Moderate alcohol consumption helps people live longer without cognitive impairments.
This is according to a University of California San Diego School of Medicine-led study in findings published in the August issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Previous studies have found a correlation between moderate alcohol intake and longevity. “This study is unique because we considered men and women’s cognitive health at late age and found that alcohol consumption is not only associated with reduced mortality, but with greater chances of remaining cognitively healthy into older age,” said senior author Linda McEvoy, an associate professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine.
In particular, the researchers found that among men and women 85 and older, individuals who consumed “moderate to heavy” amounts of alcohol five to seven days a week were twice as likely to be cognitively healthy than non-drinkers. Cognitive health was assessed every four years over the course of the 29-year study, using a standard dementia screening test known as the Mini Mental State Examination.
Living with Early Onset Dementia – Lessons from My Friend
I had the pleasure of serving on the board of the Dementia Action Alliance with Robert Bowles. Robert is a retired pharmacist. After being diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia in 2012, he founded United Against Dementia where he has been an active advocate, educator and supporter. As part of our Caregiver Smile Summit, I interviewed Robert about his time pre-and post diagnosis. I learned a lot.
Lewy Body is often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Disease. Whereas Alzheimer’s (the most prevalent dementia) is often accompanied by a slow and steady decline, Robert says that Lewy Body is like a roller coaster. You bounce all over the place. For example, during one day alone, Robert experienced several different brain stages. He woke up where he could barely move due to Parkinson’s (a byproduct of his disease). Then he started laughing for no particular reason. He went into his office to work and because of the over-stimulation, his brain slowed down over time. He calls it “tired brain syndrome.” By the time the day was over, his brain was fried (his term) and he had to stop.
His diagnosis is etched in his brain – June 26, 2012. At the time, he had seen 8 physicians in 18 months. Because the diagnosis had been so long in coming and because he had an idea of what it might be, he tried to rationalize to his wife that it is what it is and we will get through it. He realizes now that that was naïve thinking and somewhat based on his faith. The first year was very tough. He felt like a convicted murderer. The physician entered the charges. The jury found him guilty. And the judge entered the death sentence without appeal.
Turning a Diagnosis into An Advocacy
One of the most depressing days of his life was when Robert had to close his pharmacy, 18 months prior to diagnosis. Yet, in looking back, he realized how he had educated, given hope, provided support and cared deeply about his patients. And that’s when he realized he could do the same thing for others diagnosed with dementia and their caregivers.
Robert’s advocacy work takes him to federal and state level, both private and corporate, in for-profit and non-profit arenas. He serves on several boards as an advisor and council. As Executive Advisor at Dementia Spotlight Foundation, he is able to identify the needs of a person living with dementia. H became a certified Rosalynn Carter Institute Trainer. He most recently became the first person living with dementia to complete the coursework required to become a Certified Eden at Home Associate via The Eden Alternative. And he is active with Dementia Mentors, serving as a mentor to persons diagnosed with dementia and serves on the Georgia Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias (GARD) State Plan Group.
In the genesis of his advocacy, Robert had a light bulb go off. He knew he could help others. Here is one example. He put a new spin on a phrase we use every day.
A – accept your diagnosis unconditionally. When he decided to accept it in his heart, that was a turning point for him.
S – be social. Robert had been outgoing by nature and a result of his profession. And he knew he would “drown” if he stayed in bed all day. He knew he had to get out and interact with people. It was essential and part of his lifeblood.
A – attitude is everything. This is a classic example of a blessed human being. When Robert is having a bad day, he thinks of others, like wounded veterans and their families, who are having worse. He uses that to help himself maintain a positive attitude.
P – purpose. Something I talk about all the time, Robert too believes that it is a driving force behind his life.
These four things brought him out of the doldrums and opened new doors for him and those he impacts.
Care Partners Must Take Care of Themselves
Robert believes that care partners must accept the diagnosis just as the person with it did. It is essential to be able to move on.
He believes strongly that care partners must take care of themselves. Get out of the house. See friends. Exercise. We know well the statistics of care partners pre-deceasing those for whom they are caring.
Having other family members and friends to reach out to is encouraged. But Robert believes that care partners first have to ASK for help. They tend to want to do everything themselves. They can’t. When Robert’s wife reached out, a whole support network enveloped her. Robert has a dozen people he can call on to drive him places, his own personal Uber service!
While there is no cure for dementia, there is a way to live a quality life, focusing on what is left and not what is lost. Robert is a true inspiration for others diagnosed with early onset dementia.
Editor’s Note: Read Robert’s impressive bio here.
Prone to Falls? Watch Your Environment
Seniors prone to falling might do so because they fail to adjust their walking speed to their vision impairments.
Irish investigators from Trinity College in Dublin divided 17 participants into three groups and made them complete a walking course, once while wearing goggles that blurred their vision and once without the goggles.
The first group comprised five older adults who had fallen at least once in the last year; the second group had six seniors who had not fallen; and the third group had six younger adults who had not experienced falls.
Boosting Your Interpersonal Skills as You Age
Having solid interpersonal skills is vital throughout life, even as you age. As we grow older we are faced with an increasing number of obstacles that hinder effective communication. Communication disorders can affect people of all ages but are, sadly, more prevalent among seniors and may be categorized by a stable, recovering or degenerative course. Communication changes are frequently reported by older people. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) reports on a survey of 12,000 participants over the age of 65, where more than 42% reported hearing problems, 26% experienced difficulty writing and 7% struggled to use a phone.
Well-developed interpersonal communication skills can counter communication disorders significantly, highlighting the importance of acquiring and maintaining such skills throughout one’s life. Apart from focusing on strengthening interpersonal skills for the benefit of others it is imperative to also make the effort to invest in your own personal well-being. Finding a balance between the two will provide you with all the skills required to effectively communicate well into your golden years.
Improving non-verbal communication
Non-verbal communication, such as facial expression, use of touch and the itch and tone of your voice are just as important as the actual words you speak. With these visual cues people are more likely to interpret the context of what is being said than if there were no visual cues present at all. A good example of this is to simply smile when you are talking about something that makes you happy.
Non-verbal communication accounts for up to 60% of meaning in terms of interpersonal communication. To be successful at communicating non-verbally you have to express your emotions in a way that is received and properly understood by others. Non-verbal cues becoming increasingly important as we age due to how our voices may not project in the same manner as they did when we were younger.
Regulate your emotional cues
This is a very important aspect of successful interpersonal communication among seniors as they often tend to feel overwhelmed by a myriad of emotions. When this does happen, take a deep breath and wait for a feeling of calm to envelope you. Be aware of any negative signals you might be exuding and try and relax them. Unclench your fists, don’t grit your teeth and relax any other tensing muscles as well.
When developing your interpersonal communication skills it is important to remember that everyone is different. Not everyone is great at communicating with others and it is important to adapt your own communication methods to make others feel at ease. It is, however, never too late to improve your interpersonal skills and ensure countless stimulating conversations with friends and loved ones.
(This blog was contributed by Jess Walter, Freelance Writer)