By Genevieve Wanucha, UW Memory and Brain Wellness Center
Without many effective therapeutics for memory loss and dementia, families must often get creative to find solutions beyond the medicine cabinet to manage a loved one’s behavioral changes. Fortunately, evidence shows that a variety of non-pharmacological strategies can meaningfully improve the symptoms of people living with the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and provide ways to adapt or compensate for losses.
At the upcoming 2019 Alzheimer’s Discovery Conference, Dr. Kris Rhoads will discuss non-pharmacological interventions in the presentation ‘More than Medications: Non-Pharmacological Treatment of Memory Loss.’ He will delve into current promising options and explain how they can significantly lower the severity and frequency of behavioral and psychological symptoms in patients with dementia, in a variety of care settings.
Non-pharmacological interventions can be simple yet profoundly helpful, such as regular aerobic exercise—which has shown to be beneficial for cognition in patients with dementia. They can also take the form of assistive home technologies, such as automatic pill dispensers, cognitive rehabilitation therapy, treatment of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, mindfulness meditation, and social engagement programs, among others.
As a neuropsychologist in the UW Memory and Brain Wellness Center clinic, Dr. Rhoads specializes in the evaluation and treatment of neurodegenerative disorders, with consideration of the unique needs of each individual. He works with patients long after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, helping them to live well during big life change by developing new social, physical, and creative habits.
One of his top non-pharmacological recommendations for people living with memory loss is mindfulness meditation. Dr. Rhoads is a leading authority on the benefits of mindfulness meditation in the context of mild cognitive impairment and early-stage dementia. He chooses this strategy because it is grounded in evidence. For example, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania2 have found that participation in an 8-week meditation program improved blood flow to the brain and boosted memory and other thinking abilities for people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. In a study from Harvard3, meditation appears to improve functional connections in the brain and perhaps slow shrinkage of the hippocampus, a structure involved in learning and memory that is harmed by Alzheimer’s disease.
“Mindfulness meditation is about retraining how we respond to our environment, especially when stressed,” says Dr. Rhoads. “It’s valuable for us to have a way to help mediate the stress response to having memory problems, to disengage from the ‘I used to be able to do this and now I can’t do that, to much more of an acceptance of ‘this is where I’m at right now, regardless of where I was before’.”
He will also discuss the importance of earlier diagnosis, as it gives patients and their doctors the opportunity to start non-pharmaceutical interventions sooner and derive maximum benefit. As a Chair of the Bree Collaborative Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias Workgroup, Dr. Rhoads helped to form best-practice recommendations focused on improving detection and diagnosis of memory loss in primary care practice.
Joining Dr. Rhoads, Discovery Conference 2019 speakers from the UW Memory and Brain Wellness Center/ Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center include Michael Persenaire, MD (What if It’s Not Alzheimer’s?), Thomas Grabowski, MD, (What’s Happening in Alzheimer’s Research), Marigrace Becker, MSW, (Early-Stage Memory Loss: Empowerment, Encouragement and Support), and Lee Burnside, MD, MBA (A New Vision of Social Citizenship for Communities and People Living with Memory Loss).
2 Newberg et al., (2010). Meditation effects on cognitive function and cerebral blood flow in subjects with memory loss: a preliminary study. J. Alzheimers Dis. 2010. 20, 517–526.
3 Wells et al., Meditation’s impact on default mode network and hippocampus in mild cognitive impairment: a pilot study. Neurosci Lett. 2013 Nov 27;556:15-9
Dr. Rhoads will be present at our Discovery Conference on March 8, 2019. To learn more about Discovery and to register, click here.