Ask The Health Expert: Roberta Feldhausen, Erickson Health Medical Group Riderwood

Health and wellness experts practice exclusively at Erickson Living communities all over the U.S. The following Q&A appeared in The Erickson Tribune(www.EricksonTribune.com ): Roberta Feldhausen, PMH-CNS, BC Director of Mental Health Services, Erickson Health Medical Group Riderwood, Silver Spring, Md. Ms. Feldhausen received a bachelor's degree in psychobiology from Hood College in Frederick, Md., and another in nursing from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. She graduated with a master's degree in adult and geriatric psychiatric nursing from the University of Maryland School of Nursing in Baltimore. Certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center in adult psychiatric mental health nursing, she joined Riderwood in October 2004. Please note: The following questions were submitted by readers. The answers are intended for general information purposes and should not replace your doctor's medical advice. Q. My husband has Alzheimer's disease and lives in an assisted living residence. An organization sometimes brings pets in to visit with residents, but I'm concerned about sanitation and the risk of infections. Is this an unsafe practice? A. Pet therapy, or animal-assisted therapy, has been used for many years. Research is ongoing about the benefits of this practice, including how pets may reduce stress, lift mood, and provide comfort for people coping with a range of illnesses. Not just anyone can walk into a health care facility with a pet. Strict rules are typically in place with regard to cleanliness of the animals, training, vaccinations, and behavior screening. That's not to say incidents can't happen, but to date, no pet therapy-related infections have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Q. My mother is only in her early 60s. She had a minor stroke a few years back and has been recently diagnosed with diabetes. In the past few years, her memory has gotten worse and her doctor says she has dementia. Because she is so young, is there any chance she could recover some of her memory? A. Memory loss can have many causes. Medical events such as a stroke can affect the brain's memory processes by depriving it of oxygen, and a chronic condition such as diabetes can cause vascular problems that affect blood flow to the brain. The old thinking was that brain cells cannot regenerate, and damage from a disease process was likely to be permanent. In some cases, this is still true. But in other cases, no matter how old someone is, strategies to control diabetes and prevent future strokes can go a long way in improving memory or, at the very least, slow the process of memory loss. Treating any existing depression can also result in a dramatic improvement of memory loss. Your mother might benefit from a thorough examination by her doctor to determine the best way to manage her health conditions.