Help for Caregivers
The EAP will host a lunchtime workshop for Caregivers on Friday, April 26 from noon-1:00. Regina Curran, who is a Geriatric Care Manager and also the President of the local chapter of Care Managers will be presenting information to a small group of Caregivers.
The EAP will provide a light lunch for the first 10 people who sign up for the presentation next Friday. Please email Maureen at email@example.com if you would like to attend.
Gretchen Reynolds on the science of fitness.
Two new experiments, one involving people and the other animals, suggest that regular exercise can substantially improve memory, although different types of exercise seem to affect the brain quite differently. The news may offer consolation for the growing numbers of us who are entering age groups most at risk for cognitive decline.
It was back in the 1990s that scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., first discovered that exercise bulks up the brain. In groundbreaking experiments, they showed that mice given access to running wheels produced far more cells in an area of the brain controlling memory creation than animals that didn’t run. The exercised animals then performed better on memory tests than their sedentary labmates.
Since then, scientists have been working to understand precisely how, at a molecular level, exercise improves memory, as well as whether all types of exercise, including weight training, are beneficial.
The new studies provide some additional and inspiring clarity on those issues, as well as, incidentally, on how you can get lab rats to weight train.
For the human study, published in The Journal of Aging Research, scientists at the University of British Columbia recruited dozens of women ages 70 to 80 who had been found to have mild cognitive impairment, a condition that makes a person’s memory and thinking more muddled than would be expected at a given age.
Mild cognitive impairment is also a recognized risk factor for increasing dementia. Seniors with the condition develop Alzheimer’s disease at much higher rates than those of the same age with sharper memories.
Earlier, the same group of researchers had found that after weight training, older women with mild cognitive impairment improved their associative memory, or the ability to recall things in context — a stranger’s name and how you were introduced, for instance.
Now the scientists wanted to look at more essential types of memory, and at endurance exercise as well. So they randomly assigned their volunteers to six months of supervised exercise. Some of the women lifted weights twice a week. Others briskly walked. And some, as a control measure, skipped endurance exercise and instead stretched and toned.
At the start and end of the six months, the women completed a battery of tests designed to study their verbal and spatial memory. Verbal memory is, among other things, your ability to remember words, and spatial memory is your remembrance of where things once were placed in space. Both deteriorate with age, a loss that’s exaggerated in people with mild cognitive impairment.
And in this study, after six months, the women in the toning group scored worse on the memory tests than they had at the start of the study. Their cognitive impairment had grown.
But the women who had exercised, either by walking or weight training, performed better on almost all of the cognitive tests after six months than they had before.
There were, however, differences.
While both exercise groups improved almost equally on tests of spatial memory, the women who had walked showed greater gains in verbal memory than the women who had lifted weights.
What these findings suggest, the authors conclude, is that endurance training and weight training may have different physiological effects within the brain and cause improvements in different types of memory.
That idea tallies nicely with the results of the other recent study of exercise and memory, in which lab rats either ran on wheels or, to the extent possible, lifted weights. Specifically, the researchers taped weights to the animals’ tails and had them repeatedly climb little ladders to simulate resistance training.
After six weeks, the animals in both exercise groups scored better on memory tests than they had before they trained. But it was what was going on in their bodies and brains that was revelatory. The scientists found that the runners’ brains showed increased levels of a protein known as BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which is known to support the health of existing neurons and coax the creation of new brain cells. The rat weight-trainers’ brains did not show increased levels of BDNF.
The tail trainers, however, did have significantly higher levels of another protein, insulinlike growth factor, in their brains and blood than the runners did. This substance, too, promotes cell division and growth and most likely helps fragile newborn neurons to survive.
What all of this new research suggests, says Teresa Liu-Ambrose, an associate professor in the Brain Research Center at the University of British Columbia who oversaw the experiments with older women, is that for the most robust brain health, it’s probably advisable to incorporate both aerobic and resistance training. It seems that each type of exercise “selectively targets different aspects of cognition,” she says, probably by sparking the release of different proteins in the body and brain.
But, she continues, no need to worry if you choose to concentrate solely on aerobic or resistance training, at least in terms of memory improvements. The differences in the effects of each type of exercise were subtle, she says, while the effects of exercise — any exercise — on overall cognitive function were profound.
“When we started these experiments,” she says, “most of us thought that, at best, we’d see less decline” in memory function among the volunteers who exercised, which still would have represented success. But beyond merely stemming people’s memory loss, she says, “we saw actual improvements,” an outcome that, if you’re waffling about exercising today, is worth remembering.
Orioles Win Opening Day!
The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) would like to congratulate the Baltimore Orioles on their Home Opener win. We wish you many more!
Did you know April is National Autism Awareness Month?
Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum disorder” that affects individuals to varying degrees.
Are you living with a person with autism? Are you experiencing stress due to the high demands of caring for someone with autism? If so, you are not alone. The demands of living with a person with autism are great and families frequently experience high levels of stress and anxiety.
The Autism Society (www.autism-society.org) offers a variety of resources for families who are living with and/or caring for a person with autism. To talk with someone about how to cope with the stress and anxiety of autism, call the EAP at 410-328-5860.
Some people have a version of autism called Aspergers. People with Aspergers are often very intelligent and can figure out a variety of problems, but have trouble reading people’s faces, or interpreting sarcasm or social cues. If you would like help in improving your social skills, call the EAP to meet with a counselor today. Or, you can email Maureen McCarren, LCSW-C at firstname.lastname@example.org
Assistance for Those Caring for Elderly RelativesThe EAP is committed to helping those who are helping others. We will have a special guest come to present ideas to those who are caring for elderly parents, relatives or friends. To try and help those who are always helping others, the EAP is offering a free lunch to the first 10 people who sign up for this seminar.
Email Group for Caregivers?
Are you caring for someone? Is it difficult for you to find time for yourself? Would you like to be part of an email group with others in the same situation? You could share ideas, frustrations, offer solutions, etc. The Employee Assistance Program is in the process of developing an on-line support group for Caregivers. If you are interested in the group, please email Maureen at email@example.com or call 410.328.0412.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Many people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as SAD, during the fall and winter when there is less exposure to sunlight. Sunlight triggers the production of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that helps regulate mood, among other things. Many people have found that supplementation with Vitamin D can help. Talk with your doctor to see if this might be a good strategy for you.
How Can I Sleep Better?
Stress often interferes with sleep, which then can make the next day more difficult to manage. If this continues, it can lead to depression, anxiety, irritability, and forgetfulness. Many anti-depressants are effective because they help people sleep better.
Some people want to try natural ways to increase sleep and then boost mood. First, take an inventory of your current habits. Are you ingesting too much caffeine or drinking it too late in the day? Try decreasing coffee, tea, chocolate, and stop all caffeinated products by 2:00 p.m. Cigarettes, although initially relaxing for the smoker, are stimulants and add to sleep problems. Exercise is great to help people sleep better, but don’t do vigorous exercise late in the day or right before bed. Gentle stretching or a long walk late at night is better to help people sleep. Alcohol helps people feel sleepy but it interferes with the deepest phases of sleep and causes frequent nighttime awakenings. Do you have a medical problem such as back pain, or a thyroid disorder that may interfere with sleep? Or, is the medication you’re taking hampering sleep? Try a little meditation or yoga and see if that helps you. For more information, or to talk with someone about the issues that are bothering you or worrying you, call the EAP at 410.328.5860. Sometimes, having an objective person help you look at things differently can help decrease stress. Sweet dreams!
Neurofeedback helps YOUR brain work more efficiently
During a neurofeedback session, saline soaked electrodes will be placed on your head so that the frequencies of your brain can be read by the neurofeedback machine. You will hear a sound when your brain is doing the right thing. As you hear more sounds, your brain will be training itself. You don’t have to DO anything. Just sit and listen. If you suffer from anxiety, your brain will learn to be calm; if you can’t focus, your brain will learn to concentrate better; if you have trouble sleeping, or have chronic pain, neurofeedback can help with all of that and more. For more information, contact Maureen McCarren, Senior EAP counselor, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 667.214.1555.