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Lifelong learning’s active mantra of “Use it or lose it” is boosted by new, perception research done by researchers from Case Western Reserve University, Boston University, and Bridgewater State University. Those university-based perception researchers found high-contrast, large bingo cards boosted thinking and playing skills for people with cognitive difficulties and visual perception problems produced by Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
With research-based knowledge, productive interventions unfold. The university researchers indicate interventions connected to their studies work to allow individuals with mild dementia and others with visual perception deficits to achieve benefits that facilitate their basic abilities to live independently longer, perform daily tasks, and enjoy life’s simple pleasures.
The research findings were reported in the article, “Bingo! Externally supported performance intervention for deficit visual search in normal aging, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease,” in the journal Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition. Concerning beneficial interventions, the researchers wrote, “The general finding of improved performance across healthy and afflicted groups suggests the value of visual support as an easy-to-apply intervention to enhance cognitive performance.”
Exploration needed in understanding connections
As people age, they begin to lose sensitivity to perceive contrasts. The perception problem is exacerbated in people with dementia, according to Grover C. Gilmore, a psychologist and dean of the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University.
But, Gilmore, who has done extensive testing in his Perception Lab at Case Western Reserve, indicates, “Little is known about how visual perception problems—common in aging players—affect the way these people think and play.” Gilmore and the study’s lead investigator, Alice Cronin-Golomb from Boston University, have collaborated for two decades on projects that look at visual sensory deficits and cognition among people with dementia. For example, in individuals with Parkinson’s disease, driving is affected by low contrasts as demonstrated in simulated fog situations.
Bingo becomes a research tool
Bingo is often used in nursing homes and senior centers as a social activity, and being socially engaged helps keep the mind healthy. However, Bingo, a popular activity in nursing homes, senior centers and assisted-living facilities, has benefits that extend well beyond socializing.
Perception researchers tested Bingo cards of different sizes, contrasts and visual complexities to find out how visual perception problems impact cognitive functions among the study’s participants: 19 younger adults, 14 individuals with probable Alzheimer’s Disease, 13 Alzheimer’s Disease matched healthy adults, 17 non-demented individuals with Parkinson’s disease and 20 Parkinson’s disease-matched healthy adults.
When study participants played Bingo on computer-generated cards that were manipulated for brightness, size and contrast, the researchers could compare the performance among the different age and health groups.
Benefits in those with mild dementia
With some contrast and size changes to the cards, researchers reported improvement in performances. For those with mild dementia, they could perform at levels of their healthy peers. However, little change was reported for people with more severe dementia.
Living environment interventions
Boosting contrast is among interventions known as Externally Supported Performance Interventions (ESPI). Gilmore and Alice Cronin-Golomb found that boosting contrast in the living environment and also at the table enables people with dementia—who have lost the ability to distinguish between similar-contrast objects—to move safely around their homes and improve their eating.
For example, putting a black sofa in a white room would improve the contrast of the room and make it easier for individuals to move about. Additionally, they found that individuals with dementia actually eat more if they use a white plate and tableware on a dark tablecloth or are served food that contrasts the color of the plate.
As more of the world’s population ages and experience age-related issues and diseases, understanding of interventions that can maintain or build mental capacities are critical. Cognitive difficulties can prove to be the silent epidemic that robs an aging population of final years that are active, productive, and meaningful. All of society benefits when systemic, cognitive process insights work to help keep brains active and healthy.