Aging and Caregiving in the News

Related topics: Caregivers, Alzheimer's Disease, Brain Health, Senior Lifestyles, Mental Health

Information, updates and interesting tidbits about healthy aging, senior care and family caregiving from across the country and around the world.

In this issue:

  • Protect your brain's white matter with exercise.
  • Leave the car in the garage to improve your mental health.
  • Mindfulness training for people with memory loss and family caregivers—together!

Another Brain Study Reminds Us to Get Up and Move Around

(Above) University of Illinois researcher Agnieszka Burzynska made fascinating discoveries about the connection between exercise and the health of the white matter of our brains. (Photo: L. Brian Stauffer, University of Illinois)

Scientists have long noted a connection between physical exercise and brain health — and during the last few years, they've been able to use brain imaging to actually observe the effects. Researchers from University of Illinois recently used two types of imaging to examine the effect of exercise on the health of the white matter of the brain. The white matter enables communication between brain regions, including those responsible for memory, language, hearing and seeing.

To find out if physical activity affects our white matter, researcher Agnieszka Burzynska and her team measured the activity level of a group of seniors, equipping each with an accelerometer, a device that continuously tracks movement. The team discovered that the seniors who were more active had healthier white matter in their brains. They also found that seniors who sit around most of the time had less healthy white matter in the hippocampus — a part of the brain that is very important for learning and memory. Said Burzynska, "This relationship between the integrity of tracts connecting the hippocampus and sedentariness is significant even when we control for age, gender and aerobic fitness. It suggests that the physiological effect of sitting too much, even if you still exercise at the end of the day for half an hour, will have a detrimental effect on your brain."

The study appears in the journal PLOS ONE.

Drive to Work? You're Probably Stressed Out!

We can almost feel our blood pressure rise when we are stuck in traffic! A new study from University of East Anglia in the UK confirmed that driving to work is stressful, and that those who commute by car are more likely to have sleep problems, as well as feelings of worthlessness and unhappiness and other challenges to their psychological well-being. The researchers found that people who stopped driving and began walking or biking to work felt less strain and were better able to concentrate at work. Lead researcher Adam Martin said, "Our study shows that the longer people spend commuting in cars, the worse their psychological well-being. And correspondingly, people feel better when they have a longer walk to work."

What if you live too far away to walk or bike? Even if we aren't actively exercising during our commute, we still benefit from leaving the car in the garage. Martin said, "One surprising finding was that commuters reported feeling better when traveling by public transport, compared to driving. You might think that things like disruption to services or crowds of commuters might have been a cause of considerable stress. But as buses or trains also give people time to relax, read, socialize, and there is usually an associated walk to the bus stop or railway station, it appears to cheer people up."

The study was published in the journal Preventive Medicine

Dementia Patients Benefit from Mindfulness Training — And So Do Family Caregivers

Mindfulness training is a form of meditation that helps people reduce stress by focusing on the present moment. Studies show that this practice can benefit the health of family caregivers whose loved one has Alzheimer's or a related disorder. "Fine," caregivers might say. "But when would I find time? Who would stay with my loved one?"

Northwestern University researchers recently showed that people with memory loss also benefit from mindfulness training — and they can attend the same sessions as their caregivers. Study participants took a class designed to meet the needs of both patients with memory loss and their caregivers. Both gained individual benefits, and the training also helped with their day-to-day relationship. Said study co-author Prof.  Sandra Weintraub, "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. 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."

The study appeared in the American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias.

Source: IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2014 IlluminAge.