Certain Prescription Drugs May Be Shown to Increase Risks of Dementia

Multiple studies in recent years have revealed a disconcerting connection between certain common prescription drugs and dementia.

While there’s still much research to be done, and the studies stop short of saying that the drugs in question cause dementia, the findings are nevertheless quite serious. In fact, according to the results of scientific studies published in internationally respected peer-reviewed medical journals, like BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) and JAMA Neurology, a category of drugs known as “anticholinergics” have been linked to elevated risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in aging adults.

In one study, seniors who used anticholinergic drugs over periods as short as three months were found to have elevated risks of dementia ranging from 11-34 percent. The variances mainly depended on which drugs they were taking, how long they were taking them, and in what dosage.

Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia, which is a general term for memory loss and cognitive deterioration. Alzheimer’s consists of nearly 80 percent of all known cases of dementia, and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Sadly, there is currently no known cure, and Alzheimer’s patients live an average of four to eight years after first being diagnosed with the disease.

Dementia, in all its forms, is a brain disease. It is reported that anticholinergic drugs may affect the brain by suppressing a neurotransmitter chemical, called acetylcholine, which would normally deliver brain signals to muscles throughout the body. Anticholinergic drugs have proven successful in treating ailments ranging from depression, to incontinence, to Parkinson’s disease. In fact, they’ve been so successful that it’s now estimated that up to half of all elder adults in the United States are currently taking one or more of these medicines.

The problem may lie in the fact that acetylcholine is involved in memory and learning. It’s long been observed in the scientific research community that people with Alzheimer’s Disease have lower than normal levels of acetylcholine.

Previous research also suggests that anticholinergic drugs contribute to brain inflammation, which is another potential contributing factor to dementia. Another recent discovery shows that patients using anticholinergic drugs have less brain volume and larger ventricles, or cavities inside the brain.

Taken together, all these findings may be consistent in measurably showing that anticholinergic drugs are tied to diminished short-term memory, verbal reasoning, planning and problem solving, which can all be overlapping symptoms of dementia.

We know this article may raise more questions than it solves. When it comes to elder law planning you can never start planning early enough. We encourage you to ask us your questions. You may schedule a meeting with our office at any time.

Robotic skeleton can prevent traumatic (and sometimes fatal) elderly falls

Remember the “The Bionic Woman,” or the “The Six Million Dollar Man?” Both were popular 1970s televisions shows about how science turned an ordinary woman and a disabled man, respectively, into superhumans who could do just about anything. In more modern pop culture, it’s all about “Ironman.”

Science can’t yet make us superheroes, however, it can help elderly people do more, safely. Researchers in Italy and Switzerland have developed a prototype device that can detect a slip in progress — and help its wearer avoid a fall all together. The robotics community is hailing it as a invention that could one day help millions of elderly people and amputees avoid falling and becoming injured, or even dying.

According to Science:

“The new Active Pelvis Orthosis (APO) consists of a waist brace holding motors on the hips that move lightweight carbon-fiber links connected to thigh braces. It uses an algorithm that monitors leg movement; if the legs diverge from a natural gait in a way that suggests a slip, the motors apply force to help the legs counteract the slippage.”

Unlike a brace or an exoskeleton, the prototype would kick into action only when it sensed that a person was slipping.

“It’s the first time that someone has rationally dealt with falls by having the robot collaborate with the person,” David Reinkensmeyer, a biomechanical engineer at the University of California, Irvine, who was not involved in the research, told Science. “It’s supercool.”

Developers outfitted eight elderly adults and two above-the-knee amputees (who wore prosthetic legs) with the device. After the start of a slip, the device reacted within a third of a second, correcting a person’s gait for a quarter of a second. The researchers found that the people would have fallen otherwise. What’s more, during normal walking, the APO, which weighs about 5 kilograms, had no effect on gait.

The device doesn’t require much customization. It amplifies their leg force by 20 to 30 percent.

Consumers should be able to buy the device sometimes in the next decade. Let’s hope for sooner to prevent people from falling and really getting hurt.

Source: Sciencemag.com

Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only nine attorneys in the state of Florida who is double board-certified in wills trusts and estates and in elder law.  Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

Got pot? Seniors may benefit from it

Older people who use pot may have better memory and cognitive function than those who don’t, a new study shows.

German research published in Nature Medicine suggests that low doses of THC help improve brain function in elderly men and women, unlike the stereotypical youthful pot smoker whose brain seems to move at a snail’s pace.

Young mice treated with THC performed slightly worse on behavioral tests of memory and learning; they had a harder time recognizing another mouse to which they had previously been exposed.

The mature mice, though, were different. After receiving THC, the elderly animals’ performances improved to the point that they resembled those of young, untreated mice. One of the researchers called the effects “very robust, very profound.”

As Susan Weiss, director of the Division of Extramural Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told the magazine:

“This well-designed set of experiments shows that chronic THC pretreatment appears to restore a significant level of diminished cognitive performance in older mice, while corroborating the opposite effect among young mice. While it would be tempting to presume the relevance of these findings [extends] to aging humans…further research will be critically needed.”

Researchers noticed neurons in the a brain area critical for learning and memory had sprouted more synaptic spines in the older mice who had consumed weed. Even more surprising, the older animals under THC’s influence looked similar to the young, untreated control mice.

The findings raise the intriguing possibility THC and other “cannabinoids” might act as anti-aging molecules in the brain. Research has shown the cannabinoid system develops gradually during childhood. As we age, it’s on a steady decline.

Marijuana use among seniors has skyrocketed as the drug’s stigma has dissolved with legalization in some states. One study showed that in people aged 50 to 64, marijuana use increased nearly 60 percent between 2006 and 2013. And among adults over 65, the drug’s use jumped by 250 percent.

The scientists plan to explore the potential impact of THC on older human brains with a clinical trial later this year, being one of few to focus on more aged subjects so far. Previous research with mice by the Universities of Bonn and Mainz also suggested that “the brain’s main cannabis receptor and neural pathways are closely related to brain health in later life, and seem to play a role in preventing brain degeneration when active,” according to Forbes.

Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only nine attorneys in the state of Florida who is double board-certified in wills trusts and estates and in elder law.  Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

Five steps to ensure your estate plan meets your needs

Creating a comprehensive Florida estate plan is the first step in protecting assets for you and your family. But don’t stop there. Here are some tips to ensure your estate is properly organized:

If you have a safe deposit box, name a trusted co-owner of the box so your family can access it without having to get a court order. When you die, your Durable Power of Attorney dies with you, so your executor will not have immediate access to the box.

If you are in the habit of hiding valuables in your home, tell a trusted family member where those hiding places are.

If you use a name that is not your legal name on your bank account or other financial accounts – i.e., Bob Brown instead of Robert Brown – be sure that your alternate name is on your estate planning documents.

If a Florida resident passes away in another state, be sure their Florida address is noted when the death is reported. An out-of-state address on a death certificate can lead to problems at probate.

Be sure the person you have named as your executor or trustee is willing and able to serve. There are many instances when estate planning documents have not been updated, and a named representative has passed away or become disabled, requiring the court to get involved.

Although estates may be smaller after the economic downturn of the last few years, there’s now more room for flexibility, and if you play your cards right, more of your estate will end up going to your heirs rather than to the government.

So what does it mean to play your cards right?

Be specific about the distribution of your estate. Questions about your estate will inevitably lead to fights between family members. Being clear in your will or trust means fewer questions and fewer fights.

Build flexibility into your estate plan. A revocable trust as opposed to an irrevocable trust will give your executor more flexibility to manage assets when they need to be managed.

Reassess (and possibly re-title) how you hold your assets and plan to take advantage of the current exemption ($5.49 million per person, $10.98 million for couples.)

Make gifts now, rather than after you’re gone. Gifting while you are still alive can remove taxable assets from your estate, and since the estate tax exemption is so high, it’s a good time to give. You may also want to consider how much you can accomplish with a pen and checkbook, including paying tuition and medical expenses for your grandchildren with no tax consequences.

But the first thing you need to do is dust off your existing estate plan and take it to a Florida estate planning attorney for review. If you haven’t done so in awhile, it’s time to reassess, revise, and take control again.

At The Estate, Trust and Elder Law Firm, P.L. we help our Treasure Coast clients develop and implement comprehensive estate planning strategies personally tailored to their unique situation, needs, and goals. Contact us for your free initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.