The following interview with Alzheimer’s researcher, Dr. Jeffrey Cummings, is a continuation of part 1…
Dr. Val: Tell me about the comorbidities associated with Alzheimer’s and how caregivers can prepare for them.
Dr. Cummings: Being a caregiver is a real challenge. It’s so difficult to take care of someone who may be incontinent, agitated, psychotic or depressed. All of these symptoms occur with increasing frequency as the disease progresses, and can challenge even the most devoted caregiver.
There are educational programs that can help to explain to caregivers where these behaviors are coming from, and can teach them how not to exacerbate the symptoms. For example, it’s important to avoid confrontation with the patient. If he or she doesn’t want to take a shower in the morning, then it’s better just to let it go.
Reducing friction between the caregiver and the patient has been shown to delay the time to nursing home placement, so there are behavioral interventions on the part of the caregiver that can be very beneficial.
Dr. Val: What can online companies like Revolution Health do to support patients with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers?
Dr. Cummings: We’ve learned that there are things that people can do to protect themselves against getting Alzheimer’s disease. This includes physical exercise (at least 30 minutes per day 3 times per week), active engagement in leisure time activities, eating a diet high in anti-oxidants (such as salmon, green leafy vegetables, and blueberries), avoiding head trauma (e.g. wear helmets while cycling), controlling high blood pressure, and controlling cholesterol.
It would be great if Revolution Health included all of these healthy lifestyle strategies in a comprehensive Alzheimer’s prevention agenda.
Dr. Val: Is there a role for the “brain games” movement in Alzheimer’s disease?
Dr. Cummings: That’s an interesting question – though I’ve seen very little data supporting brain games in particular. We do know that active intellectual engagement reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, but once one has the disease, it’s less clear whether these kinds of programs can actually reduce progression. At the very least they may reduce agitation by active engagement of the patient, leaving less time for them to be unoccupied. I’d really encourage the people who are developing brain games to test them in well controlled trials. The games could be tested in the same way that drugs are tested.