Author Archives: Christian Elliott

About Christian Elliott

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Driving with Alzheimer’s Disease

Today more than 6 million people in the U.S. live with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, and this total is project to increase to 13.9 million by 2060. For the family of a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it is common to be faced with the all-important question of Alzheimer’s driver safety.

It’s difficult to decide when someone with dementia should stop driving, since you need to balance safety considerations with the person’s sense of independence, pride and control. Most information about dementia warns against driving, but doesn’t help determine *when* it should stop.

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, many people usually are still socially engaged and able to manage daily activities – including safe driving. However, all people living with Alzheimer’s will eventually become unsafe to drive because of the degenerative, progressive nature of the brain disease. The question is: at what point is someone unable to continue to drive safely?

Top Considerations for Family and Friends

Consider the frequency and severity of the following warning signs. Several minor incidents or an unusual, major incident may warrant action. Look for patterns of change over time.

Alzheimer's Driver Warning Signs

Top Warning Signs 
1. Easily distracted while driving7. Increased agitation when driving
2. Hitting curbs8. New scrapes or dents on the car
3. Failure to notice traffic signs9. Drifting out of lane
4. Trouble navigating turns, esp. left turns10. Moving violations/tickets
5. Stopping in traffic for no apparent reason11. Getting lost in familiar places
6. Driving at inappropriate (much too slow or fast) speeds12. Confusing the gas and brake pedals

Advice from Experienced Caregivers

Caregivers who have wrestled with Alzheimer’s driving and transportation issues offer the following tips:

  1. Every situation is unique. Consider the personality and the abilities of the person with dementia when making decisions throughout the course of the disease.
  2. Begin discussions early, and include the person living with Alzheimer’s.
  3. Base decisions on driving behavior observed over a period of time.
  4. Get support when making decisions and implementing changes.

Health care professionals, attorneys, case managers, financial planners and local Alzheimer’s support groups can provide information and perspective to reinforce the family’s efforts – helping to ensure that the person with dementia gets the best support.

Curious about your brain? Take the Healthy Brain Test and receive your personal report.

Mild Cognitive Impairment Tests

Testing for Mild Cognitive Impairment

Mild Cognitive Impairment, or MCI, is an intermediate stage condition between normal cognitive functioning and Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia:

Signs of MCI include a “change in cognition” — this typically means memory problems, but it can also include planning and reasoning skills that could negatively affect higher function tasks like managing personal finances. Most people with MCI are able to continue to live independently.

Some (but not all) people diagnosed with MCI later decline into Alzheimer’s. Current research puts the probability of a person with MCI converting to Alzheimer’s at around 10% to 15% per year. Amnestic MCI, a subtype characterized by subtle but noticeable memory loss, is the most common type of MCI that can lead to Alzheimer’s.

Mild Cognitive Impairment Tests

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Common Drugs & Memory Loss

Several types of common over-the-counter drugs can cause cognitive impairment. People with a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease face a 250% increased risk of cognitive impairment from these drugs.

New research published in the medical journal from the American Academy of Neurology highlights several common medications that can cause memory loss and cognitive impairment. These types of medications, called anticholinergic drugs, are taken for allergies, common colds, stomach discomfort, and motion sickness.

This table shows the generic and brand names for common anticholinergic drugs:

Common Anticholinergic Drugs That Can Cause Memory Loss

Generic NameBrand Name(s)
ChlorpheniramineAlka-Seltzer Plus Cold & Cough Liquid Gels
DimenhydrinateDraminate, Dramamine, Gravol
DiphenhydramineBenadryl, Sominex, Tylenol PM, Advil PM, Aleve PM, others
RantidineZantac, Deprezine

The study involved 688 people with an average age of 74 who had no problems with thinking and memory skills at the start of the study. The participants reported if they were taking any anticholinergic drugs within three months of the start of the study at least once a week for more than six months.

The study found that people with biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease in their cerebrospinal fluid who were taking anticholinergic drugs were four times more likely to later develop mild cognitive impairment than people who were not taking the drugs and did not have the biomarkers.

Similarly, people who had genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and took anticholinergic drugs were about 2.5 times as likely to later develop mild cognitive impairment than people without the genetic risk factors and who were not taking the drugs.

People who take anticholinergic medications are encouraged to discuss options with their doctors or pharmacists before making changes to their medications, since some of these medications may cause adverse effects if stopped suddenly.

Six Ways to Boost Mental Health and Immune Function

As the world experiences a wave of mandatory social distancing measures, we thought it would be useful to list a few ways to boost both your immune system and mental health:

1. Eat Healthy Foods

Eating a healthy diet is common sense for overall well-being. While no single food will magically fend off illness, certain nutrients can help protect your body from billions of bacteria, viruses, and other germs. Some nutrients and foods that support healthy immunity include:

  • Garlic, turmeric root, ginger root
  • Mushrooms – shiitake, maitake, reishi, lion’s mane
  • Active omega-3 fatty acids (EPA + DHA), found in salmon, tuna, and other cold-water fish
  • Zinc-rich foods, like oysters, crab, grass-fed lean meats and poultry, and chickpeas
  • Selenium-rich foods, such as broccoli, sardines, tuna, Brazil nuts, and barley
  • Vitamin C-rich foods, like guavas, kiwis, bell peppers, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, oranges, papaya, broccoli, pineapple, cantaloupe, mango, tomato, kale, and snow peas
  • Vitamin E-rich foods, including sunflower seeds, almonds, avocados, hazelnuts, spinach, Swiss chard, butternut squash, kiwis, broccoli, and rainbow trout

2. Get Quality Sleep

Quality sleep stimulates the immune system, while sleep deprivation can raise the stress hormone cortisol. Required levels of sleep do vary among people, but most studies indicate adults should try to get an average of 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Those with a compromised immune system should get even more sleep.

3. Increase Vitamin D

Vitamin D is crucial for healthy immune regulation and inflammatory response. Failure to get enough vitamin D can lead to health problems and other mental and physical difficulties. If you aren’t getting 10 to 30 minutes of direct sunlight each day, supplementing with at least 2000 IU of vitamin D3 is a good idea.

4. Be Physically Active Each Day

Getting at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity daily will increase your blood circulation and can help strengthen your immune system. The increase in circulation improves delivery of nutrients to your bone marrow, spleen and other organs of immunity. Better circulation also helps clear waste products from the body and transport hormones that keep the immune system alert and active.

5. Stay Hydrated

Hydration is key to the functioning of all our organs including those of the immune system. Every organ system in the body needs adequate hydration to function properly. Water helps cleanse the body and remove toxins. By keeping your body systems well-hydrated, you allow them to work optimally so they can maintain healthy immunity.

6. Practice Stress Reduction Daily

Take a 5 minute break when you can.  This short guided videos can help:

Guard your self-care time. It keeps you healthy.

Privacy and Monitoring Your Brain

Facebook recently announced its intention to acquire CTRL-Labs, a neural interface startup developing a wristband that can control computers and other devices. The wristband works by decoding electrical signals travelling through muscles in the forearm. CTRL-Labs will now be part of Facebook’s Reality Labs group.

The CTRL-Labs acquisition (between $500 Million – $1 Billion) kicks off the next phase of brain-computer interface (BCI) applications moving into the consumer marketplace.

There are and will be many life improving aspects of BCI devices, especially for people with disabilities, and importantly, the rapidly growing senior population in the U.S. and other countries. The U.S. in particular faces a caregiver availability crisis, and BCIs hold the promise of keeping many people with special needs safe at home.

There are also some interesting questions regarding BCI devices and personal privacy.

Who Owns Your Brainwaves?

As we’ve seen in the past with other technologies, BCI applications will race ahead of several important (and critical) personal privacy and public policy issues.

Consumer EEG devices like the Muse headband can accurately read brain waves with only four sensors. Elon Musk’s Neuralink has a more ambitious goal of implanting thousands of tiny electrodes on the surface of the brain, which can then transmit to a nearby wireless device. Research labs are investigating whether a person’s unique brainwaves could be used as a highly secure authentication method for access to computers, databases, command & control systems, homes, workplaces and more.

This rapid progress on BCI devices brings a multitude of situations to ponder:

  • Your EEG signature is unique, meaning you could be identified through your brainwaves. Who owns your EEG signature, and how will this data be used by governments and corporations?
  • Could your unique EEG signature be copied & impersonated by another person, organization, or AI program?
  • While ‘reading your thoughts’ stays in the realm of science fiction, BCI devices could be used to identify deception (aka lie detectors). How accurate would this tool be, and could there be ways to game the lie detector algorithm?
  • Can companies require employees to wear a brainwave headband at work, to monitor alertness and attention?

This last point is happening now in a several Chinese schools. Students are required to wear a EEG headband during class, and when a student’s attention begins to wander, an alert is sent to the teacher’s monitoring system (and the parent’s mobile phone). Privacy, personal freedom, mixing with government and corporate policies will play out in different countries, with likely different results. A brave new world ahead.