Thursday, May 29, 2014

Relax - Slight Memory Loss is Normal!

In the past couple of months, I have written several posts about Alzheimer's disease and dementia.  It is an issue that concerns nearly everyone over the age of 60.  However, the good news is that most of us will NOT become seriously disabled by dementia.  Since that is true, we certainly do not want to worry ourselves sick every time we forget a name or lose our keys.  How can we tell the difference between real dementia and normal memory loss?

Slower Recall is Normal as We Age

If you have been a jogger, hiker or tennis player most of your life, you probably accept the fact that your ability to perform these activities has slowed down a bit as you aged.  (Let's be honest, it may have slowed down a lot.)  At the same time, if you are a little less quick to remember a name or some other information, your slower thinking ability is as normal as your slower physical ability.

Here's how you can tell the difference:  If it just takes you a few extra minutes to recall the information or, when prompted, you can instantly confirm that the suggested information is correct, this means you still have the memory and it has not been completely lost.  It is normal to have trouble recalling all our memories as we age.

On the other hand, if you cannot remember something at all and, even when prompted by someone else, the name or event does not seem familiar to you, then you really are losing portions of your memory.  That is the beginning of dementia.

Distractions Can Make it Harder for Anyone to Remember Things

In addition to recalling information more slowly, we may also have a lot on our minds, especially if we lead busy lives ... which is true for most of us Baby Boomers.  Are you still working, involved in family activities, belong to clubs, caring for relatives, planning trips, paying bills, and feeling overwhelmed at times by all the demands on your time?  As we age and tire out more easily, all these obligations may make it even more difficult to recall details or retrieve new information ... such as where we set down our keys or the doctor's appointment we made.

If you are busy and preoccupied, with a number of thoughts running through your head, it is not unusual to have difficulty recalling certain details and automatic actions, no matter what your age.  That is normal.

On the other hand, if you are relaxed and have plenty of time and opportunity to focus on what is going on, and you still cannot recall important events or information, then that could be a sign of dementia.

Flipping the Dementia Statistics

When I reported a few weeks ago on the University of California - Irvine study that showed the prevalence of Alzheimers and dementia in our population, I realize the article focused primarily on the bad news ... that a small number of us will develop dementia and the percentage doubles every five years.

In other words, I pointed out that by age 90 approximately 10% of the people who are still alive will have dementia.  That means that 90% of people will NOT have dementia, even by the age of 90.  At age 85, only 5% of us will have dementia ... leaving 95% of us with normally functioning memories ... despite the fact that our thinking may be a bit slower. 

According to an article in the "2014 Answers Guide" published by the Orange County Council on Aging, people who are aware enough to ask whether or not their memory loss is normal, do not usually have a serious problem ... which is certainly a relief to know.

Relax.  Dementia is something that most of us will not have to worry about!  Now ... where did I put my keys?


"What is 'Normal' Memory Loss," 2014 Answers Guide, Orange County Council on Aging, page 40.

University of California-Irvine, 90+ Study on residents of Laguna Woods Village

If you are interested in other medical issues that will affect us as we age, check out the Medical Concerns tab at the top of this article.  You will also find tabs with suggestions on where to live after retirement, financial planning, family issues and more.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Is It Alzheimers or a Treatable Disease?

One of the biggest fears most of us will have as we get older is that we may develop Alzheimer's Disease or another form of dementia.  Every time we lose our keys, forget a friend's name, or can't remember why we entered a room, we worry that this could be the beginning of our mental decline.

Baby Boomers take vitamins, get exercise, work crossword puzzles and play video games, all in an attempt to do everything they can to ward off dementia.  The good news is that these efforts can sometimes be successful at slowing down our mental decline. 

However, did it ever occur to you that your forgetfulness, brain fog and periodic bouts of confusion may actually be caused by a treatable disease? The problem comes in determining which cases can be treated and which cases cannot.

While we all dread receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer's or dementia, sometimes our memory loss and mental confusion is actually caused by a treatable illness and none of us would want our doctors to overlook this possibility!

According to the April, 2014 AARP Bulletin, in an article entitled "Am I Losing My Mind?" there are at least eight health issues that can "masquerade as dementia."  If you suspect that one of these problems could be causing your memory loss, you will want to have your doctor test you for them.

Eight Treatable Causes of Memory Loss and Confusion

Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH) - Fluids are putting pressure on your brain.  This problem may be corrected with a shunt.

Medications - If you become forgetful, especially after taking a new medicine, tell your doctor about all your medications and supplements; you may be having a reaction and a simple adjustment could restore clear thinking.

Depression or other mental health problems - Depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder and similar mental illnesses can cause us to lose focus and have trouble thinking clearly.  Medications, exercise and/or cognitive therapy may be able to  resolve the issue.

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) This one was a surprise!  However, infections of any kind, including UTI's may be asymptomic.  This means you may not realize you have an infection. However, once discovered, it can be treated with antibiotics and lifestyle adjustments.  Infections, especially UTI's, are a common cause of foggy thinking.

Thyroid disease - Although it can be detected with an easy blood test, many people go years without having their thyroid disease detected.  Once discovered, it can be treated with medication or, in some cases, surgery.  Symptoms include depression, foggy thinking, weight gain and feeling cold.  If you are experiencing these problems, be sure to have your thyroid checked.

B-12 deficiency - This is a type of anemia that cannot be treated with iron; however, injections of B-12 about once a month can make a tremendous difference in helping you to think more clearly and have more energy.

Diabetes - This is a very serious disease which, if left untreated, can even result in death.  It is important to catch and treat this disease early in order to reduce its affect on the brain

Alcohol abuse - It is amazing how many physicians do not consider the possibility of alcohol and drug abuse when they are attempting to diagnose the cause of dementia.  While the dementia can sometimes be resolved by simply abstaining from alcohol, in some cases it may be necessary to reverse the brain damage by using thiamine replacement therapy or similar treatments.  It is encouraging, however, to know that there are treatments that may make a significant difference in how clearly you think, even after years of alcohol abuse.

If you suspect that one of these issues could be causing memory loss for you or someone you love, make sure that you or your loved one receives all the possible tests and treatments.  Do not assume that dementia cannot be reversed and do not give up your quest for an alternate diagnosis too soon.  None of us want to suffer for years from a problem that could have been easily treated if it had been caught earlier.


"Am I Losing My Mind?" AARP Bulletin, April 2014, pgs. 18-20

If you are interested in reading about other issues that could arise as you age, check out the tabs at the top of this page, particularly the one on health concerns.  You will find links to hundreds of other articles that have been written for this blog.

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

How to Talk to Someone with Alzheimers or Dementia

After completing my post on the "UCI 90+ Study at Laguna Woods Village," I thought this would be a good time to follow up with a little more information about dementia and Alzheimer's Disease.

My mother has dementia and it has become quite advanced.  She can only remember most things for a very short time.  As I have come to understand, speaking to someone with dementia or Alzheimers can be extremely frustrating.   My mother lives with my sister, so I only call a couple of times a month to talk with her.  I know she probably does not remember that I called, but I like to touch base with her, anyway.  I've done some research on how to talk to someone with dementia, so that our phone conversations are less frustrating. 

Typically, dementia patients may repeat themselves endlessly and they sometimes become anxious, hostile, angry, abusive or exhibit other negative emotions and behaviors. In addition, they may not remember who you are, the last time they spoke with other family members, what decisions they have agreed to in the past, or where they have stored things.  In my case, my mother seems to know who I am, but she repeats the same stories every time I call.  I have found it helpful to keep our conversations short and not ask too many questions, because they seem to frustrate her.

What are some other ways to communicate with a dementia patient, while reducing their anxiety and keeping them calm?  The Alzheimer's Association provided me with a handout at a recent Senior Summit that I attended.  I found their suggestions so helpful, that I have condensed them below.

Do's and Don'ts for Talking to the Memory Impaired:


Be kind
Speak in short, simple sentences
Be patient, cheerful and forgiving
Allow plenty of time for a response
Repeat your statements exactly the same way
Agree with them, even it if is just to reassure them
Leave the room, rather than have a confrontation with them.
Accept blame for problems, even if you aren't actually to blame for the problem


Don't test their memory loss.
Don't confront or blame them.
Don't try to reason with them.
Don't take forgetfulness personally. 
Don't remind them they forget things.
Don't argue, correct or contradict them.
Don't ask open-ended questions; they are too complex.
Don't forget that they are frightened because of their memory loss.

I plan to keep this list handy when I talk with my mother on the phone because I have noticed that she gets very confused when I ask her about recent events ... such as what she and Dad did during the past week.  I realize now that a question like that is too open-ended.  She does better with yes and no questions or simple statements.  In addition, when she does remember something, she repeats it over and over again.  For example, my mom and dad recently had dinner with my dad's sister.  When I called the next day, my mother told me several times about their dinner together.  I just patiently listened.  I was delighted that she had such a pleasant memory of the dinner.

Of course, if you are living with someone who has dementia, there may be times when they become hostile, angry or irritable, and you may not know what to do.  My brother-in-law has told me that this sometimes happens with my mother, which is hard on him.  If this happens in your family, there is a hotline that you can call for advice ... and I highly recommend that you use it before you become frustrated and upset, too. 

Need Immediate Help?  Call the Alzheimer's Hotline:  1-800-272-3900

You may also want to read additional information about Alzheimer's and dementia, possible treatments, research in the field, and the ways in which the Alzheimer's Association is able to provide assistance to caregivers.  To find out more, use the website below:

Source for Information about Communication with the Memory Impaired:

Are you concerned about other medical conditions that can arise as you and your spouse age?  Use the tab at the top of this blog in order to find links to a number of articles about Medical Concerns.  In addition, check out the other tabs for links to hundreds of articles about where to retire in the United States or overseas, financial planning and similar retirement issues.

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

The UCI 90+ Study at Laguna Woods Village

On May 4, 2014, the CBS television show, "60 Minutes" featured a study that is taking place in the retirement community where I live, Laguna Woods Village in Southern California.

The study is being conducted by Dr. Claudia Kawas, a medical doctor and professor of neurology at the University of California in Irvine.  However, the study actually started about 30 years ago ... long before Dr. Kawas was in Irvine.

Between the years of 1981 and 1984, UCI researchers sent surveys to the residents of Laguna Woods Village (then called Leisure World).  Nearly 14,000 residents completed them.  The surveys asked a wide range of questions over topics such as health, marital status, the activities in which they participated, foods they ate, vitamins they took, alcohol consumption, etc.

The average participant was 73 years old at the time of that first survey.  Two-thirds of them were women.  Most were white and about 40% were college graduates.   During the following years, the original group of participants were asked to update their information in 1982, 1985, 1992, and 1998.  Gradually, of course, the group got smaller.

Then, in 2003, UCI researchers took these dusty old folders off the shelf and decided to see how these people were doing.  They were able to find nearly 1900 of them who were still alive and in their 90's or older.  Approximately 1600 of them enrolled in Dr. Kawas' current study and agreed to submit to extensive testing. 

In addition, 306 people in this group agreed to donate their brains to the researchers after death.  So far, they have done autopsies on approximately 210 of those brains.

The research has been fascinating and I have summarized it below after watching both the "60 Minutes" episode as well as a YouTube video by Dr. Kawas.

UCI Research on Longevity:

*  Vitamin consumption did not seem to help people live longer, although it may help in other areas, such as preventing fractures, etc.

*  Drinking a glass or two of alcohol of any type (not just red wine) occasionally (not necessarily daily) seemed to help people live longer.

*  Caffeine from all sources, including soft drinks, chocolate, tea and coffee did make a difference.  People who consumed about 200 mg. of caffeine a day (2-3 cups of coffee) seemed to live longer.  People who consumed too much or too little did not live as long.

*  Being of average weight or heavier seemed to be protective; being too thin was associated with an increased risk of early death.  People who were underweight in their 70's had a 50% increase in their mortality rate.  People who were of normal weight or overweight in their 70's had a 3% lower mortality rate for each year they lived.

*  While having low blood pressure was healthier for younger seniors, having high blood pressure seemed to benefit those who are over the age of 90.

*  It was beneficial to stay mentally, physically and socially active as long as possible.  About 45 minutes a day of physical activity seemed to help people live untill their 90's.  More time spent in exercise did not make a difference.  In addition, the activity did not need to be intense in order to benefit this age group.  It did not have to be jogging and it did not have to be all at once.  It could be broken up into two or three periods of activity a day.

*  As for leisure/social activities, those were also associated with a longer lifespan.

UCI Research on Dementia:

*  There are more than 100 pathologies that can lead to dementia.  Alzheimer's is only one form of dementia, although it is one of the most common.  The more different pathologies you have, the higher your risk of developing dementia.

*  Researchers have long believed that plaques and Amyloid tangles in the brain are related to Alzheimer's Disease and other forms of dementia.  However, the brain autopsies that have been completed to date are bringing this into question.  So far, half of the people with dementia had plaques and tangles, while half did not.  In addition, the reverse has also been true.  Half of the people without dementia had plaques and half did not.  Dr. Kawas is now concluding that plaques and Amyloid tangles may not be as closely related to Alzheimers and other forms of dementia as we first thought, although there is still some reason to believe that it does matter.  Researchers are concluding that dementia is more complicated than they first thought.

*  Three or more microinfarcts or mini-strokes in the brain can multiply your chances of having dementia by five times.

*  Age seems to matter the most in regard to dementia.  By age 85 about 5% have dementia; at 90, 10% of all seniors have dementia; by age 95, 20% have dementia; by 100, 40% have dementia.

*  Low oxygen levels in the blood, especially below 93%, doubled your chances of developing dementia.

*  Low walking speed resulted in an eleven times great risk of dementia.

*  People with a weak hand grip had a five times greater risk of dementia

*  High blood pressure and high cholesterol apparently REDUCES your chances of dementia (although these are still related to a higher incidence of heart disease and strokes).  Researchers are now studying whether it is the blood pressure and cholesterol themselves, or if it is the drugs that are given for these illnesses, that provide the protection.

This report was fascinating ... and they are not finished, yet.  They intend to continue studying this group of people until they have all died.  Who knows what other incredible facts are still to be discovered?

If you want to watch the entire "60 Minutes" episode for yourself, which also includes an update on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, you can find it here:

If want to see an even more in-depth lecture by Dr. Kawas, here is a YouTube video of her giving a guest lecture at the University of California in Davis:

If you are looking for more interesting information to assist you with aging and retirement, use the tabs at the top of this blog.  They contain links to hundreds of articles to help you.

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Photo credit:  Photo of a clubhouse at Laguna Woods Village was taken by author, Deborah-Diane.  All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

New Blog for the Single Retiree

There are so many new adventures in store for people who are retired or planning to retire soon, that it is nearly impossible to cover every possible scenario.  That is one reason why I periodically introduce my readers to new books, articles or blogs that I think you will find helpful.  I have no desire to limit your research to just the articles I have written.  My goal is to expand your horizons and knowledge as much as possible.

In fact, I feel that one of the benefits of reading my blog is that I try to either summarize the information I discover and save you time, or I try to provide you with direct links to sources of information that would be too cumbersome to summarize on this blog.  In this way, I feel that I am providing my readers with comprehensive retirement information from a wide range of sources.  I hope to be the one site you can come to for all types of useful resources to help you get the most out of your senior years.

With that thought in mind, today I want to introduce you to a new blog that was recently started by a friend of mine.  It is:

As you can guess from the title, Elizabeth, the author of the blog, discusses some of the joys and challenges of being a single retiree.  For example, she recently covered the problem of grocery shopping for yourself when you live alone and you have injuries or medical issues that could make it difficult for you to shop for your own groceries.  She explains how online grocery shopping works.

I found this article, and others that she has written, to be interesting and I thought that some of the readers of my blog might also be interested in following Elizabeth.  I hope that you will bookmark both of our blogs on your computer and check back frequently.

After all, it is quite likely that many of us will spend as least part of our retirement as a single person, either because of divorce or the death of a spouse.  Knowing how others have addressed the challenges could make life much easier for us.

I hope you enjoy her blog and consider it an enhancement to what you are learning from mine.  Meanwhile, I will continue to read and research more information that I believe you will find useful.

If you are retired, or planning to retired soon, be sure to use the tabs at the top of this blog to find links to hundreds of additional articles on where to retire in the United States and overseas, financial planning, medical issues, family relationships, travel and more.

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

How is Your Nutritional Health?

When I attended the Senior Summit in Laguna Woods Village a few weeks ago, one of the topics I learned about was the problem of maintaining nutritional health when people age in their own homes.  The problem that many people face when they live alone is that they tend to not eat as well as people do when they have meals in the company of others.  Often, the elderly find themselves snacking on unhealthy foods or they skip meals altogether.

There are other issues that can affect the quality of your diet, as well.  Everyone over the age of 60 should periodically ask themselves the questions listed below.

Questions to Determine Your Nutritional Health

* Do you have a health problem that affects the kind or amount of food you eat?

* Do you eat less than two meals a day?

* Do you avoid eating vegetables, fruit and/or dairy products?

* Do you drink three or more moderate servings of alcoholic beverages a day?

*  Do you have tooth or mouth problems that make it hard for you to eat?

*  Do you lack the money to buy the food you need?

*  Do you eat alone most of the time?

*  Do you take three or more medications a day, whether they are prescribed or over-the-counter?

*  Have you unexpectedly gained or lost 10 or more pounds in the last 6 months?

*  Are you physically unable to shop, cook or feed yourself, even if you only have this problem occasionally?

Be honest with yourself.  If you answered yes to several of these questions, there is a good chance that your nutritional health is at risk.

Solutions for People Who are at Nutritional Risk

Fortunately, there are programs available to help you, if you will reach out for them.

*  Apply for food stamps, if the cost of food is part of your problem.  Many senior citizens who are primarily living on Social Security or a pension will qualify.

*  Go to a food bank for additional assistance.

*  Contact your local senior center; many of them offer low-cost meals in a group setting.  This gives you the opportunity to eat a good, warm meal while socializing with other people.

*  If you cannot get out of your home to go to the senior center, contact Meals-on-Wheels.  They will deliver nutritious meals to your home ... either on a temporary basis after surgery or on a permanent basis, if you need it.

The additional benefit of regularly dining at a senior center or having Meals-on-Wheels delivered to your home is that someone will be expecting to see you every day.  If something happens, you are more likely to receive timely assistance.

Statistics Behind the Nutrition Questions

Here are the statistics that explain why the above questions are so important:

*  Four out of five elderly adults have chronic diseases that affect their diet, including depression and memory loss.

*  Only 13% of adults eat what is considered the minimum amount of fruits and vegetables.

*  One in four older adults drink too much alcohol.

*  Approximately 40% of older citizens have very low incomes. If they are not spending enough money for food, they are probably not getting enough to eat.

*  One in three senior citizens eat alone; this can cause them to eat poorly or skip meals completely.

*  One-half of older Americans take multiple medications, some of which can have side effects like decreased appetite, drowsiness, diarrhea, nausea and other problems that can cause nutritional harm.

*  Unexplained weight gain or loss can be a sign of poor health.

*  One out of five older people have trouble shopping, buying and cooking their own food.

As you can see from the above statistics, nearly everyone will experience at least one or two of these barriers to a healthy diet as they age.  Many people will be affected by several of these issues.

Source for questions and statistics:

For more information on this topic, you may wish to read the full document from the Nutrition Screening Initiative

If you are interested in more information about retirement, use the tabs at the top of this blog.  They contain links to hundreds of articles about topics that include where to retire in the United States and Overseas, financial planning, medical concerns, family issues and more.

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