Category Archives: Interviews with experts

Guest interviews help readers figure out how to solve care dilemmas.

When Mice Are on Our Side: Dementia Research

Mice are dirty and a terrible nuisance — unless they’re advancing dementia research. We had a mini-invasion of mice two weeks ago and I set out sticky traps and clean-kill traps. The rodents have now departed and I didn’t cry at their funerals.  But there’s an amazing new mouse study that makes me smile.

Between the Pond and the Woods

Around the time of the ‘mousecapades’ at our house, I got an article about a scientific breakthrough in dementia research at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) of the University of Queensland. Working with sound waves, researchers at QBI have come up with a promising method for removing defective beta-amyloid and tau proteins from a dementia patient’s brain. Their approach employs something called “focused therapeutic ultrasound, which non-invasively beams sound waves into the brain tissue.”

The treatment sounds like science fiction, but the study’s sound waves managed to open up the blood-brain barrier. Their presence stimulated the brain’s microglial cells, which work at waste-removal. Once stimulated, the microglial cells were able to clear out the toxic beta-amyloid clumps which are responsible for the worst symptoms of Alzheimer’s. This is just the beginning of the good news, so don’t let the science terms discourage you from reading more.

According to the QBI report, this process restored the memory function of 75% of the mice tested — with zero damage to the surrounding brain tissue! They also claim that “the treated mice displayed improved performance in three memory tasks – a maze, a test to get them to recognise new objects, and one to get them to remember the places they should avoid.” That’s starting to sound like a miracle.

Obviously, a recovery among study mice is quite different from the restoration of a human brain. But QBI team member Jürgen Götz, said his research team is already planning to start trials with higher animal models, like sheep. If they are successful, human trials may be underway by 2017.

If you want to learn more about the tremendous contributions made by the heroic mice with Alzheimer’s, you can listen here to an interview with members of the QBI team. In the meantime, I’m rejoicing at the departure of our house mice — and the positive implications of this research.

What’s So Funny about Dementia?

Caregivers run into problems all the time. Some are more devastating than others. You can cry and wring your hands. But sometimes, if you remind yourself,  you can also laugh. Finding the humor in stressful situations can provide a powerful way to cope with real challenges.

Between the Pond and the Woods

Go ahead and laugh — it’s therapeutic

A young Dutch researcher named J.H.E. Blom, created a project to help get caregivers to laugh more as a way of easing their emotional burdens.  Studies show that humor can have a positive effect on health and can promote happier feelings in tough situations. Blom looked for ways to help caregivers laugh more in daily life.

The concept made me recall a story I heard from a nurse who was interviewing caregivers. She said she had talked with a caregiver who faced a constant battle from her loved one whenever it was time to change the Depends. Somewhere along the way, the caregiver invented “The Diaper Dance”. She put the clean Depends on her head like a hat, and started dancing around until the her loved one started laughing and dancing too. Once the element of humor took over, all resistance dropped and that diaper got changed.

It’s easy enough to come up with funny ideas like this when you’re relaxed.  The problem is, we often forget to think of these things when we’re stressed. Blom’s solution is a concept called Amarant. Caregivers were asked to create tokens that reminded them of humorous moments.  They could be a funny cartoon from the newspaper or just an object that reminded them of a funny moment — like a photo of someone wearing a Depends hat?  In the study, people used markers and stickers to create pictures or reminders of things that made them laugh.

After they created their “tokens” of humor, they displayed them all around the house. Blom’s goal was to have the caregiver “subtly confronted” with the pictures so that they might trigger positive emotions connected to funny memories in situations that were not too funny. Caregivers also made “inspirational cards” that asked questions designed to produce memories of laughter. Cards asked caregivers to recall the last situation when they wanted to hold in their laughter but just couldn’t — or to remember accidentally making a joke. Caregivers wrote these recollections on their cards so they could use them to help produce a laugh during more stressful times.

It would not be too hard to try this experiment in your own home. Considering all the depressing research we see about drugs, side effects, and caregiver health problems, it’s refreshing to come across a study that promotes humor. Laughter is the world’s cheapest medicine, no one hold a patent on it, and it’s absolutely impossible to overdose.