provides fun, engaging activities for seniors.

– Scott Silknitter