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How Seattle's Center for Healthy Aging is improving the health of patients with cognitive diseases

The prevalence of Alzheimer's and related dementia is expected to triple over the next 30 years. Sponsored by Virginia Mason.

SEATTLE — As people live longer, diseases like  Alzheimer's and related dementia can progressively destroy brain cells, impacting our behavior and independence. 

"Our mission at the Center for Healthy Aging is to improve the health and well-being of people with memory loss and other cognitive challenges, and their loved ones, through the use of multidisciplinary team-based care, preventive care, and innovative models of care, " said Medical Director, Dr. Nancy Isenberg. This is accomplished through preventative care, treatment, and education.  

Treatment differs from patient to patient, depending on the intensity of a cognitive condition. For people with mild cognitive symptoms, "This is a really important moment to focus on primary and secondary prevention and also to help work with families so that they know how best to support the individual or their loved one with cognitive challenges."  

People with more advanced dementia are supported through programs and services. The Center for Healthy Aging has an experienced multidisciplinary team including a neuropsychologist, a cognitive specialist, a social worker, a nurse care manager, a pharmacist, an occupational physical therapist and a speech therapist for care all working as a team, "Meaning the individual who has the cognitive challenges and their family loved ones."  That's why they also offer shared medical appointments for patients and family members.  

The prevalence of Alzheimer’s and related dementia is expected to triple over the next 30 years in the United States and worldwide. However, it is estimated that one in three cases is preventable. Dr. Isenberg laid out The 7 Habits of Healthy Aging, which are specific preventative measures that promote positive cognitive health:

  1. Exercise: Four components include cardiovascular exercise, strength training, balance, and stretching.
  2. Healthy eating: A Mediterranean diet -- if you have hypertension, a low-salt Mediterranean died. Eating whole and plant-based foods and limiting processed foods, alcohol and other harmful intoxicants.
  3. Rest: Everyone should be getting about 7 hours of sleep each night. It's important to identify and treat sleep apnea, if relevant.
  4. Lifelong learning: Stay mentally and physically active as you age. Examples of ways to do this are reading, writing, doing crossword puzzles, playing board or card games, engaging in group discussions, and playing music.
  5. Community of connection: Connect with family, friends, and the outdoors. Evidence suggests strong social connections is as important as diet and exercise for our health.  
  6. Develop a positive mindset: According to Dr. Isenberg, people who think positively about aging not only have a lower risk of dementia but often live longer.
  7. Working with your care team: Assure you're actively taking care of other aspects of your well-being -- like getting new glasses prescriptions and checking for hearing loss.

There are several signs, like being easily distracted and unable to complete simple daily activities, that show it might be time to ask your primary doctor about cognitive diseases, and it is important that folks 65+ have annual check-ups so doctors can perform cognitive assessments. It's also an important opportunity to review all of the medications you are taking, "Many people are on lots of medications over many years some of those medications can be harmful."  Medications like Ambien and over-the-counter medications like Tylenol PM and Benadryl may be harmful when taken long-term and are associated with an increased risk of dementia.

"Looking very carefully with your primary care provider and making sure you're taking medications that are indicated to manage your hypertension, your blood pressure, your cholesterol, your diabetes, but also to stop taking those harmful medications as well."

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