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How Does Spring Affect Alzheimer's?

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How Does Spring Affect Alzheimer's?

Apr 14, 2014

With spring come opportunities, and risks, for individuals with Alzheimer’s. Dr. Norman Foster talks about things caregivers should be aware of and some new beneficial activities the change of seasons brings.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Springtime's coming up. What does that mean if you are a caregiver for somebody with Alzheimer's? We're going to talk about that next on The Scope.

Announcer: Medical news and research from University Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Interviewer: Dr. Norman Foster is the director of the Center for Alzheimer's Care Imaging and Research at the University of Utah. With the change of seasons kind of comes changes of risks and opportunities for people that are caregivers for individuals of Alzheimer's. Let's talk about that a little bit. What are some of the opportunities that come with spring?

Dr. Norman Foster: Well, we have some consistent goals for people who have Alzheimer's disease. They need to be physically active, socially engaged, and mentally alert. And so the question is how that works in springtime and there are a lot of opportunities as you mention. There's a time where people can go gardening, they can keep physically active and so let's think about changes in activities that will meet that goal of keeping socially engaged and physically active.
For example, this is a great time to get out in nature, appreciate birds, flowers, all of those things. Let's enjoy life. We're really seeking and expect now that people throughout the course of Alzheimer's disease should expect a high quality of life and getting out and enjoying the spring, the outdoors is certainly part of that.

Interviewer: That's about as good as it gets right there. Springtime. Are there any things that you should be careful of or aware of with spring coming around?

Dr. Norman Foster: Well, again, these are general principles we can apply anytime of the year but when you're out and walking around and seeing nature you want to make sure that someone doesn't get lost. And so there are a number of ways to do this. There is the Safe Return Program through the Alzheimer's Association or medic alert bracelets so that people who get separated from loved ones can find their way back. There are some very interesting, innovative GPS programs, a variety of them so that caregivers can track someone. You know, it's great to be out in the neighborhood, talk to neighbors, and to have a caregiver who's not worried all the time but can check on where their loved one is.

Interviewer: Yeah, yeah.

Dr. Norman Foster: That's important. And, of course, not taking risks. So one of the great things to do, it may be that someone who has Alzheimer's disease is no longer able to drive and has had to retire from driving but they may be able to bicycle for example. Great thing to do...

Interviewer: Sure.

Dr. Norman Foster: the spring. And getting out and seeing the neighbors. You know, neighbors are more likely to be sitting on the porch or out doing gardening and so going by and visiting them, even making that a regular visit. Having a pet and taking the dog for a walk helps to incorporate that regular sustained exercise of more than 20 minutes that every patient with memory problems needs to engage in.

Interviewer: It just dawned on me spring is almost the perfect time because you think about spring, everybody's so excited to get outside so there tends to be a lot more people. And then when the summer starts coming and it gets hotter and hotter then people start going back inside again, so it's kind of like this narrow window of opportunity really.

Dr. Norman Foster: That's true and what I would emphasize is taking this opportunity because there is so much possibility to set up a regular schedule of activities. This is the time to set up those habits that we want to see all year.

Interviewer: Gotcha. Sure

Dr. Norman Foster: So patients often come to me and every patient we recommend gets regular physical exercise, 20 minutes to 30 minutes of sustained activity, walking one mile a day for example. And they'll come and say, "Well, Doc, it's been too cold or there's too much snow so I haven't been active." And then I see them six months later and then it's too hot.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Dr. Norman Foster: And so I tell them there's no excuse. This is the goal anytime.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Dr. Norman Foster: But if you set this up and think about how this can be done during the year it's just setting up that schedule, that expectation. And springtime, maybe fall, easier than somewhere in the middle of winter.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Dr. Norman Foster: But once you get that habit, gee, it's great to look for a shopping mall or a senior center where you can get that exercise when the weather's bad. You know we're fortunate here in Utah because the weather's so great much of the summer but I bet if I were in another part of the country that the explanation would be, "Well, it was raining," or there's always something that we let ourselves off the hook.

Interviewer: Yeah. Get in that habit. Maybe even have friends over on the patio and then that continues through the fall and then take it inside on the wintertime. That's a great idea.

Dr. Norman Foster: Time for turning over a new leaf.

Interviewer: Yeah, so to speak.

Dr. Norman Foster: That's right. So this is the time to set up good habits.

Interviewer: Good idea.

Dr. Norman Foster: And a time when we can all feel optimistic.

Interviewer: Any final thoughts? Springtime?

Dr. Norman Foster: Well, I think that making sure that you're out and keeping enough fluids. A big problem is that people who have memory problems may forget to drink enough and tend to get dehydrated and so having someone along, a friend, family member along to encourage keeping hydrated is important and making things interesting, you know. It's great if you go around just the neighborhood every day. Same place but let's try to make things a little more interesting too and vary habits. That's something with a good friend this is a time to renew those friendships.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope; the University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.