FOCUS ON SENIORS: Distinguishing normal aging from early signs of dementia

News Sep 08, 2015 by Mike Peeling Brant News

When people hit their senior years, many wonder what kind of memory loss is a normal part of aging? And what signs of memory loss could highlight a serious problem?

These are questions Dr. Alexandra George endeavours to answer for those who attend her memory clinic each Wednesday at the Grand River Community Health Centre (GRCHC) in Brantford.

George, a family doctor, became interested in the health of seniors as a teenager when she started volunteering at a seniors residence. She recalled being in high school when it became mandatory to put in community service hours, and often spent her time playing piano for the residents.

Her interest in geriatrics only grew as she went through medical school, and chose to do an extra year of training in London under the tutelage of geriatricians.

"I think it helps too that I have grandparents who are 98 and 90 and still live on their own," George said. "Seniors can be very healthy and age well. I think a lot of people see seniors as a burden on society, but I see the opposite. There is a lot of difference you can make in a senior's life."

When it comes to "normal aging," George says there will be some noticeable changes in the ability to recall information. However, she calls the next level "mild cognitive impairment," which could be an early sign of dementia.

Mild cognitive impairment is noticeable when memory loss occurs, particularly when family and others close to someone are noticing it as well.

"A person might not be as good at doing things they used to, forget appointments and need more reminders in their day-to-day life," George said. 

George recommends setting up cognitive testing with a doctor when signs of mild cognitive impairment arise, or getting a doctor's referral to attend the memory clinic for an assessment.

"It's important to get tested because mild cognitive impairment could mean you're at higher risk of getting dementia," she said. "It could be an early warning sign, or it may not be. The earlier you know, the more time you have to do everything you can to slow its progress."

Once dementia sets in, George said the very serious condition cannot be reversed, but changing unhealthy behaviours can help delay the onset and progression of mild cognitive impairment.

"You can sometimes correct it," she said. "If you smoke, stop. Smoking causes brain damage. If you're a drinker, stop. It causes brain damage as well."

For those with high blood pressure, George recommends keeping it under control with prescribed medications because proper blood flow is crucial to the brain functioning properly.

And if you snore heavily, you could have sleep apnea, which means you are not getting enough oxygen to your brain. George said consulting a doctor could help slow any cognitive impairment by getting a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine to aid sleep.

Eating a "Mediterranean diet" with more fish, fruit and vegetables and less meat is also important to cognitive health.

George said studies have shown people who exercise three times a week for 30 minutes are less likely to develop cognitive impairment.

The doctor said it's also important that seniors stay socially active in a way that challenges them mentally, rather than becoming isolated.

"It's important to encourage social activity and use different parts of the brain regularly to stay healthy," George said. "It can be challenging to find ways to get out."

George said playing "brain games" online can be helpful to keeping the mind active, but says there is no evidence to support that they provide any lasting positive effects. However, she says they can only help and encouraged any activity that keeps the mind active.

While most services at community health centres such as GRCHC are provided for people who have difficulty accessing health care, the memory clinic is open to everyone in Brantford and the County of Brant, and receives support from the Alzheimer Society of Brant and the Brant Community Healthcare System.

"Our clinic is unique because it serves all of the community," she said. 

Consequently, George said the waiting list for appointments at the clinic is long, with a wait time of roughly six months.

George said the clinic has requested funding from the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) to expand the service, but doesn't foresee getting any support anytime soon.

"We have a rapidly aging population, and its needs are growing," she said.

If a patient already has dementia, George recommends contacting the Alzheimer Society (519-759-7692) and other organizations such as VON Canada (519-759-7750) that offer programs to help.

George will be speaking about memory and aging at the Grand River Community Health Centre's annual general meeting, 362 Colborne St., on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Everyone is welcome to attend, although seating is limited.

FOCUS ON SENIORS: Distinguishing normal aging from early signs of dementia

Dr. Alexandra George runs Brantford-based memory clinic

News Sep 08, 2015 by Mike Peeling Brant News

When people hit their senior years, many wonder what kind of memory loss is a normal part of aging? And what signs of memory loss could highlight a serious problem?

These are questions Dr. Alexandra George endeavours to answer for those who attend her memory clinic each Wednesday at the Grand River Community Health Centre (GRCHC) in Brantford.

George, a family doctor, became interested in the health of seniors as a teenager when she started volunteering at a seniors residence. She recalled being in high school when it became mandatory to put in community service hours, and often spent her time playing piano for the residents.

Her interest in geriatrics only grew as she went through medical school, and chose to do an extra year of training in London under the tutelage of geriatricians.

"I think it helps too that I have grandparents who are 98 and 90 and still live on their own," George said. "Seniors can be very healthy and age well. I think a lot of people see seniors as a burden on society, but I see the opposite. There is a lot of difference you can make in a senior's life."

When it comes to "normal aging," George says there will be some noticeable changes in the ability to recall information. However, she calls the next level "mild cognitive impairment," which could be an early sign of dementia.

Mild cognitive impairment is noticeable when memory loss occurs, particularly when family and others close to someone are noticing it as well.

"A person might not be as good at doing things they used to, forget appointments and need more reminders in their day-to-day life," George said. 

George recommends setting up cognitive testing with a doctor when signs of mild cognitive impairment arise, or getting a doctor's referral to attend the memory clinic for an assessment.

"It's important to get tested because mild cognitive impairment could mean you're at higher risk of getting dementia," she said. "It could be an early warning sign, or it may not be. The earlier you know, the more time you have to do everything you can to slow its progress."

Once dementia sets in, George said the very serious condition cannot be reversed, but changing unhealthy behaviours can help delay the onset and progression of mild cognitive impairment.

"You can sometimes correct it," she said. "If you smoke, stop. Smoking causes brain damage. If you're a drinker, stop. It causes brain damage as well."

For those with high blood pressure, George recommends keeping it under control with prescribed medications because proper blood flow is crucial to the brain functioning properly.

And if you snore heavily, you could have sleep apnea, which means you are not getting enough oxygen to your brain. George said consulting a doctor could help slow any cognitive impairment by getting a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine to aid sleep.

Eating a "Mediterranean diet" with more fish, fruit and vegetables and less meat is also important to cognitive health.

George said studies have shown people who exercise three times a week for 30 minutes are less likely to develop cognitive impairment.

The doctor said it's also important that seniors stay socially active in a way that challenges them mentally, rather than becoming isolated.

"It's important to encourage social activity and use different parts of the brain regularly to stay healthy," George said. "It can be challenging to find ways to get out."

George said playing "brain games" online can be helpful to keeping the mind active, but says there is no evidence to support that they provide any lasting positive effects. However, she says they can only help and encouraged any activity that keeps the mind active.

While most services at community health centres such as GRCHC are provided for people who have difficulty accessing health care, the memory clinic is open to everyone in Brantford and the County of Brant, and receives support from the Alzheimer Society of Brant and the Brant Community Healthcare System.

"Our clinic is unique because it serves all of the community," she said. 

Consequently, George said the waiting list for appointments at the clinic is long, with a wait time of roughly six months.

George said the clinic has requested funding from the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) to expand the service, but doesn't foresee getting any support anytime soon.

"We have a rapidly aging population, and its needs are growing," she said.

If a patient already has dementia, George recommends contacting the Alzheimer Society (519-759-7692) and other organizations such as VON Canada (519-759-7750) that offer programs to help.

George will be speaking about memory and aging at the Grand River Community Health Centre's annual general meeting, 362 Colborne St., on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Everyone is welcome to attend, although seating is limited.

FOCUS ON SENIORS: Distinguishing normal aging from early signs of dementia

Dr. Alexandra George runs Brantford-based memory clinic

News Sep 08, 2015 by Mike Peeling Brant News

When people hit their senior years, many wonder what kind of memory loss is a normal part of aging? And what signs of memory loss could highlight a serious problem?

These are questions Dr. Alexandra George endeavours to answer for those who attend her memory clinic each Wednesday at the Grand River Community Health Centre (GRCHC) in Brantford.

George, a family doctor, became interested in the health of seniors as a teenager when she started volunteering at a seniors residence. She recalled being in high school when it became mandatory to put in community service hours, and often spent her time playing piano for the residents.

Her interest in geriatrics only grew as she went through medical school, and chose to do an extra year of training in London under the tutelage of geriatricians.

"I think it helps too that I have grandparents who are 98 and 90 and still live on their own," George said. "Seniors can be very healthy and age well. I think a lot of people see seniors as a burden on society, but I see the opposite. There is a lot of difference you can make in a senior's life."

When it comes to "normal aging," George says there will be some noticeable changes in the ability to recall information. However, she calls the next level "mild cognitive impairment," which could be an early sign of dementia.

Mild cognitive impairment is noticeable when memory loss occurs, particularly when family and others close to someone are noticing it as well.

"A person might not be as good at doing things they used to, forget appointments and need more reminders in their day-to-day life," George said. 

George recommends setting up cognitive testing with a doctor when signs of mild cognitive impairment arise, or getting a doctor's referral to attend the memory clinic for an assessment.

"It's important to get tested because mild cognitive impairment could mean you're at higher risk of getting dementia," she said. "It could be an early warning sign, or it may not be. The earlier you know, the more time you have to do everything you can to slow its progress."

Once dementia sets in, George said the very serious condition cannot be reversed, but changing unhealthy behaviours can help delay the onset and progression of mild cognitive impairment.

"You can sometimes correct it," she said. "If you smoke, stop. Smoking causes brain damage. If you're a drinker, stop. It causes brain damage as well."

For those with high blood pressure, George recommends keeping it under control with prescribed medications because proper blood flow is crucial to the brain functioning properly.

And if you snore heavily, you could have sleep apnea, which means you are not getting enough oxygen to your brain. George said consulting a doctor could help slow any cognitive impairment by getting a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine to aid sleep.

Eating a "Mediterranean diet" with more fish, fruit and vegetables and less meat is also important to cognitive health.

George said studies have shown people who exercise three times a week for 30 minutes are less likely to develop cognitive impairment.

The doctor said it's also important that seniors stay socially active in a way that challenges them mentally, rather than becoming isolated.

"It's important to encourage social activity and use different parts of the brain regularly to stay healthy," George said. "It can be challenging to find ways to get out."

George said playing "brain games" online can be helpful to keeping the mind active, but says there is no evidence to support that they provide any lasting positive effects. However, she says they can only help and encouraged any activity that keeps the mind active.

While most services at community health centres such as GRCHC are provided for people who have difficulty accessing health care, the memory clinic is open to everyone in Brantford and the County of Brant, and receives support from the Alzheimer Society of Brant and the Brant Community Healthcare System.

"Our clinic is unique because it serves all of the community," she said. 

Consequently, George said the waiting list for appointments at the clinic is long, with a wait time of roughly six months.

George said the clinic has requested funding from the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) to expand the service, but doesn't foresee getting any support anytime soon.

"We have a rapidly aging population, and its needs are growing," she said.

If a patient already has dementia, George recommends contacting the Alzheimer Society (519-759-7692) and other organizations such as VON Canada (519-759-7750) that offer programs to help.

George will be speaking about memory and aging at the Grand River Community Health Centre's annual general meeting, 362 Colborne St., on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Everyone is welcome to attend, although seating is limited.