10 Things You Should Know about Lewy Body Dementias

(Lewy Body Dementia Association) Lewy body dementias (LBD) affect an estimated 1.3 million individuals and their families in the United States. At the Lewy Body Dementia Association (LBDA), we understand that though many families are affected by this disease, few individuals and medical professionals are aware of the symptoms, diagnostic criteria, or even that LBD exists. There are important facts about Lewy body dementias that you should know if you, a loved one, or a patient you are treating may have LBD.

  1. Lewy body dementias (LBD) are the second most common form of degenerative dementia; LBD is widely under-diagnosed: The only other form of degenerative dementia that is more common than LBD is Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Many individuals who have LBD are misdiagnosed, most commonly with Alzheimer’s disease if they present with a memory disorder or Parkinson’s disease if they present with movement problems.
  2. LBD can have three common presentations:  Some individuals will start out with a movement disorder leading to the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and later develop dementia.  Another group of individuals will start out with a memory disorder that may look like AD, but over time two or more distinctive features become apparent leading to the diagnosis of ‘dementia with Lewy bodies’ (DLB).  Lastly, a small group will first present with neuropsychiatric symptoms, which can include hallucinations, behavioral problems, and difficulty with complex mental activities, leading to an initial diagnosis of DLB. Regardless of the initial symptom, over time all three presentations of LBD will develop very similar cognitive, physical, sleep and behavioral features, all caused by the presence of Lewy bodies throughout the brain.
  3. The most common symptoms of LBD include:Dementia: problems with memory and thinkingHallucinations: seeing or hearing things that are not really presentCognitive fluctuations: unpredictable changes in concentration and attention

    Parkinson-like symptoms: rigidity or stiffness, shuffling gait, tremor, slowness of movement (bradykinesia)

    Severe sensitivity to neuroleptics (medications used to treat hallucinations)

    REM Sleep Behavior Disorder: a sleep disorder where people seemingly act out their dreams

  4. The symptoms of LBD are treatable: Currently there are no medications approved specifically for the treatment of LBD. All medications prescribed for LBD are approved for a course of treatment for symptoms related to other diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease with dementia and offer symptomatic benefits for cognitive, movement and behavioral problems.
  5. Early and accurate diagnosis of LBD is essential: Early and accurate diagnosis is important because LBD patients may react to certain medications differently than AD or PD patients. A variety of drugs, including anticholinergics and some antiparkinsonian medications, can worsen LBD symptoms.
  6. Traditional antipsychotic medications may be contraindicated for individuals living with LBD: Many traditional antipsychotic medications (for example, Haldol, Mellaril) are commonly prescribed for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia to control behavioral symptoms. However, LBD affects an individual’s brain differently than other dementias. As a result, these medications can cause a severe worsening of movement and a potentially fatal condition known as neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS). NMS causes severe fever, muscle rigidity and breakdown that can lead to kidney failure.
  7. Early recognition, diagnosis and treatment of LBD can improve the patients’ quality of life: LBD may affect an individual’s cognitive abilities, motor functions, and/or ability to complete activities of daily living. Treatment should always be monitored by your physician(s) and may include: prescriptive and other therapies, exercise, diet, sleep habits, changes in behavior and daily routines.
  8. Individuals and families living with LBD should not have to face this disease alone: LBD affects every aspect of a person – their mood, the way they think, and the way they move. LBD patients and families will need considerable resources and assistance from healthcare professionals and agencies. The combination of cognitive, motor and behavioral symptoms creates a highly challenging set of demands for continuing care. LBDA was formed to help families address many of these challenges.
  9. Physician education is urgently needed: An increasing number of general practitioners, neurologists, and other medical professionals are beginning to learn to recognize and differentiate the symptoms of LBD from other diseases. However, more education on the diagnosis and treatment of LBD is essential.
  10. More research is urgently needed! Research needs include tools for early diagnosis, such as screening questionnaires, biomarkers, neuroimaging techniques, and more effective therapies. With further research, LBD may ultimately be treated and prevented through early detection and neuroprotective interventions. Currently, there is no specific test to diagnose LBD.
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Electric Current to Brain Boosts Memory Discovery May Help Treat Memory Disorders Resulting from Stroke, Alzheimer’s, Brain Injury

(Northwestern University) Stimulating a particular region in the brain via non-invasive delivery of electrical current using magnetic pulses, called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, improves memory, reports a new Northwestern Medicine® study.

The discovery opens a new field of possibilities for treating memory impairments caused by conditions such as stroke, early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, cardiac arrest and the memory problems that occur in healthy aging.

“We show for the first time that you can specifically change memory functions of the brain in adults without surgery or drugs, which have not proven effective,” said senior author Joel Voss, assistant professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“This noninvasive stimulation improves the ability to learn new things. It has tremendous potential for treating memory disorders.”

The study was published August 29 in Science.

The study also is the first to demonstrate that remembering events requires a collection of many brain regions to work in concert with a key memory structure called the hippocampus – similar to a symphony orchestra. The electrical stimulation is like giving the brain regions a more talented conductor so they play in closer synchrony.

“It’s like we replaced their normal conductor with Muti,” Voss said, referring to Riccardo Muti, the music director of the renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra. “The brain regions played together better after the stimulation.”

The approach also has potential for treating mental disorders such as schizophrenia in which these brain regions and the hippocampus are out of sync with each other, affecting memory and cognition.

TMS Boosts Memory

The Northwestern study is the first to show TMS improves memory long after treatment. In the past, TMS has been used in a limited way to temporarily change brain function to improve performance during a test, for example, making someone push a button slightly faster while the brain is being stimulated. The study shows that TMS can be used to improve memory for events at least 24 hours after the stimulation is given.

Finding the Sweet Spot

It isn’t possible to directly stimulate the hippocampus with TMS because it’s too deep in the brain for the magnetic fields to penetrate. So, using an MRI scan, Voss and colleagues identified a superficial brain region a mere centimeter from the surface of the skull with high connectivity to the hippocampus. He wanted to see if directing the stimulation to this spot would in turn stimulate the hippocampus. It did.

“I was astonished to see that it worked so specifically,” Voss said.

When TMS was used to stimulate this spot, regions in the brain involved with the hippocampus became more synchronized with each other, as indicated by data taken while subjects were inside an MRI machine, which records the blood flow in the brain as an indirect measure of neuronal activity.

The more those regions worked together due to the stimulation, the better people were able to learn new information.

How the Study Worked

Scientists recruited 16 healthy adults ages 21 to 40. Each had a detailed anatomical image taken of his or her brain as well as 10 minutes of recording brain activity while lying quietly inside an MRI scanner. Doing this allowed the researchers to identify each person’s network of brain structures that are involved in memory and well connected to the hippocampus. The structures are slightly different in each person and may vary in location by as much as a few centimeters.

“To properly target the stimulation, we had to identify the structures in each person’s brain space because everyone’s brain is different,” Voss said.

Each participant then underwent a memory test, consisting of a set of arbitrary associations between faces and words that they were asked to learn and remember. After establishing their baseline ability to perform on this memory task, participants received brain stimulation 20 minutes a day for five consecutive days.

During the week they also received additional MRI scans and tests of their ability to remember new sets of arbitrary word and face parings to see how their memory changed as a result of the stimulation. Then, at least 24 hours after the final stimulation, they were tested again.

At least one week later, the same experiment was repeated but with a fake placebo stimulation. The order of real stimulation and placebo portions of the study was reversed for half of the participants, and they weren’t told which was which.

Both groups performed better on memory tests as a result of the brain stimulation. It took three days of stimulation before they improved.

“They remembered more face-word pairings after the stimulation than before, which means their learning ability improved,” Voss said. “That didn’t happen for the placebo condition or in another control experiment with additional subjects.”

In addition, the MRI showed the stimulation caused the brain regions to become more synchronized with each other and the hippocampus. The greater the improvement in the synchronicity or connectivity between specific parts of the network, the better the performance on the memory test.

“The more certain brain regions worked together because of the stimulation, the more people were able to learn face-word pairings, “ Voss said.

Using TMS to stimulate memory has multiple advantages, noted first author Jane Wang, a postdoctoral fellow in Voss’s lab at Feinberg. “No medication could be as specific as TMS for these memory networks,” Wang said. “There are a lot of different targets and it’s not easy to come up with any one receptor that’s involved in memory.”

The Future

“This opens up a whole new area for treatment studies where we will try to see if we can improve function in people who really need it,“ Voss said.

His current study was with people who had normal memory, in whom he wouldn’t expect to see a big improvement because their brains are already working effectively.

“But for a person with brain damage or a memory disorder, those networks are disrupted so even a small change could translate into gains in their function,” Voss said.

In an upcoming trial, Voss will study the electrical stimulation’s effect on people with early-stage memory loss.

Voss cautioned that years of research are needed to determine whether this approach is safe or effective for patients with Alzheimer’s disease or similar disorders of memory.

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Increased Risk of Stroke in People with Cognitive Impairment

(Medical University of South Carolina Department of Neurology) People with cognitive impairment are significantly more likely to have a stroke than people with normal cognitive function, according to a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

“Given the projected substantial rise in the number of older people around the world, prevalence rates of cognitive impairment and stroke are expected to soar over the next several decades, especially in high-income countries,” said study author Bruce Ovbiagele, M.D., Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Department of Neurology chairman.

Cognitive impairment and stroke are major contributors to disability and stroke is the second leading cause of death worldwide. Although stroke is linked to the development and worsening of cognitive impairment, it is not known whether the reverse is true. Previous studies that have looked at the link between cognitive impairment and subsequent stroke have been inconsistent in their findings.

Researchers analyzed data from 121,879 people with cognitive impairment, of whom 7,799 later had strokes. They observed a significantly higher rate of stroke in people with cognitive impairment than in people with normal cognitive function.

“We found that the risk of future stroke was 39 percent higher among patients with cognitive impairment at baseline than among those with normal cognitive function at baseline,” the authors said. “This risk increased to 64 percent when a broadly adopted definition of cognitive impairment was used.”

Blockage of blood vessels in the brain (brain infarcts), atherosclerosis, inflammation and other vascular conditions are associated with a higher risk of stroke and cognitive impairment and may contribute to the increased risk.

How to Recognize a Stroke

Ovbiagele said quick recognition that a person is having a stroke leads to earlier treatment and can dramatically affect a person’s outcome. He explains it from the head down, noting that virtually all stroke patients have at least one of these five symptoms. There are:

  • Head – A very severe headache – like the worst of your life
  • Eyes – A change in vision, either double or blurred vision
  • Mouth – difficulty speaking or slurred speech
  • Limbs – Numbness or paralysis in an arm or leg on one side
  • Legs – Difficulty walking as if a person were drunk

“The key is sudden onset. What separates stroke from virtually everything else is that it’s like a bolt out of the blue. One minute you’re totally fine, the next minute something changes. It’s always drastic. That blood vessel suddenly gets blocked or that blood vessel suddenly breaks and you have symptoms immediately. If you have one of those symptoms that comes out of the blue, you should call 911 immediately.”

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Alzheimer’s Brain Benefits from Weight Loss Following Bariatric Surgery

(Endocrine Society) Researchers theorize procedure could reduce risk of Alzheimer’s in obese people.

Weight loss surgery can curb alterations in brain activity associated with obesity and improve cognitive function involved in planning, strategizing and organizing, according to a new study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

Obesity can tax the brain as well as other organs. Obese individuals face a 35 percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to normal weight people.

Bariatric surgery is used to help people who are dangerously obese lose weight. Bariatric surgery procedures are designed to restrict the amount of food you can eat before you feel full by reducing the stomach’s size or limit the absorption of nutrients by removing part of the small intestine from the path food takes through the digestive tract. Some procedures, such as Roux-en-Y gastric bypass (RYBG) surgery, use a combination of these methods. This study was the first to assess brain activity in women before and after bariatric surgery.

“When we studied obese women prior to bariatric surgery, we found some areas of their brains metabolized sugars at a higher rate than normal weight women,” said one of the study’s authors, Cintia Cercato, MD, PhD, of the University of São Paolo in São Paolo, Brazil.

“In particular, obesity led to altered activity in a part of the brain linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease – the posterior cingulate gyrus. Since bariatric surgery reversed this activity, we suspect the procedure may contribute to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.”

The longitudinal study examined the effect of RYBG surgery on the brain function of 17 obese women. Researchers used positron emission tomography (PET) scans and neuropsychological tests to assess brain function and activity in the participants prior to surgery and six months after the procedure. The same tests also were run once on a control group of 16 lean women.

Before they underwent surgery, the obese women had higher rates of metabolism in certain areas of the brain, including the posterior cingulate gyrus. Following surgery, there was no evidence of this exacerbated brain activity. Their brain metabolism rates were comparable to the activity seen in normal weight women.

After surgery, the obese women also performed better on a test measuring executive function – the brain’s ability to connect past experience and present action – than they did before the procedures. Executive function is used in planning, organizing and strategizing. Five other neuropsychological tests measuring various aspects of memory and cognitive function showed no change following the surgery.

“Our findings suggest the brain is another organ that benefits from weight loss induced by surgery,” Cercato said. “The increased brain activity the obese women exhibited before undergoing surgery did not result in improved cognitive performance, which suggests obesity may force the brain to work harder to achieve the same level of cognition.”

Other authors of the study include: Emerson Leonildo Marques, Alfredo Halpern, Marcio Corrêa Mancini, Maria Edna de Melo, Nídia Celeste Horie, Carlos Alberto Buchpiguel, Artur Martins Novaes Coutinho, Carla Rachael Ono, Silvana Prando, Marco Aurélio Santo, Edécio Cunha-Neto and Daniel Fuentes of the University of São Paolo.The study, “Changes in Neuropsychological Tests and Brain Metabolism after Bariatric Surgery,” was published online, ahead of print.

# # #

Founded in 1916, the Endocrine Society is the world’s oldest, largest and most active organization devoted to research on hormones and the clinical practice of endocrinology. Today, the Endocrine Society’s membership consists of over 17,000 scientists, physicians, educators, nurses and students in more than 100 countries. Society members represent all basic, applied and clinical interests in endocrinology. The Endocrine Society is based in Washington, DC. To learn more about the Society and the field of endocrinology, visit our site at www.endocrine.org.

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Mindfulness Training: New Coping Strategy for the Memory Impaired and Their Caregivers

(Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine) Mindfulness training for individuals with early-stage dementia and their caregivers together in the same class was beneficial for both groups, easing depression and improving sleep and quality of life, reports new Northwestern Medicine study.

“The disease is challenging for the affected person, family members and caregivers,“ said study lead author Ken Paller, professor of psychology at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern and a fellow of the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Although they know things will likely get worse, they can learn to focus on the present, deriving enjoyment in the moment with acceptance and without excessive worry about the future. This is what was taught in the mindfulness program.”

The study was published August 25 in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias.

Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s are particularly hard on caregivers, who are often close family members. They tend to have an increased incidence of anxiety, depression, immune dysfunction and other health concerns as well as an increased mortality rate, according to prior studies.

This is the first study to show that the caregiver and the patient both benefit from undergoing mindfulness training together. This is important because caregivers often don’t have much time on their own for activities that could relieve their emotional burden.

The training also helps the patient and caregiver accept new ways of communicating, scientists said.

“One of the major difficulties that individuals with dementia and their family members encounter is that there is a need for new ways of communicating due to the memory loss and other changes in thinking and abilities,” noted study co-author Sandra Weintraub, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Feinberg and a neuropsychologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“The practice of mindfulness places both participants in the present and focuses on positive features of the interaction, allowing for a type of connection that may substitute for the more complex ways of communicating in the past. It is a good way to address stress.”

The study included 37 participants including 29 individuals who were part of a patient-caregiver pair. Most of the patients were diagnosed with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment, often a precursor to dementia. Others had memory loss due to strokes or frontotemporal dementia, which affects emotions as well as speaking and understanding speech. Caregivers included patients’ spouses, adult children, a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law.

Although the individuals with Alzheimer’s had mild to severe memory loss, they still were able to use other cognitive functions to participate in the mindfulness training and to experience emotion and positive feelings, Weintraub noted.

The participants attended eight sessions designed specifically for the needs of patients with memory loss due to the terminal neurodegenerative illness (dementia) and for the needs of their caregivers. Both groups completed an assessment within two weeks of starting the program and within two weeks of completing it.

Paller had expected mindfulness to be helpful for dementia caregivers based on previous research in the field. But he was uncertain whether a program would be successful for patients with memory impairments and whether patients and their caregivers could be trained together.

“We saw lower depression scores and improved ratings on sleep quality and quality of life for both groups,” said Paller, director of the cognitive neuroscience program. “After eight sessions of this training we observed a positive difference in their lives.”

“Mindfulness involves attentive awareness with acceptance for events in the present moment,” Paller said. “You don’t have to be drawn into wishing things were different. Mindfulness training in this way takes advantage of people’s abilities rather than focusing on their difficulties.”

Developing mindfulness is about learning different habits and a person has to practice a new habit for it to stick, Paller noted.

Paller said he hoped the study findings would encourage caregivers to seek out resources for learning mindfulness for themselves and the individuals with illness.

The paper is titled: “Benefits of Mindfulness Training for Patients With Progressive Cognitive Decline and Their Caregivers.”

Other Northwestern authors include Jessica Creery, Susan Florczak, M. Marsel Mesulam, Paul Reber, Jessica Kiragu, Joshua Rooks, Adam Safron, Darby Morhardt, Mary O’Hara, Kathryn Gigler, John Molony and Michael Maslar.

The study was supported by grant P30 AG13854 from the National Institute of Aging/National Institutes of Health, the Retirement Research Foundation, the State of Illinois, and the Mind and Life Institute.

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Lack of Naturally Occurring Protein Linked to Early Dementia

(University of Warwick) Scientists at the University of Warwick have provided the first evidence that the lack of a naturally occurring protein is linked to early signs of dementia.

Published in Nature Communications, the research found that the absence of the protein MK2/3 promotes structural and physiological changes to cells in the nervous system. These changes were shown to have a significant correlation with early signs of dementia, including restricted learning and memory formation capabilities.

An absence of MK2/3, in spite of the brain cells (neurons) having significant structural abnormalities, did not prevent memories being formed, but did prevent these memories from being altered.

The results have led the researchers to call for greater attention to be paid to studying MK2/3.

Lead researcher and author Dr Sonia Corrêa says that

“Understanding how the brain functions from the sub-cellular to systems level is vital if we are to be able to develop ways to counteract changes that occur with ageing.”

“By demonstrating for the first time that the MK2/3 protein, which is essential for neuron communication, is required to fine-tune memory formation this study provides new insight into how molecular mechanisms regulate cognition.”

Neurons can adapt memories and make them more relevant to current situations by changing the way they communicate with other cells.

Information in the brain is transferred between neurons at synapses using chemicals (neurotransmitters) released from one (presynaptic) neuron which then act on receptors in the next (postsynaptic) neuron in the chain.

MK2/3 regulates the shape of spines in properly functioning postsynaptic neurons. Postsynaptic neurons with MK2/3 feature wider, shorter spines than those without.

The researchers found that change, caused by MK2/3’s absence, in the spine’s shape restricts the ability of neurons to communicate with each other, leading to alterations in the ability to acquire new memories.

“Deterioration of brain function commonly occurs as we get older but, as result of dementia or other neurodegenerative diseases, it can occur earlier in people’s lives,”says Dr Corrêa.

“For those who develop the early signs of dementia it becomes more difficult for them to adapt to changes in their life, including performing routine tasks.”

“For example, washing the dishes; if you have washed them by hand your whole life and then buy a dishwasher it can be difficult for those people who are older or have dementia to acquire the new memories necessary to learn how to use the machine and mentally replace the old method of washing dishes with the new. The change in shape of the postsynaptic neuron due to absence of MK2/3 is strongly correlated with this inability to acquire the new memories.”

Dr Corrêa argues that “Given their vital role in memory formation, MK2/3 pathways are important potential pharmaceutical targets for the treatment of cognitive deficits associated with ageing and dementia.”

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Yoga in Your 50s, 60s and 70s — and Beyond

(AARP) Stop stress, boost bone health and lose weight with these easy poses from the American Association of Retired Persons.

Thirty-five years ago, cardiologist Dean Ornish, M.D., made headlines with his claim that yoga and meditation, when combined with improvements in diet and exercise habits, could reverse heart disease.

Since then, research into the health benefits of yoga, especially its effect on adults 50-plus, has exploded.

Here, a brief guide to the benefits of yoga (and some poses you can do) in your 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond.

Reasons to Practice Yoga in Your 50s

1. Minimize hypertension

“Yoga has a powerful effect on stress and hypertension and can help people reduce the amount of medication they need,” says Amy Wheeler, yoga professor at California State University at San Bernardino.

According to one recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Hypertension, participants who practiced yoga six hours a week for 11 weeks reduced their systolic blood pressure — the top number — by an impressive 33 points, compared with 4 points for a control group. Researchers speculate that the slow, controlled breathing inherent in yoga practice decreases nervous system activity, which helps manage blood pressure levels.

2. Strengthen bones

“People in their 50s often develop the beginning stages of osteoporosis and low bone density,” notes Melinda Atkins, a yoga teacher in Miami. Studies consistently show that the weight-bearing activity of yoga helps slow bone thinning, reducing the risks of osteoporosis, particularly among postmenopausal women.

3. Keep excess pounds at bay

Yoga enhances concentration and determination in all aspects of life. Practicing it every day “improves willpower and shifts your focus toward wellness rather than instant gratification,” says Larry Payne, yoga director at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

Poses for Your 50s

Yoga Chair Pose
CHAIR POSE: Stand with your back against a wall, feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees and slide your back down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the floor, as if you were sitting on a chair. Gently pull in your belly button and hold out your arms in front of you.

Yoga Tree Pose

TREE POSE: Stand tall and balance your weight on your left leg. Bring the sole of your right foot as high up your left leg as you can, holding your hands as if in prayer. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.

Reasons to Practice Yoga in Your 60s

1. Reduce anxiety

Yoga induces the relaxation response, an alpha state between awake and asleep that helps modulate the way the body responds to stress. When faced with a potential threat (or ongoing stress), your heart beats faster, your muscles tense and you start to sweat. Yoga stops this process in its tracks, reducing your heart rate, lowering blood pressure and easing respiration.

2. Protect your joints

During your late 50s and early 60s, you may begin to notice that your joints aren’t as fluid as they used to be. Practicing yoga regularly can help lubricate joints, staving off debilitating disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis. “It’s important to start caring for your joints, to help maintain your independence and preserve your ability to perform daily activities as you get older — things like brushing your teeth, combing your hair, getting dressed,” says Amy Wheeler, yoga professor at California State University at San Bernardino.

3. Build strength and balance

Yoga’s slow, measured movements and strengthening poses can help you achieve better balance and prevent falls as you age. Falls are the leading cause of injury among older adults; every year, one in three adults 65 or older falls. Yoga gives you the tools now to prevent a bad fall so you can still move around in your 80s.

Poses for Your 60s

Yoga Cobblers
COBBLER’S POSE: Sit with your spine straight and legs spread out. Bend your knees and bring your feet toward your pelvis, so the soles of your feet touch. Press your elbows on your thighs, coaxing them closer to the floor.

Yoga Warrior Pose

WARRIOR 1: Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Keeping your right foot stationary, bend your right knee deeply and place your left foot about 3 feet behind you, pointing your left toes outward. With your front knee bent at a right angle, raise both arms near your ears and look up. Take three breaths, then return to a standing position. Repeat.

Reasons to Practice Yoga in Your 70s — and Beyond

1. Improve balance

Yoga tones muscles and works on your proprioception — your sense of position in space. Practicing postures that emphasize standing and balance can help build strength and confidence, too. “About 80 percent of proprioception is in your ankles, so standing poses are important, particularly for people in their 70s,” explains Larry Payne, yoga director at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. “As you get more sedentary, your sense of balance atrophies. ‘Use it or lose it’ really does apply.”

2. Sharpens your mind

Unfortunately, as we age, our thought processes aren’t as sharp as they once were. “Focusing on the breath and synchronizing it with movement helps keep the mind clear and engaged,” says Melinda Atkins, a yoga teacher in Miami. Breathing exercises such as alternate-nostril breathing help harmonize the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which correlate to the logical and emotional sides of the personality.

3. Boosts mood

Yoga’s combination of breathing, meditation and movement creates an overall sense of well-being. In fact, studies show yoga has a greater impact on enhancing mood and reducing anxiety than other forms of exercise. The reason? Yoga boosts levels of the brain chemical GABA, which helps calm nerves.

Poses for Your 70s and Beyond

Yoga Half Chair Pose
HALF CHAIR AT THE WALL: Stand about 1 foot away from the wall, with your rear touching the wall. Raise your arms forward and up over your head, with your palms facing each other. Bend your knees and squat halfway to the floor. Hold for five breaths, then stand. Repeat.

Yoga Alternate Breathing
ALTERNATE-NOSTRIL BREATHING: Put the tips of your right index finger and middle finger between your eyebrows; put your ring and little fingers on the left nostril, and your thumb on the right nostril. Press your thumb on the right nostril and breathe through the left. Then press on the left nostril and breathe through the right. Repeat for five minutes.

A Pose for Any Age

Yoga Corpse Pose

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Mindfulness Training for Memory Impaired, Their Caregivers

(Northwestern University) Mindfulness training for individuals with early-stage dementia and their caregivers together in the same class was beneficial for both groups, easing depression and improving sleep and quality of life, reports new Northwestern Medicine study.

“The disease is challenging for the affected person, family members and caregivers,” said study lead author Ken Paller, professor of psychology at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern and a fellow of the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Although they know things will likely get worse, they can learn to focus on the present, deriving enjoyment in the moment with acceptance and without excessive worry about the future. This is what was taught in the mindfulness program.”

The study will be published August 25 in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias.

Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s are particularly hard on caregivers, who are often close family members. They tend to have an increased incidence of anxiety, depression, immune dysfunction and other health concerns as well as an increased mortality rate, according to prior studies.

This is the first study to show that the caregiver and the patient both benefit from undergoing mindfulness training together. This is important because caregivers often don’t have much time on their own for activities that could relieve their emotional burden.

The training also helps the patient and caregiver accept new ways of communicating, scientists said.

“One of the major difficulties that individuals with dementia and their family members encounter is that there is a need for new ways of communicating due to the memory loss and other changes in thinking and abilities,” noted study co-author Sandra Weintraub, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Feinberg and a neuropsychologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“The practice of mindfulness places both participants in the present and focuses on positive features of the interaction, allowing for a type of connection that may substitute for the more complex ways of communicating in the past. It is a good way to address stress.”

The study included 37 participants including 29 individuals who were part of a patient-caregiver pair. Most of the patients were diagnosed with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment, often a precursor to dementia. Others had memory loss due to strokes or frontotemporal dementia, which affects emotions as well as speaking and understanding speech. Caregivers included patients’ spouses, adult children, a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law.

Although the individuals with Alzheimer’s had mild to severe memory loss, they still were able to use other cognitive functions to participate in the mindfulness training and to experience emotion and positive feelings, Weintraub noted.

The participants attended eight sessions designed specifically for the needs of patients with memory loss due to the terminal neurodegenerative illness (dementia) and for the needs of their caregivers. Both groups completed an assessment within two weeks of starting the program and within two weeks of completing it.

Paller had expected mindfulness to be helpful for dementia caregivers based on previous research in the field. But he was uncertain whether a program would be successful for patients with memory impairments and whether patients and their caregivers could be trained together.

“We saw lower depression scores and improved ratings on sleep quality and quality of life for both groups,” said Paller, director of the cognitive neuroscience program. “After eight sessions of this training we observed a positive difference in their lives.”

“Mindfulness involves attentive awareness with acceptance for events in the present moment,” Paller said. “You don’t have to be drawn into wishing things were different. Mindfulness training in this way takes advantage of people’s abilities rather than focusing on their difficulties.”

Developing mindfulness is about learning different habits and a person has to practice a new habit for it to stick, Paller noted.

Paller said he hoped the study findings would encourage caregivers to seek out resources for learning mindfulness for themselves and the individuals with illness.

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