“Depression, Delirium & Dementia” – lecture notes

Stanford University (stanford.edu) sponsored a 3-part series on geriatric health in May.  The first evening, May 11, 2006, included this lecture:

“Depression, Delirium & Dementia: What Should We Be Doing?”
Speaker:  Barbara Sommer, MD, Asst Prof of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford Univ

Local support group member Karen D. gave me her notes on the lecture.  This post attempts to summarize some of the key points in that lecture.


Dr. Sommer stated that life expectancy increases are not due to doctors but to infrastructure changes, such as indoor plumbing.

She stated that 27% of people older than 60 living in a community have some degree of depression.  Depressed people have two times the number of doctors’ appointments than others.  75% of elderly suicides have seen their doctors in the last month.  The rate of elderly white males is increasing.  Elderly women’s suicide rates drop to zero after they stop caregiving for their elderly spouses!

Of those with dementia, 64% have AD, 25% have Vascular Dementia, and 12-15% have Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD).

She mentioned that there are several drugs on the market to treat AD:  three acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (including Aricept) and Namenda.  The standard treatment is to prescribe one of the acetylcholinesterase inhibitors and add Namenda.  Glutamate is essential to the brain.  Namenda restores the glutamate levels to normal.

Dr. Sommer said that memory can be optimized through mental gymnastics, dance and tai-chi, avoiding medication that affects the brain, diet, avoiding obesity, avoiding stress, and optimizing near vision.

Medication that affects the brain includes some anticholinergics, benzodiazepams or sleeping pills, antihistamines, etc.

Those with a higher BMI (body mass index) have a higher risk of dementia. She pointed out that when you lose near vision, you lose stimulation and the ability to participate in activities.  Bottom line – lose weight and see your optometrist!

Dr. Sommer repeatedly noted the negative effects of stress.

Dr. Sommer said that delirium is reversible.  She distributed an article on “Preventing delirium in older people,” published 7/15/05 in the British Medical Bulletin.  You can find an abstract of the article online at no charge:


The article states that:

“Up to 50% of delirium affecting older people develops after admission to (the) hospital.  These cases often result from hospital-related complications or inadequate care.” 

The paper focuses on how to prevent the delirium that is acquired in the hospital and is preventable.


“Cognitive Changes w/Aging” and “Maintaining Health” – lecture notes

Stanford sponsored a 3-part series on geriatric health in May. The second evening, May 18, 2006, included two lectures:

“Cognitive Changes With Aging: How Much Is Too Much?”
Speaker: Michael Greicius, MD, MPH, Dept of Neurology, Memory Disorders, Stanford Univ

“The Big Picture of Maintaining Health — Medications, Tests and Safety At Home”
Speaker: Yusra Hussain, MD, Dept of Internal Med, Geriatrician, Stanford Hospital & Clinics

This email attempts to summarize some of the key points in those lectures and provide a web link to the handout.

Dr. Greicius said that one-tenth of people over 65 have Alzheimer’s Disease. One-third of people over 85 have AD. 70% of the dementia cases are AD. The most common non-AD dementias are Vascular Dementia, FTD, and LBD. According to the “nun study,” the more education you have, the less impaired you are than someone with less education for the same degree of AD.

There is a disorder known as Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). Half of those with MCI convert to AD every four years. Scientists are looking into who will convert and how this can be prevented. Neither Vitamin E nor Aricept helped treat MCI.

There are many reversible causes of memory loss including B12 deficiency, low thyroid, medication (anticholinergics including some medications for urinary incontinence, beta-blockers, enzodiazepines, opiates, anti-epileptics, some medications for neuropathy), depression, alcohol, and retirement.

In general, people in their 50s and 60s can handle less than half the alcohol they could handle in their 30s.

There are some cognitive IMPROVEMENTS with normal aging: emotionality, semantic knowledge (knowledge of the world), and vocabulary.

Dr. Greicius spoke about cognitive decline with normal aging. Related to that topic, he distributed an article from the journal Nature Review Neuroscience, Feb ’04, titled “Insights into the Ageing Mind: A View from Cognitive Neuroscience.” He said this was an excellent review of the topic. An abstract of the article can be found at: (The full article costs $30.)

What can be done to minimize cognitive decline? His guesses include living healthy, moderate alcohol consumption, and no cigarettes. He explored the possible role of NSAIDs and cognitive training in minimizing decline.

His recommendations include: all things in moderation; minimize cardiovascular risk factors; sell your TV; read, dance, exercise; spend more time with friends and family; participate in medical research. Two journals did a review of ginkgo biloba studies. They showed no benefit. He doesn’t recommend taking extra Vitamin E.

Dr. Greicius said that there is a GRAIN of truth only to the layperson’s notion that for the clock test (part of the 4-hours of neuropsychological testing) those with AD can draw the clock and those with LBD cannot. He said that generally speaking those with LBD have visuospatial impairment early on, which is why they can’t draw the clock. But not all those with LBD have visuospatial impairment at the time of diagnosis. Another point: those with late stages AD can’t draw the clock either.

Dr. Hussain said that most people get a serious chronic condition at the age of 55. These can include geriatric syndromes, which are urinary incontinence, MCI, and depression.

If you think your health is excellent, you will live longer. If you think your health is merely good, your lifespan is normal/average.

About half of all deaths are attributable to preventable factors.

A healthy lifestyle includes: maintaining social life; being active each day; eating well; avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol intake; following up on periodic health examinations and screening tests.

The best diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. One should have moderate consumption of polyunsatured fatty acids, omega 3 fatty acids, protein and dairy. One should have low consumption of carbs and animal fats. She does not recommend taking a multi-vitamin with antioxidants as a supplement. She says that antioxidants should be part of the diet.

In order to maintain cognitive function, she said that the “nun study” shows that it’s important to have a purpose in life and to stay busy with family and friends.

Frailty cannot be reversed.

That’s it! I didn’t attend the third lecture nor was I very interested in it so I won’t be emailing out notes from that one.


Caregiving for those with Dementia – Class Notes

This post will be of interest to those who are caring for people with dementia…

I attended the 4-week class on caregiving for those with dementia at Avenidas in Palo Alto this month (May ’06). The class, called “It Takes Two: Dealing with Dementia-related Behavior,” was run by the Family Caregiver Alliance (caregiver.org), an SF-based organization that offers classes, resources, and counseling to those throughout the SF Bay Area and nationally.

A Dementia Fact Sheet was handed out. It states:

“[The] term ‘dementia’ is used by the medical community to describe patients with impaired intellectual capacity… Signs of dementia include short-term memory loss, inability to think problems through or complete complex tasks without step-by-step instructions, confusion, difficulty concentrating and paranoid, inappropriate or bizarre behavior. Clinical depression also may accompany early signs of dementia.”

In the first class, we discussed dementia. I think I wrote these statistics down correctly:
* 10% of people older than 65 have AD or dementia
* over the age of 85, almost 50% of the people have AD or dementia

There are reversible dementias and irreversible ones. The importance of getting a diagnosis was made clear by the fact that some dementias are reversible. In the first class, different diseases with dementia components were discussed, beginning with AD. LBD and PSP were both discussed.

Though it was not distributed, I think this publication summarizes the information presented the first day of class:


Lots of FCA-authored materials were handed out at the first class, including:

1. Dementia – Fact Sheet: I can’t find this on their website. It lists possible causes of dementia (deteriorating intellectual capacity) including reactions to medications, emotional distress, metabolic disturbances, nutritional deficiencies, etc.

2. Alzheimer’s Disease – Fact Sheet: this is available on their website at:


The fact sheet breaks AD into three stages and describes the dementia-related behaviors of each stage.

Note that the Dementia with Lewy Bodies – Fact Sheet on their website is woefully out of date. I’d suggest getting the latest info from the LBDA website. In particular, this brochure is excellent for caregivers, MDs, etc:


3. Tips for Interacting with a Person with Dementia: I can’t find this on their website. The tips are:
* Reassure, reassure, reassure
* Try to remain calm
* Do not disagree with made up stories
* Give compliments often
* Respond to the person’s feelings, not their words
* Use distractions
* Do not try to reason with the person
* Give yourself permission to alter the truth
* Avoid asking questions that rely on short term memory
* Break down all tasks into simple steps
* Respond calmly to anger, don’t contradict or argue

4. Tips on Interacting with Persons with Alzheimer’s Disease or other Dementias (pages 1-3) and Qualities of Friendship in Relation to Someone with Dementia (page 4). I can’t find this on their website.

5. Principles for Understanding and Communicating with a Person with Dementia. I can’t find this on their website. The five principles are:
* Knowing and accepting the cognitive limitations of the person will help you set realistic expectations of the person’s behavior.
* Understand that OUR thoughts, attitude, and actions significantly impact on the behavior of the person with dementia.
* Recognize that behavior, even in a confused person, more likely results from a cause. It is triggered.
* Learn that to enhance communication with a person with dementia requires a commitment to remain “connected” regardless of the content of the conversation.
* Understand that changing behavior takes time, effort, and patience. Reward yourself often for working towards change.

6. A Reference List for Families and Professionals – Caring for Individuals with Dementia: I can’t find this on their website. It’s a list of books on family caregiving and dementia care.

7. Caring for Adults with Cognitive and Memory Impairments – Fact Sheet: this is available on their website at:


The other three classes are hard to summarize. Basically we discussed and role-played communication strategies based on the tips and principles listed above.

This class will certainly be taught again in the Bay Area. It was taught in April in SF, I believe. And then the May class was in Palo Alto. My guess is that it will be taught again in the fall. You can check in periodically with the FCA’s website listing of classes to learn what’s available:



Namenda (memantine) and PSP

A group member with progressive supranuclear palsy asked me recently what I knew about two Alzheimer’s drugs — Aricept and Namenda — in treating PSP. I posted a few days ago about Aricept, which is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor.

Here is a link to that post:


This post is about Namenda, which is a chemical receptor agonist that appears to work by regulating the activity of glutamate, a messenger chemical in the brain. Glutamate plays an essential role in learning and memory.

I found an interesting fact sheet on Namenda from the Alzheimer’s Association:


According to this Alzheimer’s Association publication, Namenda is approved for moderate to severe AD, which is defined as initial scores ranging from 3 to 14 on the Mini-Mental State Exam or MMSE. The FDA’s approval was based on the evidence provided by two drug-company studies. In one study, those taking Namenda showed a small but statistically significant benefit in a test of their ability to perform daily activities and on the Severe Impairment Battery when compared to those taking a placebo. In another study of people who had previously taken Aricept for 6 months, those taking Namenda showed a statistical benefit in performing daily activities and on the Severe Impairment Battery when compared to those taking a placebo and Aricept.

From this publication I learned that Namenda is NOT approved for mild Alzheimer’s. I will take this information to my father’s neurologist next month. My dad has mild to moderate dementia, I would say, yet he’s been on Namenda for 2 years.


“Health Challenges & Recommendations for the Older Adult”

Stanford University (stanford.edu) sponsored a 3-part series on geriatric health in May. The first evening, May 11, 2006, included this lecture:

“Health Challenges & Recommendations for the Older Adult”
Speaker: Peter Pompei, MD, Assoc Prof of Geriatric Medicine, Stanford Univ

Local support group member Karen D. gave me her notes on the lecture. This post attempts to summarize some of the key points in that lecture.


Karen’s Notes from

“Health Challenges & Recommendations for the Older Adult”
Speaker: Peter Pompei, MD, Assoc Prof of Geriatric Medicine, Stanford University
May 11, 2006

Dr. Pompei distributed a document on “Aging parents: Five warning signs of health problems.” You can find a copy of this online at:


The five warning signs are:
* unintended weight loss
* difficulties maintaining their home (so that the home becomes unsafe)
* failure to keep up with daily routines and personal appearance
* poor mood (down or depressed)
* difficulty getting around (which means that they have difficulty caring for themselves)

Dr. Pompei introduced the concept of homeostenosis. When we were young, we could adapt to stressful environments. But when we’re older, we can’t bounce back.

Dr. Pompei also distributed an article in the April 2006 issue of Geriatrics magazine, titled “Health promotion in older adults: Promoting successful aging in primary care settings.” You can find a copy of this online at:


The article states that:

“Although achieving and maintaining health is influenced by many factors,
one of those is within the grasp of almost everyone: Making wise health
choices… (These) choices…can be summarized by an easy to remember
phrase: eat right, eat less, and exercise more.”

(That particular issue of Geriatrics magazine has a number of interesting articles, including one on exercises for the frail and home bound:

Dr. Pompei recommended two websites with health information:

American Geriatrics Association

Merck Foundation

The lead article on the American Geriatrics Association website is how
physical fitness can fight off dementia.

During the Q&A period, someone asked how a patient should be told he/she is losing it. Dr. Pompei’s answer was: be forthright but show that the patient may not understand.