Skip Navigation
Seniors Newsletter
September 10, 2012
In this Issue
• Ginkgo Won't Prevent Alzheimer's, Study Finds
• 'Magic' Carpet Could Help Shield Elderly From Falls
• Seniors' Creativity Can Thrive Despite Dementia

Ginkgo Won't Prevent Alzheimer's, Study Finds

This is the latest finding in debate over herb's ability to keep dementia at bay

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 5 (HealthDay News) -- Yet another study, this one by French researchers, finds that the herbal supplement ginkgo biloba won't prevent or delay Alzheimer's disease.

"One would hope that this would be the final nail in the coffin for ginkgo," said Dr. Sam Gandy, the Mount Sinai chair in Alzheimer's Disease Research and associate director of the Mount Sinai Alzheimer's Disease Research Center in New York City. "Dead and buried. Enough said. Time to move on."

The report is published in the Sept. 6 online edition of The Lancet Neurology.

In the French study, Dr. Bruno Vellas from the Hopital Casselardit in Toulouse and colleagues enrolled more than 2,800 people aged 70 and older who reported having memory problems. These patients were randomly assigned to take ginkgo biloba extract or an inactive placebo.

After five years, 61 (4 percent) of those taking ginkgo biloba developed Alzheimer's as did 73 (5 percent) of those taking a placebo. This difference was not statistically significant, the researchers noted.

In addition, there were no significant differences between the groups in the number of strokes or deaths, the investigators found.

"We were not able to demonstrate the protective effect of ginkgo," Vellas said. "More studies are needed on potential long-term exposure."

Another expert said this is the third trial to test ginkgo biloba with Alzheimer's disease; a U.S. study published in 2009 also found the herbal extract had no protective effect.

"As it stands, the only hopeful possibility for anything positive from this negative trial would be from the subgroup analysis and the finding that the ginkgo group did better in the last year of the study when the placebo group conversion to Alzheimer's disease suddenly spiked," said Greg Cole, associate director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"Because the dementia rates in both groups were steady for the first four years, this burst in the placebo group's final year was probably just a statistical fluke, but who knows for sure," he said.

It remains an open question how early and how long one needs to treat in prevention trials and how long efficacy may lag behind treatment, Cole said. "We have to learn as much as possible from every prevention trial, including all the negative ones, to figure out how to run them as quickly and cheaply as possible and find something that works."

Another expert, Dr. Lon Schneider, director of the University of Southern California Alzheimer's Disease Research and Clinical Center in Los Angeles and author of an accompanying journal editorial, added that "there were no positive results from this trial for ginkgo."

Schneider noted that people who take part in these trials tend to be healthier, so while supplements like ginkgo don't have a benefit, living a healthy lifestyle may be the key to preventing or delaying dementia.

This trial should end the debate about ginkgo, Schneider said. "People who are taking ginkgo with the idea that it might prevent Alzheimer's disease and dementia should not think so anymore," he said. "But it's curious the tenacity by which some people hold on to the belief that this is helpful."

More information

For more about Alzheimer's disease, visit the Alzheimer's Association  External Links Disclaimer Logo.

'Magic' Carpet Could Help Shield Elderly From Falls

Optical fibers map walking patterns, warn of potential dangers

THURSDAY, Sept. 6 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers report that it's possible to use plastic optical fibers in carpeting to warn seniors when their walking patterns might put them in danger of falling.

The fibers, placed on a carpet underlay, work by sensing a person's movement through electronics and sending signals to a computer where they can be analyzed.

The researchers, a team from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, say their technology could be used in carpets in nursing homes, hospital wards and private homes.

"Falls are a really important problem for our aging society," researcher Chris Todd said in a news release from the university. "Older people will benefit from exercises to improve balance and muscle strength in the legs. So, being able to identify changes in people's walking patterns and gait in the natural environment, such as in a corridor in a nursing home, could really help us identity problems earlier on."

The findings were presented recently at the Photon 12 optics conference at the University of Durham in the U.K. Research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

For more about falls, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Seniors' Creativity Can Thrive Despite Dementia

Programs seek to inspire artistry, reduce isolation in these older adults

TUESDAY, Sept. 4 (HealthDay News) -- No one thought Sherry S., a 91-year-old former sociologist with dementia-related short-term memory loss, could write.

But one Wednesday afternoon, Sherry wandered into a writing workshop at a community center in Albuquerque, N.M., and proceeded to astonish the group with her story about Homer the Artistic Turtle.

"Although [Homer] is not required to be cheerful, he tries to be interesting partly because who wants an uninteresting turtle?" Sherry wrote, adding that Homer clearly was "artistic and color-conscious" because "he prefers green lettuce with purple coloring on the sides."

Homer was also a writer, having penned a book on turtle senior living. "He should be well known in his field, which is not very crowded," Sherry wrote. "There is an unfortunate lack of interest in turtle well-being."

The writing surprised Sherry's daughter, Scott Sandlin.

"She's always been a good writer, but it's interesting to me that she's retained that skill even while other parts of memory diminish," Sandlin said.

But the feat likely would not have surprised Anne Basting, who is director of the Center on Age and Community at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. Basting has pioneered writing and other arts programs for people living with dementia.

"People look at dementia as loss and deficit. They never assume people with dementia can grow or learn anything [but] that's what we're witnessing: growth and expression and skill-building," she said.

"[Humans] have this enormous capacity to learn, and the arts are so intrinsic within us that even with dementia we still retain that ability for imagination and creativity," added Gay Hanna, executive director of the National Center for Creative Aging, in Washington, D.C.

With baby boomers inevitably progressing toward old age and sometimes dementia as well, there is a growing need and a growing push for programs that can give meaning to a senior citizen's life as well as reduce strain on the caregiver.

It's not just writing programs and storytelling but also dance, music and painting, each of which provides its own particular benefit.

Writing, for instance, allows the person with dementia to bypass the world of traditional language, where they may not get the right word at the right time, and slip into their own world of metaphor, Basting explained.

"It's a benefit to us all because we learn to see the world differently," she said.

Dance, drama and singing are all very physical, and so have an impact on physical health, added Hanna.

All of these forms of artistic expression foster a sense of community, and may even slow the progression of the disease by breaking through the isolation that can quicken decline.

"People always [want to know if] this improves cognitive functioning [but] why would there be an expectation that arts should do this or that?" said Basting, who is author of the book, "Forget Memory." She added, "There are basic improvements in well-being, a sense of belonging, a sense of self, a sense of mastery and skill-building and growing in the moment... We're improving quality of life as long as possible. That's pretty significant."

Basting said she's received inquiries about senior-oriented arts programming from such diverse sources as firefighters in Alabama who want to engage positively with people with dementia, to museum education programs that want to continue to serve their aging membership.

"We understand that the first impulse is to go with medicine, [but] communities are now starting to respond," she said.

More information

Visit the National Center for Creative Aging  External Links Disclaimer Logo for more on imaginative programs for seniors.

Copyright © 2012 ScoutNews, LLC. All rights reserved.