Student nurses offer prevention help for Alzheimer's memory loss

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Fri., Dec. 2, 2011
UConn nursing student Kelsie Lappen presents tips on how to slow the effects of memory loss at the Riverfront Community Center on Dec. 1. Photos by Steve Smith.
UConn nursing student Kelsie Lappen presents tips on how to slow the effects of memory loss at the Riverfront Community Center on Dec. 1. Photos by Steve Smith.

Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as no singular, definitive diagnosis, it can be beneficial to know the prevention measures and warning signs, as well as ways to keep minds sharp, as one progresses in age.

At a presentation at the Riverfront Community Center on Dec. 1, University of Connecticut student nurse Kelsie Lappen explained that Alzheimer’s affects one in 10 people over the age of 55, and about 50 percent of people 80 or above. The common disease afflicts 26 million people world-wide.

Among the signs that Alzheimer’s may be taking hold, Lappen said, are when people begin to avoid social situations or accuse others of stealing things (because they can’t remember where they put them). People most at risk are those over the age of 65, those with a family history of Alzheimer’s, high blood pressure or cholesterol, or a history of stroke, diabetes or coronary artery disease.

“Women are actually more at risk,” Lappen said. “They don’t know exactly why, but it has to do with estrogen.”

Head injuries and genetics are also factors, as is a limited formal education. “That’s because you’re not working your brain properly,” Lappen said, Symptoms appear over time, Lappen said, adding that while doctors can run a series of tests, Alzheimer’s can’t be detected, since its symptoms are also common to several other conditions.

There is a vaccine, currently in the testing phase, that shows potential and that may eventually become available, but possibly not for another 10 to 20 years. There are, however, methods of slowing memory loss. Lappen said regular exercise – 30 minutes of aerobic activity, five times a week – is a key method of prevention.

“It also builds muscle and helps pump up the brain,” Lappen said. “Balancing exercises, like yoga and Tai Chi, help prevent head injury.”

Managing stress is also recommended, through meditation or other relaxation techniques. Another prevention step is maintaining relationships with family and friends. “Basically, an active social life,” Lappen said. “The more you interact, the better you do on memory tests. Talk with your neighbors or go to social activities, like those at the senior center.”

“Another thing is mental stimulation,” Lappen said. “Learn a new language, do puzzles and games.” However, mixing it up is also important.

“It’s great to do crossword puzzles,” said Megan Jagrossi, Lappen’s fellow student presenter. “But, if you always do crossword puzzles, after a while, your brain will build up a tolerance to it. So you’re better to do [things like] word searches to vary the activities.”

“Learn to play piano, or do a word search or anagrams to use your mind in different ways and building new connections,” suggested Lappen. Shee also recommends getting proper rest, including sleeping at least eight hours per night. “Try not to nap too much, because that can mess up your sleeping schedule at night,” she said.

As with many conditions, a healthy diet, low in fat and including fruits and vegetables, is also important for Alzheimer’s prevention. Senior Center Director Maryleah Skoronski said the center will be hosting an eight-part, mind-sharpener program, beginning in February.

“It will address a lot of things mentioned in Lappen’s presentation,” Skoronski said. For more information, Lappen recommends contacting the Alzheimer’s Association in Rocky Hill, which can be reached at 800-272-3900, or through their website, www.alzct.org, where resources for caregivers are also available.


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