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Alzheimer’s caregivers often see depression deepen over time, study says

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Add a heightened risk for depression to the list of challenges facing the caregivers of loved ones who have Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study found that older adults caring for spouses newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s had a 30% increase in symptoms of depression compared to those whose spouses didn’t have Alzheimer’s or related dementia.

And with care often lasting for years and Alzheimer’s symptoms continuing to worsen, those caregivers can have sustained depression for a long period of time.

“We know there’s a lot of research out there on dementia and how it affects people diagnosed. But there’s not a lot of research out there looking at the emotional health of partners,” said study author Melissa Harris, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan School of Nursing.

She and her team analyzed data on 16,650 older adults from the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study. They looked at depressive symptoms over an extended period, rather than for just a snapshot in time, as had been done in previous studies.

They considered individual symptoms, including feeling depressed, alone, sad and or that everything is an effort. Participants also answered whether they had felt happy in the past two weeks and whether they had felt like they enjoyed life.

“The fact that we saw these depressive symptoms stay for at least two years, beyond two years, means they’re taking a lot of the burden and it may be impacting the care they’re able to provide over time,” Harris noted.

In addition to the emotional toll, this sustained depression could lead to physical injury. Past research has shown that a similar change in depressive symptoms was associated with a 30% increase in falls, Harris said, which can be debilitating.

The findings were published recently in the Journal of Applied Gerontology.

In separate research, Harris is interviewing family caregivers to see how their lives have changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many resources and programs for the patient or the caregiver have been canceled or modified to be virtual, she said.

“They don’t get the same support and experience that they got before,” Harris said. “They described that the pandemic has really impacted their lives and their ability to care for themselves and also their loved ones.”

In the United States, more than 16 million family caregivers each provide an average of 22 hours of informal, unpaid care each week, the study reported.

Caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease experience many challenges, said Dr. Sanford Finkel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago. He is also a member of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s medical, scientific and memory screening advisory board.

“There is the loss of companionship and the type of love of somebody you’ve been close to for many years,” Finkel said. “It’s the loss of who the person is as you’ve known them through the years.”

A person with Alzheimer’s disease has significantly diminished ability to nurture over time, while also having more needs, Finkel noted. As the disease progresses, the patient can have behavioral problems, including anger and aggression, as well as physical challenges.

“The demands on the caregiver are huge. Often people who are caregivers are people who are elderly themselves. They may have their own needs, their own emotional needs, their own physical needs, their own needs for intimacy, and so they’re getting a lot less coming in and they’re having to put out a lot more,” Finkel explained.

Getting help early can make a difference for the caregiver’s own health, Finkel said. He suggested calling the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s hotline, which is staffed by licensed social workers offering support and a connection to resources.

The Alzheimer’s Association also offers a variety of supportive programs, Harris said. This includes a 24/7 helpline.

Caregivers should also ask for help from their health care providers, friends, family and others with knowledge of caregiving, Harris said.

“Our findings have a lot of implications for clinicians,” Harris said. “It really demonstrates that we should be prioritizing the entire family.”

More information

For more on Alzheimer’s disease and how caregivers get support, see the Alzheimer’s Association.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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Study: Restricting promotions of sweet foods cuts sugar, not profits

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Limiting marketing of high-sugar foods in supermarkets doesn’t cut into store profits, but it may improve public health, Australian researchers report.

Price promotions, end-of-aisle displays and putting products at eye level can stimulate sales. Ending these practices reduced purchase of sugar-sweetened drinks and candy in participating stores by the equivalent to nearly two tons of sugar, the researchers said. These included foods and drinks with added sugars, as well as natural sugar in honey, syrups and fruit juices.

The reductions in soft drink and candy purchases were particularly large, researchers said. Even so, profits were not affected, they added.

The study, published Oct. 7 in The Lancet Planetary Health, ran for 12 weeks and focused on 20 randomly selected stores in rural Australia. Some stores restricted promotion of sugary foods, others did not.

“Our novel study is the first to show that limiting [promotional] activities can also have an effect on sales, in particular, of unhealthy food and drinks,” said researcher Julie Brimblecombe, an associate professor of nutrition, dietetics and food at Monash University in Melbourne.

“This strategy has important health implications and is an opportunity to improve diets and reduce associated non-communicable diseases. It also offers a way for supermarkets to position themselves as responsible retailers, which could potentially strengthen customers’ loyalty without damaging business performance,” she said in a journal news release.

The changes affected sugar-sweetened drinks, candy and other sweets, table sugar and sweet biscuits or cookies. Among other things, these restricted price promotions, removed end-of-aisle and counter displays, and reduced refrigerator space for sugary drinks while placing large-size soft drinks elsewhere. Stores also promoted water and listed the amount of sugar in soft drinks.

As a result, added sugars purchased in foods and drinks fell 3%. Sugars in purchased sugar-sweetened drinks were cut by 7%, and from soda purchases it dropped 13%. Sugars from candy sales fell 7.5%, the researchers found.

Co-author Emma McMahon, a research fellow at Menzies School of Health Research in Casuarina, Australia, said researchers expected the strategy would work best on impulse items like sweet biscuits rather than on staples like table sugar.

“A different strategy for biscuits and items like table sugar should be explored to stimulate change in those buying behaviors,” she said in the release.

More information

To learn more about sugar and your health, see Harvard University.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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COVID-19 may have prolonged effect for pregnant women

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COVID-19 symptoms can last a long time in pregnant women, researchers say.

The new study included 594 pregnant women, with average age 31, across the United States who tested positive for the new coronavirus but were not hospitalized. Nearly one-third were health care workers.

On average, the women were about 24 weeks’ pregnant when they joined the study.

The most common early symptoms were cough, at 20%, sore throat, at 16%, body aches, at 12%, and fever, at 12%. By comparison, fever occurs in 43% of hospital patients who are not pregnant.

For 6%, loss of taste or smell was the first symptom. Other symptoms included shortness of breath, runny nose, sneezing, nausea, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea or dizziness.

While six out of 10 women had no symptoms after four weeks, symptoms lasted eight or more weeks for 25%, the study found.

Thirty-seven days was the median time for symptoms to resolve, meaning half took longer, half took less time. The findings were published this month in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.

“COVID-19 symptoms during pregnancy can last a long time, and have a significant impact on health and well-being,” said senior author Dr. Vanessa Jacoby. She is vice chairwoman of research in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco.

Jacoby’s team also found that COVID-related symptoms were complicated by overlapping signs of normal pregnancy, including nausea, fatigue and congestion.

The majority of participants had mild disease and were not hospitalized, said first author Dr. Yalda Afshar, assistant professor in the division of maternal fetal medicine, department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Despite the potential risks of COVID-19 for pregnant women and their newborns, large gaps in knowledge about the disease’s course and prognosis remain, Afshar noted in a UCSF news release.

“Our results can help pregnant people and their clinicians better understand what to expect with COVID-19 infection,” Afshar said.

More information

There’s more on COVID-19 and pregnancy at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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Pregnant women with COVID-19 don’t pass the virus to their newborns, study finds

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Oct. 12 (UPI) — New mothers infected with COVID-19 during pregnancy didn’t pass the virus to their babies, even if they breastfed and shared the same hospital room, according to a study published Monday by JAMA Pediatrics.

Mothers with severe COVID-19, however, delivered their babies, on average, one week earlier than healthy mothers, and their babies were four times as likely to need phototherapy to treat jaundice, the data showed.

“Between our findings and other studies, it is now known that there is a relatively low likelihood of vertical transmission from [COVID-19]-positive mothers to their newborns,” study co-author and pediatrician Melissa Stockwell told UPI.

“We also show that the risk remains low even with newborns rooming-in and direct breastfeeding practices, both of which had been concerns early in the pandemic,” said Stockwell, division chief of child and adolescent health at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

Pregnant women may be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, and reports have appeared that the risk for preterm delivery is higher among women infected with the virus, according to data released in June by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There remains a concern for the effect of this virus on pregnant women,” study co-author Dr. Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at NewYork Presbyterian, told UPI.

However, no indication exists — at least to date — that their newborns are at any risk from the virus.

To explore the issue further, the Columbia University researchers tested 101 babies born to infected mothers in New York City between March 13 and April 24 — the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in the region.

Two of the babes had low levels of the virus in their nasal and throat samples initially, but neither developed symptoms, and they later tested negative, the researchers said.

The remainder all tested negative at birth and, and the 31 infants who were retested several days later remained negative. All 101 babies “roomed in” — or shared the same hospital rooms as their mothers — and bathing was delayed, the researchers said.

Some studies have recommended early bathing of babies born to mothers with COVID-19 as a way to reduce risk for virus spread, but early bathing has other health risks, including hypothermia, they said.

Three of the 10 babies born to mothers with severe COVID-19, however, required phototherapy, while six of 91 born to mothers with mild to moderate disease required the treatment, the data showed.

“Treating babies as babies seems safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” study co-author Dr. Dani Dumitriu told UPI.

“This is particularly important given the continued spread of COVID-19 throughout the country and around the world,” said Dumitriu, a neonatologist at New York-Presbyterian.



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