Is there really a benefit from getting an early dementia diagnosis?

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Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com
Tim Gomersall, University of Huddersfield

The Alzheimer’s Society recently issued a call for people with symptoms such as memory loss and confusion to seek early medical help. The British charity is worried that people may be putting off getting a dementia diagnosis and not receiving the health care and support they need. As the Alzheimer’s Society’s recent blog post put it: “A lack of diagnosis is denying many people with dementia the chance of getting the best possible treatment, information and support – evidence shows the earlier on you receive these, the better your chance of living well for longer.” But is early diagnosis always a good thing?

Early diagnosis has also been a key policy aim for government. We can see this in the National Dementia Strategy, and David Cameron’s Challenge on Dementia. A few years ago, the NHS even trialled a scheme to pay GPs £55 for each dementia diagnosis made. This move was widely condemned by doctors’ groups and quietly dropped after six months. In any event, the push for earlier diagnosis continues. So what exactly are the benefits of earlier diagnosis? And who are the beneficiaries?

What works?

There are no known treatments to prevent or reverse dementia, although drugs called memantine and acetylcholinesterase inhibitors can help to relieve symptoms .

In the course of my recent fieldwork, however, I met some people with memory loss who invested hope in these treatments beyond what was possible. They believed that getting onto anticholinesterase inhibitors as soon as possible could delay further decline.

Drugs can help with symptoms.
Photographee.eu/Shutterstock.com

One of the most difficult experiences in my recent research was meeting a woman who felt she had been denied treatment by the doctors, and asked me and my colleague if we were able to prescribe them for her. We had to explain that we were not clinically qualified, and in any case, the drugs would not prevent the progression of dementia. But false hope can translate into big profits for drugs companies.

The anticholinesterase inhibitor market had an estimated value of US$4.2 billion globally in 2011, with this figure set to increase over coming years as people live longer. One recent market analysis identified early diagnosis as “a challenge [that] will affect the growth of the market over the 2013-2023 forecast period”.

Thankfully, drug treatment is not the only option for people with dementia. Anyone with suspected dementia can access a memory clinic on the NHS to seek practical support for their needs. Memory clinics typically include a range of health professionals – including occupational therapists, psychologists, specialist nurses and psychiatrists. These multidisciplinary teams can help with emotional and occupational support. They can also offer advice on adapting homes – for instance, by providing memory aids, grab rails for bathing and toileting, and extra lighting.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also recommends “group cognitive stimulation programmes”. Cognitive stimulation uses enjoyable activities to engage thinking and memory – for example, musical activities, reminiscence sessions, and games. A recent review suggests this approach could help to maintain cognitive abilities, particularly memory and communication.

However, the current evidence relies on a number of small trials of often quite different activities, going back to 1979. Nevertheless, in the absence of effective drug treatments, cognitive stimulation is important for many people with dementia, and continues to attract research and practice interest.

Finally, we shouldn’t underestimate the psychological importance of receiving a diagnosis. Overall, the evidence shows a mixed picture. On the one hand, people are glad to understand the cause of their symptoms, to be able to plan for the future, and access resources such as dementia support groups. However, people often worry about the stigma of dementia, and some want to avoid the emotional impact of the diagnosis.

Is earlier better?

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been involved in a project looking at people’s experiences of mild cognitive impairment. This syndrome is defined as a “boundary state” between cognitive ageing (a normal process) and dementia.

If the Alzheimer’s Society’s suggestion that dementia is being under-diagnosed holds, then people with mild cognitive impairment are an anomaly. They have sought medical advice for possible dementia symptoms which are not severe enough for a diagnosis. Might it be that more people are already seeking help earlier, as the Alzheimer’s Society hopes? It seems plausible.

After the National Dementia Strategy was launched, there was a 12% increase in dementia diagnosis rates in the UK between 2009 and 2011, and recent studies show a continued upward trend.

So, who benefits from early diagnosis? As suggested above, a number of commercial and charitable organisations stand to gain substantially. There are also some benefits that may accrue to people with dementia from an early diagnosis in terms of symptom control and cognitive stimulation. Though any potential gains are small, these can still be meaningful to the person.

The other side of this, however, is the risk of over-diagnosis and increased public health anxiety associated with such “public awareness” campaigns. For example, our recent review of mild cognitive impairment research suggests people with this diagnosis live with significant uncertainty about the cause of their problems.

These patients often continue to worry about possible dementia, and the infrastructure for supporting them is patchy at best. The ethics of diagnosing people who may have no underlying illness has also been questioned. So yes, we should be helping people with dementia to get the support they need as soon as possible. But this shouldn’t come at the cost of over-diagnosing and over-medicating people.The Conversation

Tim Gomersall, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Huddersfield

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Getting the temperature just right helps people with dementia stay cool

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There are currently no rules to ensure that aged-care facilities provide a comfortable indoor environment.
University of Wollongong, CC BY-SA

Federico Tartarini, University of Wollongong; Paul Cooper, University of Wollongong, and Richard Fleming, University of Wollongong

Everyone knows how bad it feels when the temperature is uncomfortably hot or cold. For most of us it doesn’t last long as we can take simple steps to get comfortable, such as putting on clothes, opening a window, or switching on a heater.

But what happens when you can’t control the temperature where you live? This problem is faced by many residents of aged care facilities, and can be particularly difficult for those living with dementia. To find out how these residents cope we recently carried out a three-year research project on the effects of indoor environment in aged care facilities in south-eastern NSW. This was part of a broader program of University of Wollongong research on the impact of indoor environment on elderly people.




Read more:
Australia’s aged care residents are very sick, yet the government doesn’t prioritise medical care


Dementia and agitation

Dementia is a collection of symptoms that affect people’s behaviour, thinking, and their ability to communicate and perform everyday tasks. Sometimes people with dementia can become agitated or distressed, which can be disturbing for other people around them. This often happens for no clear reason.

This is a big issue for the aged care sector since approximately half of all residents in aged care facilities have dementia.

While current rules governing the accreditation of aged care facilities in Australia do make reference to the need to provide ‘comfortable internal temperatures and ventilation’ there is no specific reference to what temperature ranges are considered comfortable. We set out to find whether this should be remedied and whether there is a relationship between agitation among residents living with dementia and the indoor temperatures to which they are exposed.

Dr Federico Tartarini (right) led the study that found that indoor temperatures in aged care centres have a dramatic impact on the wellbeing of residents, particularly those living with dementia. Photo: University of Wollongong.
Author supplied, CC BY

Tracking the temperature

Firstly we set up a network of sensors in six aged care facilities to monitor indoor environmental conditions, such as air temperature, humidity, air velocity and noise.

In collaboration with the care staff of one particular facility we then assessed the frequency and intensity of a range of agitated behaviours exhibited by residents living with dementia over the course of a year.

The most important finding of this study was that the frequency and intensity of agitated behaviours of residents with dementia significantly increased when they were exposed to uncomfortable air temperatures.

A statistically significant correlation was found between rates of agitation of residents and their cumulative exposure to temperatures outside their comfort zone of between 20°C and 26°C.

More generally, the data collected from the hundreds of temperature sensors across all our case study facilities over a one-year period showed that some facilities were often uncomfortably hot or cold (below 19°C in winter and over 30°C in summer) for significant periods.

Poorly designed buildings

This was attributable to many different factors including poor thermal design of the buildings and poor control of the heating and cooling systems. Interestingly, our analysis showed staff were significantly less tolerant of variations in indoor temperature than residents, probably because they were generally more active than the residents (i.e. moving around and working), and therefore had higher metabolic rates. They may have also had higher thermal comfort expectations than the residents.

Regulations can help

The evidence appears to suggest that maintaining a comfortable temperature
will reduce the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.

There is a clear need for new regulations that ensure aged care facilities provide comfortable indoor environmental conditions, particularly for elderly residents, but also for the staff working in these facilities.

The aged care sector needs good indoor environmental rating tools, built on recent research evidence, to guide the design of their facilities and to audit their operations.

This type of approach has already been successfully applied in the commercial building sector, where mandatory disclosure of the real energy consumption of larger offices, for example, is required of owners wishing to sell or lease their property.




Read more:
Why is it so cold in here? Setting the office thermostat right – for both sexes


The ConversationPublicly available ratings of the actual indoor environment provided to aged care residents and staff would alert architects, managers and staff to the importance of thermal comfort and help elderly people, and their families, make a more informed choice as to the best facility in which to live.

Federico Tartarini, Associate research fellow, University of Wollongong; Paul Cooper, Senior Professor and Director of the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC), University of Wollongong, and Richard Fleming, Professorial Fellow and Executive Director, Dementia Training Australia, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Dementia coaching program offers chance to live well

News Release
August 8, 2018 | Australia, Dementia coaching program offers chance to live well

Support available for Sydney residents diagnosed with dementia
A new University of Sydney trial offers coaching and peer support to help people newly diagnosed with dementia cope with their prognosis and stay active and involved in their lives and community.

“I want to try and help people see they can fight back…you can’t just give into it.”

Bobby Redman, Peer supporter living with dementia

Lead researcher Associate Professor Lee-Fay Low said the pilot study has the potential to fill a vital service gap with the latest research suggesting keeping the mind and body active could slow the progression of dementia.

“Following a dementia diagnosis many people withdraw from their friends and family for fear they will deteriorate quickly and can suffer immense grief or depression,” said Low, Associate Professor in Ageing and Health at the University of Sydney.

“There are over 400 000 Australians currently living with dementia and with a cure still some way off it’s essential that we help people with early dementia to live well.

“We hope that giving people the right support, tools and strategies from the onset could help achieve this.”

The Dementia Lifestyle Coach pilot study is a collaboration between the University’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Brain and Mind Centre.

Participants will receive 14 counselling and coaching sessions from a registered psychologist over a six-month period and will also have a regular phone or skype catch ups with a peer supporter who lives with dementia.


Retired psychologist Bobby Redman is one of the peer supporters involved in the study.

Photo of peer supporter Bobby Redman

Bobby was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia two and half years ago at age 66 after she noticed problems remembering the names of close friends and an inability to find the right words to express herself.

“My story is a bit different because with my psychology background I knew something was definitely wrong – but a dementia diagnosis is still a shock for anyone,” said Bobby.

“And what’s probably hardest is that, like in my experience, many people with early dementia are just told to come back when things get worse or to get their things in order.

“But I’ve learnt that there are tools and strategies you can put in place to help manage the impact of dementia. Even simple things like using my phone to set daily reminders to drink water and stay hydrated.

“What I’d like to see is more clinicians trained to provide these strategies to people to help them overcome simple issues.

“I want to try and help people see they can fight back. I think that’s the key….you can’t just give into it.”

The pilot study will run over a 12-month period, with researchers aiming to assess the impact the coaching program has on participants’ mood, independence, activity levels and quality of life.

Participant information

The University of Sydney is trialling a counselling and coaching program for people living at home recently diagnosed with early dementia. To be eligible you must have received a diagnosis of early dementia within the past 6 months. Read more information about the Dementia lifestyle coaching study or contact Dr Annica Barcenilla on +61 2 9351 9837 or annica.barcenilla@sydney.edu.au

 

Just ten minutes of social interaction a day improves wellbeing in dementia care

News Release
July 2018 | United Kingdom – Just ten minutes of social interaction a day improves wellbeing in dementia care

An e-learning programme that trains care home staff to engage in meaningful social interaction with people who have dementia improves wellbeing and has sustained benefits.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The average person with dementia in a care home experiences just two minutes of social interaction each day, researchers found. They also showed that out of 170 available training programmes for nursing home staff, only three are evidence-based – none of which improve quality of life.

The Wellbeing and Health for people with Dementia (WHELD) programme trained care home staff to increase social interaction from two minutes a day to ten, combined with a programme of personalised care. It involves simple measures such as talking to residents about their interests and involving them in decisions around their care.

The Improving Staff Attitudes and Care for People with Dementia e-Learning (tEACH) study, conducted by the University of Exeter Medical School and King’s College London in partnership with the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2018. The study involved 280 residents and care staff in 24 care homes over nine months.

Carers took part in an e-learning programme based on the WHELD training, with or without Skype supervision. They compared outcomes to usual care. Both treatment arms improved resident wellbeing and staff attitudes to person-centred care. The Skype supported arm continued to deliver improved resident wellbeing four months after the trial was completed.

Joanne McDermid, of King’s College London, who presented the research, said: “Care home staff are under a lot of pressure – it’s a really tough job. It’s a challenging environment for both residents living with dementia and staff. Our programme moved care staff to see dementia through the eyes of those who are living it. We found a simple approach, delivered as e-learning, improves staff attitudes to care and residents’ wellbeing, ultimately improving lives for people with dementia.

“In a traditionally task -focussed work environment, our programme reminds us of the human side; of the full life experience of those living with dementia in care.”

Professor Clive Ballard, of the University of Exeter Medical School, who led the research, said: “Just take a moment to imagine life with just two minutes of social interaction each day. To accept this is discrimination against people with dementia. We urgently need to do better. Most care home training programmes are not evidence-based. We know our programme works over the long term, and we now know it can be delivered remotely. We now need to roll this out to care homes.”

Watch carers talk about their experience of the WHELD training. To find out more about our world-leading dementia research, follow #ExeterDementia and @Clive_Ballard on Twitter, or visit the Exeter Dementia website.

The onset of Alzheimer’s disease: the importance of family history

News Release
February 26, 2018 | QUEBEC – The onset of Alzheimer’s disease: the importance of family history

You’re about to turn 60, and you’re fretting. Your mother has had Alzheimer’s disease since the age of 65. At what age will the disease strike you? A Canadian study published in JAMA Neurology shows that the closer a person gets to the age at which their parent exhibited the first signs of Alzheimer’s, the more likely they are to have amyloid plaques, the cause of the cognitive decline associated with the disease, in their brain.

In this study involving a cohort of 101 individuals, researcher Sylvia Villeneuve (Douglas Mental Health University Institute; CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal) shows that the difference between a person’s age and the age of their parent at the onset of the disease is a more important risk factor than their actual age.

A 60-year-old whose mother developed Alzheimer’s at age 63 would be more likely to have amyloid plaques in their brain than a 70-year-old whose mother developed the disease at age 85,” explains Villeneuve, an assistant professor at McGill University and a core faculty member at The Neuro’s McConnell Brain Imaging Centre.

Her team of scientists also found that the genetic impact of Alzheimer’s disease is much greater than previously thought.

“Upon examining changes in the amyloid biomarker in the cerebrospinal fluid samples from our subjects, we noticed that this link between parental age and amyloid deposits is stronger in women than in men. The link is also stronger in carriers of the ApoE4 gene, the so-called ‘Alzheimer’s gene’,” says Villeneuve.

Towards earlier detection of the disease

The researcher and her team successfully duplicated their results in two independent groups, one, consisting of 128 individuals from a University of Washington-St. Louis cohort, the other consisting of 135 individuals from a University of Wisconsin-Madison cohort. They also reproduced their results using an imaging technique that enables one to see amyloid plaques directly in the brains of living persons.

Their study is paving the way for the development of inexpensive methods for the early identification of people at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, 564,000 Canadians currently have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. The figure will be 937,000 within 15 years. Presently, there is no truly effective treatment for this disease.

This research was funded by grants from a Canadian research chair, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Canadian Brain Research Fund, the Alzheimer Society of Canada, and the Fonds de recherche du Québec — Santé.

The article entitled “Proximity to parental symptom onset and amyloid burden in sporadic Alzheimer’s disease” was published in JAMA Neurology on February 26, 2018. DOI:10.1001/jamaneurol.2017.5135

Source: http://www.douglas.qc.ca/?locale=en

“Pop Drop” Study finds more ER visits & higher costs for older disabled patients with stressed caregivers

News release

“Pop Drop” Study finds more ER visits & higher costs for older disabled patients with stressed caregivers

Fatigue, sadness and poor health among the spouses who take care of disabled elders can mean higher Medicare bills for the patients.

Emergency room staff call it a “pop drop” – when a disabled older person comes in for medical attention, but it seems like the person who takes care of them at home is also seeking a break from the demands of caregiving.

It’s been hard to actually study the phenomenon. A new University of Michigan study suggests that tired family caregivers are associated with greater ER visits and higher overall health care costs for the person they care for.

In a paper in the new issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the team reports their findings from a study of 3,101 couples over the age of 65, each with one spouse acting as caregiver for their disabled partner.

The researchers looked at the Medicare payments and emergency department visits for the disabled spouses in the six months after the caregiver spouses took standard tests to measure their fatigue, mood, sleep habits, health and happiness.

Even after they took into account many factors, the researchers found that in just those six months, emergency department visits were 23 percent higher among patients whose caregivers had scored high for fatigue or low on their own health status.

Patients with fatigued or sad caregivers also had higher Medicare costs in that same time period: $1,900 more if the caregiver scored high for fatigue, and $1,300 more if the caregiver scored high for sadness, even after all other factors were taken into account.

The cost of unpaid help

“Many of us who work in clinical settings feel that patients with high home caregiving needs, such as dementia, often rely on the medical system as a source of respite for their spouses or other caregivers, because other respite isn’t paid for,” says lead author Claire Ankuda, M.D., M.P.H. “But there hasn’t been a lot of data about it, and only recently has our society been talking about caregivers and potential ways to incentivize and support them as a way of keeping patients living at home.”

“Informal caregivers, including spouses, enable older adults with functional disability to stay out of the nursing home and live at home where they’d prefer to be,” says senior author Deborah Levine, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of internal medicine and neurology at U-M. “Our findings suggest that we need to do a better job of identifying and supporting caregivers experiencing distress, in order to help caregivers feel better and hopefully improve outcomes in older adults with disability.”

Long-term data gives key insights

The couples in the study were all taking part in the long-term Health and Retirement Study, conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research on behalf of the National Institutes of Health. Ankuda, Levine and their colleagues probed HRS data because it allowed them to correct for factors that other, short-term studies can’t – such as the baseline level of Medicare costs, demographic differences including income and education, and even whether the couples have adult children living nearby.

The findings add hard new data about the link between caregivers’ own experiences and the amount the Medicare system pays to take care of those the caregivers take care of at home.

Nearly 15 million older adults get help with everyday activities from spouses and other family or friend caregivers. In the new study, the researchers included couples where one spouse got help from the other with activities such as bathing, dressing, walking, getting into or out of bed, shopping, cooking, and taking medications.

Helping with these tasks on a daily basis, without pay or respite, can take a toll on the caregiver’s own health, wellness and mental state – which can lead to burnout. Medicare does not offer payment or formal respite coverage for family or friends who take regular care of older adults – and only covers home care by certified agencies under certain circumstances.

More research & services needed

Ankuda notes that studies on the impact of supporting family caregivers more formally are just beginning to produce results.

Meanwhile, health policy researchers are beginning to suggest that it may make fiscal sense to incentivize home caregiving, to keep seniors from needing more expensive nursing home care.

“I definitely think there are specific services that could help caregivers, if we can identify those people who are highest risk and provide a basic level of support such as an around-the-clock geriatric care call line that could help caregivers feel less isolated and talk to a nurse about whether, for example, to go to the emergency department,” Ankuda says. “This is a high-cost, vulnerable population.”

Formal respite care, peer support groups and other options could also help stave off fatigue and sadness – and the hospital staff who notice “pop drop” practices could help steer caregivers to such options. So could the primary care clinicians who take care of both the disabled spouse and the caregiver.

Because the new study takes into account the level of Medicare spending for the disabled spouse in the six months before their caregiver was interviewed, it may actually underestimate the impact of caregiver fatigue, she notes.

Indeed, before the authors corrected for the full range of factors, they documented that Medicare costs were lower for patients whose spouse-caregivers who reported being happy or rested. They also saw higher costs among patients whose caregivers had higher depression scores on a standard mood questionnaire.

One factor that wasn’t associated with higher costs in the new study was the caregiver’s score on a standard measure of sleep habits. Sleep disruption is harder to quantify in older people, Ankuda notes. But the measurement of fatigue, which can result from both the strain of caregiving and poor sleep, was clearly associated with both higher rates of emergency department visits and higher overall costs.

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Claire
Ankuda

M.D., M.P.H.

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Levine

M.D., M.P.H.

Older Adults Are Still Likely Underestimating Cognitive Impairment in Their Families

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News release

 Study Finds Racial Differences in Reporting and Overall Trend of Underreporting Cognitive Impairment

An increasing number of older adults are reporting cognitive impairment in their families over the past two decades, according to a new study led by researchers at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing and East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine.

The study, which also finds ethnic and racial differences in reporting cognitive impairment, is published in Preventing Chronic Disease, a journal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The aging population in the U.S. is growing rapidly, with the number of people age 65 and over in 2010 (40.2 million) projected to more than double by 2050. With the rapid increase in the aging population, the size of the population with cognitive impairment and dementia will continue to accelerate, highlighting the importance of identifying cognitive changes.

“Cognitive impairment may serve as a precursor to future dementia. Early detection of cognitive impairment can facilitate timely medical treatments, appropriate care planning, and prevention efforts,” said Bei Wu, PhD, Dean’s Professor in Global Health and director of Global Health & Aging Research at NYU Meyers, co-director of NYU Aging Incubator, and the study’s senior author.

The study sought to examine the trends of self-reported cognitive impairment among five major racial/ethnic groups from 1997 to 2015 in the United States. The researchers used data from the National Health Interview Survey, including 155,682 individuals age 60 and above in their sample. The large sample included people of a variety of races and ethnicities, including Asian Americans,  Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, non-Hispanic Blacks, and non-Hispanic Whites.

Rather than using a screening test or clinical examination to evaluate cognitive impairment, respondents were asked to report if any family member was “limited in anyway because of difficulty remembering or because of experiencing periods of confusion.”

The researchers found an increasing trend in self-reported cognitive impairment: the overall rate increased from 5.7 percent in 1997 to 6.7 percent in 2015 among older adults in the U.S. This finding may suggest that awareness of cognitive impairment, perhaps from heightened public attention to and interest in Alzheimer’s disease, has improved to some extent.

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When looking at each racial/ethnic group, however, the increasing trend was significant only among White respondents. In Whites, the rate of self-reported cognitive impairment increased from 5.2 percent in 1997 to 6.1 percent in 2015. Asian American, Black, Hispanic, and Native American respondents had higher rates of self-reported cognitive impairment than Whites, but these rates did not significantly increase from 1997 to 2015.

Regardless of the overall increasing trend, the rates of self-reported cognitive impairment were still low, which may suggest underreporting. The researchers note that the rates of self-reported cognitive impairment are much lower than the estimated prevalence of cognitive impairment. For adults 65 years and older, the rate of self-reported cognitive impairment was 6.3 percent in 2000 and 7.5 percent in 2012, while the estimated prevalence of cognitive impairment in the same age group was 21.2 percent in 2000 and 18.8 percent in 2012.

These findings underscore the need to further promote awareness of cognitive impairment, especially in minority populations. Different cultures hold different beliefs and perceptions of disease and aging. For instance, research has found that compared to Whites, minorities are less likely to seek treatment for psychiatric symptoms because of lack of access to care or due to stigma.

“Culturally specific health education is needed in individuals, family members, and healthcare providers to improve awareness and knowledge of signs and early symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other dementia,” said Huabin Luo, PhD, of East Carolina University.

In addition to Wu and Luo, Gary Yu of NYU Meyers coauthored the study.