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'Sea-ing' results: an aquarium can help boost Alzheimer's patients' appetites.

Moviegoers aren't the only ones "Finding Nemo" this year--two Purdue University professors found that placing aquariums in long term care facilities prompt Alzheimer's patients to eat more, curbing weight loss--a significant symptom of the disease.

Weight loss, which typically occurs in 50 percent of people diagnosed with dementia, significantly increases the risk of mortality and speeds progression of the disease, according to an earlier 1998 study. Weight loss also leads to reduced muscle mass and loss of functional independence, which increases the risk of falls, infections and skin irritation.

The Purdue University study sought to examine innovative interventions. To date, little research has been done on the influence of aquariums in long term care facilities.

In the new Disney film, Nemo and his seaworthy friends try to escape from their "prison"--a glass aquarium. But these fish knew the benefits their presence provided to long term care residents, the gilled gang might change their minds about returning to the sea.

The Purdue study found that a patient's food intake increased by 21 percent when aquariums were introduced. Once the six-week treatment period was over, the sample group showed a 27.1 percent increase in food intake. Most residents gained an average of 1.65 pounds over a 16-week period.

In addition, participants required less nutritional supplements, a decrease of an average of 11 cans per day--resulting in a cost savings of $11.44 per day.

How does one explain the effect of fish on Alzheimer's patients eating habits? Staff members observed that residents with a history of pacing and wandering sat for longer periods observing the aquarium and consequently ate for longer periods. Residents who tended toward lethargy became more attentive and awake around the aquariums, therefore increasing food intake.

Aquariums used in the study were specially developed for dementia units, with a lighted background for residents with vision impairments and a large 30-inch by 20-inch viewing area placed at eye level. The tanks came with locks to protect the fish and the residents.

The Purdue University study involved 62 patients in three Midwest facilities with a mean age of 80.1. One of the three facilities was used as a control group by introducing a scenic ocean picture instead of an aquarium.

The patients had lived in a long term care facility for an average of 47.8 months. They were weighed three months before the aquariums were installed and then monthly during the testing period of four months.

Care was taken to make sure residents ate only food from their trays, according to the study.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Research
Author:Lakdawalla, Pervin
Publication:Contemporary Long Term Care
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2003
Previous Article:New horizons: early diagnosis of Alzheimer's means new implications for care.
Next Article:How 'sweet' it is: a holistic approach to Alzheimer's nurtures patient and caregiver.

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