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Activities To Do with a Family Member or Friend Who Has Alzheimer’s Disease

June 24, 2024

It’s important to spend meaningful time with a family member or friend who has Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. Participating together in activities your loved one enjoys can help improve their quality of life and manage behavior changes that may come with the disease, such as sleep problemsaggression, and agitation. It can also help grow and strengthen your connection. However, it may be difficult to know what activities you can safely do with your loved one.

Explore examples below. You may need to modify these activities based on the person’s preferences and abilities.

Activities to do around the house

  • Make a memory book — look through old pictures together and create a scrapbook.
  • Water house and garden plants.
  • Listen to their favorite music.
  • Watch their favorite show or movie.
  • Do an arts and craft project such as painting or drawing.
  • Knit or crochet together.
  • Cuddle, feed, or brush a household pet.
  • Present an instrument the person used to play such as a piano or guitar. Play, whistle, or sing along.
  • Sweep or vacuum.

Learn more about activity planning for people with Alzheimer’s.

Activities to keep moving

  • Go for a walk on a safe path clear of branches or other obstacles.
  • Dance to music the person likes or tap your feet.
  • Go to the gym — try walking next to each other on the treadmill or using a stationary bike.
  • Lift weights or household items such as filled water bottles.
  • Plant flowers.
  • Stretch or do yoga.
  • Go to a local museum.
  • Participate in a water aerobics class.

Learn more about staying physically active with Alzheimer’s disease.

Activities to engage the mind

  • Play a board or card game.
  • Work on a puzzle together.
  • Read poems or a book together.
  • Write cards to other family members and friends.
  • Play a computer game.

Learn more about activities that help keep an active mind.

For any activity, remember to be patient

No matter what activity you are engaging in, try to be patient. It may take the person with Alzheimer’s or another dementia longer to complete activities. Or they may not be able to accomplish things they used to do. If the person seems agitated, consider whether any activity is needed. Building in quiet times by just sitting together can be rewarding, too.

Tips to keep in mind

  • If the person is not enjoying the activity, try something else. You don’t need to finish every activity you start.
  • Be realistic about how much activity can be done at one time and adjust the pace if needed.
  • Make sure the person wants to do the activity and that you are taking it slow.
  • Engage in meaningful and productive activities when you can. It can boost the person’s mood and help them feel a sense of purpose.
  • It’s important to help children understand that they can still talk with the person living with Alzheimer’s and enjoy activities together, even if the person doesn’t always remember them, or asks or repeats a lot of questions.

Activities that promote healthy eating

  • Cook together — ask the person about their favorite meal and work together to make it. Or look up healthy cooking videos online and try to make them yourselves.
  • Plant vegetables together in the garden or in pots.
  • Have a picnic together — bring healthy food options the person likes. Bring a portable or camping chair if the person has trouble sitting on the ground.

Learn more about healthy eating and Alzheimer’s disease.

Activities to stay socially engaged

  • Join a dementia-friendly exercise class.
  • Invite friends over for tea or snacks.
  • See if there is a memory café in your community.
  • Plan a video call with a group of friends.
  • Join a book club together or start your own with friends and family.
  • Host a family game night.

Learn more about the importance of staying socially connected for health and well-being as we age.

Activities to do with children

  • Read stories out loud.
  • Look through a photo album.
  • Paint with watercolors or draw a picture.
  • Play with building blocks.
  • Listen to music or sing.
  • Make tie-dye shirts.

Learn more about helping children understand Alzheimer’s disease

Cognitive Health and Older Adults

June 17, 2024

Cognitive health is the ability to think, learn, and remember clearly. It is needed to carry out many everyday activities effectively. Cognitive health is just one aspect of overall brain health.

Many factors contribute to cognitive health. Genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors may contribute to a decline in thinking skills and the ability to perform everyday tasks, such as driving, paying bills, taking medicine, and cooking. Although genetic factors can’t be controlled, many environmental and lifestyle factors can be changed or managed.

Scientific research suggests that there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of cognitive decline and help maintain your cognitive health. These small changes can add up: Making them part of your routine can support your brain function now and in the future.

What is brain health?

Brain health refers to how well a person’s brain functions across several areas. Aspects of brain health inclide:

  • Cognitive health – how well you think, learn, and remember
    • Motor function – how well you make and control movements, including balance
    • Emotional function – how well you interpret and respond to emotions (both pleasant and unpleasant)
    • Tactical function – how well you feel and respond to sensations of touch, including pressure, pain, and temperature
    • Sensory function – how well you see, hear, taste, and detect odors

Brain health can be affected by age-related changes in the brain, injuries such as stroke or traumatic brain injury; mood disorders such as depression, substance use disorder, or addiction; and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and related dementias.

Take care of your physical health

Taking care of your physical health may also help your cognitive health. You can:

Manage high blood pressure

Preventing or controlling high blood pressure not only helps your heart but can also help your brain. Decades of observational studies have shown that having high blood pressure in midlife — from the 40s to the early 60s — increases the risk of cognitive decline later in life. Further, in the large SPRINT MIND study, researchers found that people age 50 and older who lowered their systolic blood pressure to less than 120 mmHg reduced their risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, which is often a precursor to dementia, over five years of treatment.

High blood pressure often does not cause signs of illness that you can see or feel. Annual screenings at your doctor’s office can help determine if your blood pressure is elevated, even though you might feel fine. To control or lower high blood pressure, your doctor may suggest exercise; changes in your diet; and, if needed, medication.

Eat healthy foods

Many studies suggest that a healthy diet can help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases such as heart disease or diabetes.  

In general, a healthy, balanced diet consists of fruits and vegetables; whole grains; lean meats, fish, and poultry; and low-fat or nonfat dairy products. You should also limit solid fats, sugar, and salt. Be sure to control portion sizes and drink enough water and other fluids.

There is also mixed evidence that certain diets can help keep your brain healthy, preserve cognitive function, or reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. For example, some observational studies reported that people who eat a Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of developing dementia. Another diet, called MIND, is a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. The MIND diet has also been associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and a slower rate of cognitive decline in some studies. Still, despite these promising findings, results are not conclusive. For example, a recent clinical trial found that participants who followed the MIND diet had only small improvements in cognition that were similar to those who followed a control diet with mild caloric restriction.

Researchers continue to study these diets as well as individual foods and dietary supplements to learn more about possible effects on cognitive health.

At this time, no vitamin or supplement is recommended for preventing Alzheimer’s or other forms of cognitive decline. However, recent clinical trials have shown that taking a daily multivitamin may improve memory and cognition in older adults.

Learn more about diet and prevention of Alzheimer’s.

Be physically active

Being physically active — through regular exercise, household chores, or other activities — has many benefits. Physical activities can help you:

  • Maintain and improve your strength
  • Have more energy
  • Improve your balance
  • Prevent or delay heart disease, diabetes, and other disorders
  • Improve your mood and reduce depression

Several studies have supported a connection between physical activity and brain health. For example, one study found that higher levels of a protein that boosts brain health were present in both mice and humans who were more physically active than in sedentary peers. An observational study with cognitively normal, late-middle age participants found that more time spent doing moderate levels of physical activity was associated with a greater increase in brain glucose metabolism — how quickly the brain turns glucose into fuel — which may reduce the risk for developing Alzheimer’s. And a randomized controlled trial showed that exercise can increase the size of a brain structure important to memory and learning, resulting in better spatial memory. Although these results are encouraging, more research is needed to determine what role exercise may play in preventing cognitive decline.

Federal guidelines recommend that all adults get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of physical activity each week. Walking is a good start. You can also join programs that teach you to move more safely and help prevent falls. This is important because falling can lead to serious injury, including injuries to the brain. Check with your health care provider if you are not currently active but want to start a vigorous exercise program.

Keep your mind engaged

Cognitive training, which is designed to improve specific cognitive skills, appears to have benefits for maintaining cognitive health in older adults. A large randomized, controlled trial called the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) trial tested the effects of cognitive training — specifically memory, reasoning, or speed of processing — on cognitive abilities and everyday function over 10 years. The study found that participants who had training in reasoning and speed of processing experienced less decline than those in the memory and control groups. Building on the ACTIVE study, NIA is supporting a large clinical trial to assess whether speed of processing training can reduce incidence of cognitive impairment and dementia.

Beware of claims that playing certain computer and online games can improve your memory and thinking. There currently is not enough evidence available to suggest that commercially available computer-based brain-training applications have the same impact on cognitive abilities as the ACTIVE study training.

Staying engaged in other meaningful activities as you grow older may also have important cognitive benefits. For example, one study found that older adults who learned quilting or digital photography had more memory improvement than those who only socialized or did less cognitively demanding activities. Research on engagement in activities such as music, theater, dance, and creative writing has shown promise for improving quality of life and well-being, from better memory and self-esteem to reduced stress and increased social interaction, but more research is needed in these areas.

Overall, it’s important to know that evidence for a lasting beneficial cognitive effect of these types of activities is not definitive. NIA supports expanding studies in this area to include larger numbers of a diverse range of older adults in order to further test how such activities may help reduce cognitive decline or maintain healthy cognition.

Stay connected with social activities

Staying connected with your family, friends, and neighbors through social activities and community programs is a great way to ward off isolation and loneliness. But did you know it may also help support your cognitive function? For example, early results from a clinical trial of almost 200 adults age 75 and older — the Conversational Engagement Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial (I-CONECT) — showed that regular internet calls could help lower the risk of cognitive decline and social isolation. Another example comes from the Health and Retirement Study, a long-term study funded by NIA. Researchers analyzed data from more than 7,000 participants age 65 and older and found that high social engagement, including visiting with neighbors and doing volunteer work, was associated with better cognitive health in later life.

If you would like to strengthen your social connections, consider volunteering for a local organization or joining a group focused on an activity you enjoy, such as walking. You can find available programs through your Area Agency on Aging, senior center, public library, or other community organizations. Increasingly, there are groups that meet online, providing a way to connect from home with others who share your interests or to get support.

Address physical and mental health problems

Many health conditions affect the brain and pose risks to cognitive function. These conditions include:

  • Stroke — can damage blood vessels in the brain and increase risk for vascular dementia.
  • Depression — can lead to confusion or attention problems and has been linked to dementia.
  • Delirium — shows up as a sudden state of confusion, often during a hospital stay, and is frequently followed by cognitive decline or impairment.

If you have symptoms of any of these serious health problems, it is important to seek treatment. Effective management of health conditions like these may help prevent or delay cognitive decline or thinking problems.

Understand how medicines can affect the brain

Some medicines and combinations of medicines can cause confusion, memory loss, hallucinations, and delusions in older adults.

Medicines can also interact with food, dietary supplements, alcohol, and other substances. Some of these interactions can affect how your brain functions. Drugs that can impair older adults’ cognition include:

  • Antihistamines for allergy relief
  • Sleep aids
  • Antipsychotics
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Drugs that treat urinary incontinence
  • Medications for relief of cramps in the stomach, intestines, and bladder

Talk with your doctor if you have any concerns about your medications or possible side effects. Do not stop taking any prescribed medications without consulting your health care provider first.

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Memory, Forgetfulness, and Aging: What’s Normal and What’s Not?

June 10, 2024

Older adults may worry about their memory and other thinking abilities, such as taking longer to learn something new. These changes are usually signs of mild forgetfulness — or age-related forgetfulness — and are often a normal part of aging.

However, more serious memory problems could be due to mild cognitive impairmentdementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, or other factors beyond normal aging.

Memory changes with age

As people grow older, changes occur in all parts of the body, including the brain. As a result, some people notice that they don’t remember information as well as they once did and aren’t able to recall it as quickly. They may also occasionally misplace things or forget to pay a bill. These usually are signs of mild forgetfulness, not a serious memory problem.

It’s normal to forget things once in a while at any age, but serious memory problems make it hard to do everyday things such as driving, using the phone, and finding the way home.

Signs that it might be time to talk with a doctor include:

  • Asking the same questions over and over again
  • Getting lost in places you used to know well
  • Having trouble following recipes or directions
  • Becoming more confused about time, people, and places
  • Not taking care of yourself — eating poorly, not bathing, or behaving unsafely

Talk with a doctor if you are experiencing noticeable changes in your memory. A doctor can perform tests and assessments to help determine the source of memory problems. Your health care provider may also recommend that you see a neurologist, a doctor who specializes in treating diseases of the brain and nervous system.

You may also wish to talk with your doctor about opportunities to participate in research on cognitive health and aging.

Tips for dealing with forgetfulness

There are a variety of techniques that may help you stay healthy and deal better with changes in memory and mental skills. Here are some tips:

  • Learn a new skill.
  • Follow a daily routine.
  • Plan tasks, make to-do lists, and use memory tools such as calendars and notes.
  • Put your wallet or purse, keys, phone, and glasses in the same place each day.
  • Stay involved in activities that can help both the mind and body.
  • Volunteer in your community, at a school, or at your place of worship.
  • Spend time with friends and family.
  • Get enough sleep, generally seven to eight hours each night.
  • Exercise and eat well.
  • Prevent or control high blood pressure.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol.
  • Get help if you feel depressed for weeks at a time.
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Some older adults have a condition called mild cognitive impairment — MCI — meaning they have more memory or thinking problems than other people their age. People with MCI can usually take care of themselves and are able to carry out their day-to-day tasks. MCI may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, but not everyone with MCI will develop Alzheimer’s.
  • If you’re experiencing changes in your memory or think you may have MCI, talk with your doctor. Learn more about the symptoms of MCI.
  • Dementia versus age-related forgetfulness
  • Forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging. However, dementia is not a normal part of aging. Dementia includes the loss of cognitive functioning — thinking, remembering, learning, and reasoning — and behavioral abilities to the extent that it interferes with a person’s quality of life and activities. Memory loss, though common, is not the only sign of dementia. People with dementia may also have problems with language skills, visual perception, or paying attention. Some people experience personality changes.
  • There are different types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s diseaseLewy body dementiafrontotemporal dementia, and vascular dementia, and symptoms may vary from person to person. The chart below compares some differences between normal aging and the signs of dementia.

What else can affect memory?

It’s possible for memory problems to stem from factors unrelated to dementia or normal aging. For example, medical conditions, such as depression or blood clots, can cause memory problems. These problems usually go away once the condition is successfully treated.

Factors that may cause memory problems include:

Major, traumatic, or stressful life events can also cause memory problems. For example, someone who has recently retired or who is coping with the death of a spouse may feel sad, lonely, worried, or bored. Stress and negative emotions are powerful. Trying to deal with such life changes and emotions leaves some people confused or forgetful.

These memory problems from negative emotions are usually temporary and will improve as the stress and emotions fade. Being active, socially engaged, and experiencing a sense of accomplishment by learning new skills can help with both memory and improving mood. If memory problems persist after a few weeks, talk with your doctor as this may be a sign of something more serious.

Finding the cause of memory problems is important for determining the best course of action. Once the cause is diagnosed, you and your doctor can determine the best treatment plan. People with memory problems should make a follow-up appointment to check their memory every six to 12 months.

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Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month 2024

June 3, 2024

In recognition of Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month in June, NIA is raising awareness about Alzheimer’s disease among the Latino community including Latinos living with dementia, their caregivers, and their families. Throughout the month we will share information, research, and resources on dementia, caregiving, and clinical trials in English and Spanish using the #NIAAlzheimers hashtag. Each week will focus on a different topic related to Alzheimer’s:

  • June 3-7: Learn about the basics of Alzheimer’s disease and risk in the Latino community
  • June 10-14: Explore Alzheimer’s causes and tips for reducing risk
  • June 17-21: Find resources for caregivers
  • June 24-28: Get the facts on clinical trials

How To Participate?

Everyone can play a role in promoting dementia resources. Consider taking the following actions:

  • Help spread the word by sharing NIA’s X and Facebook posts and follow NIA on X and Facebook.
  • Use the #NIAAlzheimers hashtag to follow along and share your own resources.
  • Share NIA’s infographics and videos or use one of the following sample posts:
    • Join @NIHAging throughout June for a conversation on #Alzheimers, #ClinicalTrials, and #caregiving among the Latino community. Each week NIA will share tips and resources in English and Spanish. Don’t miss out on this valuable conversation! #NIAAlzheimers 
    • We are excited to celebrate #AlzheimersAndBrainAwarenessMonth this June. Follow @NIHAging and #NIAAlzheimers for a bilingual conversation on #Alzheimers, #ClinicalTrials, and more all month long!

Health Professionals and Community Organizations

If you’re a health care professional or organization that works closely with the Latino community, NIA offers free print publications in English and Spanish and you can request copies of NIA’s Spanish and English resources postcard to distribute at your clinic, health fairs, or other community events. You can also explore more resources for providers.

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