Support your lungs with deep breathing exercises

Healthy Human Lungs 2d illustrationThe World Health Organization says about 80% of people with COVID-19 recover without needing any special treatment. But one person in six becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing.

Professor John Wilson, president-elect of the Royal Australian College of Physicians and a respiratory physician says that people develop a fever and cough when the infection reaches the air passages that conduct air from the lungs to the outside. If it gets worse, the infection moves to the end of the air passages. In an article in “The Guardian,” Wilson explains “If they become infected they respond by pouring out inflammatory material into the air sacs that are at the bottom of our lungs.”

If the air sacs then become inflamed, the lungs fill up with fluid and inflammatory cells, which results in pneumonia. This condition severely impacts the body’s ability to take in oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. And coronavirus pneumonia affects all of the lungs, instead of just small parts.

I don’t know whether the condition of a relatively healthy person’s lungs is a factor in whether or not you would get pneumonia from the COVID-19 virus, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to paying attention to how you breathe. It’s always a good idea, but it’s more important now than ever.

Breathing is something most of us take for granted.  In fact, the average person breathes 1,261,440,000 (one and a quarter billion) times in a lifetime without thinking about it.  Breathing is so vital to your overall health and well-being that Dr. Andrew Weil, best-selling author, educator and practicing M.D. says: “If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly.”

Slow, deep breathing is probably the single best anti-stress medicine we have, ” says James Gordon, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Georgetown University School of Medicine and director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington.”  When you bring air down into the lower portion of the lungs, where oxygen exchange is most efficient, everything changes.  Heart rate slows, blood pressure decreases, muscles relax, anxiety eases and the mind calms.  Breathing this way also gives people a sense of control over their body and their emotions that is extremely therapeutic,” says Gordon.1

Most of us do not breathe correctly.  Typically our “normal” breathing is shallow. “The result is a vicious cycle, where stress prompts shallow breathing, which in turn creates more stress,” says Gordon.2

Abdominal breathing and pranyama (yoga breathing exercises) are natural, easy ways to increase your energy and feel more relaxed because they accelerate the intake of oxygen.

Here are some breathing exercises that might just help strengthen your lungs and help you to relax during this stressful time.

Abdominal Breathing

Abdominal breathing is done from the depths of the belly, rather than breathing from your chest and nose.  It is a simple method of relaxation that can be done anywhere, at any time.

  1. Sit or lie down with your hands on your stomach.
  2. Inhale slowly through your nose, filling your stomach and then your chest.  Your abdomen should rise as if you’re inflating a balloon.  Allow it to swell and return to normal.  Your chest should move only slightly.
  3. Try to get a rhythm going, counting to 4 on the in-breath and to 8 on the out-breath.
  4. Exhale as slowly as possible through slightly parted lips.
  5. Practice this for about 10 minutes.

Alternate nostril breathing (pranyama)

You’ll notice that one of the nostrils is more open than the other.  Don’t mind this, it’s normal.

  1. Close the right nostril with your thumb.
  2. Breathe in through your left nostril.
  3. Close the left nostril with your third and fourth fingers.
  4. Breathe out through your right nostril.
  5. Close the right nostril with your thumb.
  6. Breathe in through your left nostril.
  7. Repeat the entire sequence and continue for 3-5 minutes.

The effects from these breathing exercises are cumulative, so try to practice them a few minutes each day.  You’ll experience a more settled feeling immediately, and after a week or two you may realize that the mind chatter has quieted down, and that physical tension has diminished too.

Reverend Sharon Shanthi Behl wrote a chapter called “Breath Work” for my book Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia. This excerpt includes a breathing exercise you can do with a care partner who gets agitated, as well as for yourself.

“When we say we are tired and have no energy, what we are really saying is that our energy is blocked. We need to breathe to live, and how we breathe can profoundly affect our degree of physical well-being; it can regulate our emotions, and it can deplete, sustain, or increase our experience of aliveness.

“Prana is constantly fluctuating and moving throughout the universe. According to yoga philosophy, it flows throughout the living body in exquisitely determined whirlpools and currents. The wonderment of the yogic system is asana and pranayama practice allows our innate energy currents to flow as nature intended.

Here is a lovely pranayama practice to use with an agitated individual who is “sundowning.” You may be familiar with this phenomenon. Mayo Clinic clinical neuropsychologist, Glenn Smith, Ph.D., describes sundowning as a state of confusion at the end of the day and into the night. Sundowning isn’t a disease, but a symptom that often occurs in people with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Smith lists several factors that may aggravate late-day confusion including fatigue, low lighting, increased shadows, and the disease’s disruption of the body’s internal clock. You might find that focusing your loved one’s attention on this practice calms them, and you. ”

Read these instructions slowly out loud as you demonstrate the movement.

  1. Let us do the Butterfly Breath together.  
  2. Face palms toward the heart center at center of the chest.  Interlace the fingers with thumb pointing up to the ceiling.  Place hands on the chest and keep your awareness at this heart center as you breathe deeply and slowly in and out the nose.
  3. Can you feel your heart beating? Can you feel how much you are loved?
  4. Notice the rise and fall of your breath. Feel the warmth of your hands on your chest.  

Add this option for yourself:

  1. Notice any feelings or thoughts as you breathe naturally.
  2. As you breathe in, see your feelings and thoughts like bubbles of air rising from the bottom of a lake.
  3. Breathe out and imagine the bubbles silently bursting as they reach the water’s surface.

If you are a caregiver, please remember to take care of yourself so you can take care of your loved one(s).

References

  1. Krucoff, Carol. “Doctors Empowering Patients by Promoting Belly Breathing,” Washington Post, June 2000.
  2. Ibid

Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

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16 ways to help you get through the anxiety and fear of the pandemic

Empire of the sunWe’re all experiencing some level of anxiety during this crazy time. And if you’re a caregiver, you’re dealing with your own stress and the anxiety of the person you are caring for. Watch for a blog next week about calming the person that you care for. Or, search through the archives on this site.

Here are some practical things that really work to help create order and calm.

  1. First thing in the morning when you wake up say an affirmation or prayer. “This will be a beautiful day,” “I will do the best I can,” I am strong and healthy,” ” I can get through this.” “I am strong and confident.”
  2. Create a schedule and try to stick to it. For example:
  • Shower
  • Make breakfast
  • Do an online yoga or cardio class
  • Wash clothes, clean house
  • Clean your office
  • Work on a creative project, i.e. write, knit, paint, etc.
  • Have lunch
  • Walk outside, if the weather permits
  • Etc.

It seems very simplistic, but it helps. And when you check each item off the list it adds to a sense of accomplishment.

3. Include a self-care ritual in your day. Take a bath, call a friend, do a manicure. Wash and style your hair. Whatever makes you feel good.

4. When the negative thoughts start flowing, stop them in their tracks. I heard about this technique recently from a friend, who got it from her therapist. Change the mental dialogue in your head by replacing the worst case scenario you imagine with a best case scenario. Instead of dwelling on doom and gloom, think hopeful thoughts. Of course, this technique only goes so far. If the person you are caring for has mid- to late -stage Alzheimer’s, for instance, hoping for a total recovery isn’t very likely. But you can still think positive thoughts that focus on what you cherish about the person instead of  what you dislike about his or her behavior. Or when you start to panic about what will happen to your loved one if you get sick, replace that thought with a visualization of being strong and healthy.

5. Watch a funny movie or YouTube video. There are tons of movies online, and as of today, March 20, Hulu is currently offering a free 30-day trial. The Metropolitan Opera is offering Free Live Audio Streams. Vocal artists are offering online concerts while you’re stuck at home.

6. You can work out in your living room thanks to fitness studios that are live-streaming workout classes for yoga, meditation, cardio, etc. free during the coronavirus outbreak.

7. Create a ritual of lighting a candle and playing classical music at dinnertime.

8. Use aromatherapy to calm the nerves and uplift the mood. Use essential oils to immediately diffuse feelings of sadness, depression, anxiety, etc. Lavender oil is the most frequently used fragrance. You can also try bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, orange, clary sage, geranium, rose, and ylang ylang, frankincense, and myrrh. Put the oil in a diffuser or spray bottle to mist your collar or pillow. Check online for ways to order aromatherapy oils. For more information about the use of aromatherapy to reduce stress, improve immunity, reduce agitation, and to promote relaxation read chapter 18 “Aromatherapy” in “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia” by Barbra Cohn.

9. Support serotonin levels. Omega 3 fatty acids are rich in DHA, the major unsaturated fat in the brain. Your brain is 60% fat and depends on the fat you ingest from food. Healthy fats found in cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and in olive oil, walnuts, flax and avocado will improve your mood. It is important to cook with a healthy fat such as olive oil, walnut or avocado in order to feed your brain! Canola oil, peanut oil, and safflower are not able to provide you with the fat your brain needs.

As a nutrition educator, I also like to recommend foods that increase the “happy” neurotransmitter serotonin. Whole grains, sweet potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, support your brain’s ability to process more serotonin.

10. If you’re lucky to have a caring partner, give each other a massage. It’s a wonderful way to tune out the world and relax. Or do a self massage with warm oil. Olive or coconut works perfectly.

11. Avoid an excess of alcohol, caffeine and sugar. These will just make you feel more jittery in the long run, and add extra calories.

12. Avoid listening to the news before bed. When the coronavirus outbreak first occurred, I found myself glued to the news and I suffered the price. My sleep was restless and I had nightmares. Limit yourself to tuning in 2 or 3 times a day at most, for a limited period of time. Don’t keep the TV or radio on all day, and certainly not while you’re eating or before bed.

13. Limit your social media time, too. There are a lot of scary things on Facebook, etc. While it’s important to stay informed, too much information can overwhelm us and make us even more frightened.

14. Stay in close contact with family and friends. Reach out to those you haven’t been in touch with for a while. Laugh about old times.

15. Do some volunteer work, unless you are a caregiver. Your spiritual/religious community has things you can do to help others like calling congregants to check-in and see if they need anything. Or donate money to a food bank or emergency assistance organization. It’ll make you feel good.

16. It’s officially spring! Get outside and do some yard work. Plant some seeds for a spring garden and watch as the seeds sprout into nature’s gift of flowers and greens.

Stay positive and healthy. We will get through this together.


Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

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Pandemic Flu Home Care: A detailed guide for caring for the ill at home.

Dear Readers,

I want to share a valuable guide for caring for the ill at home.

Pandemics: What DOES your family need to know? Get the essential guide backed by clinical professionals: www.pandemichomecare.nethttp://tinyurl.com/pandemichomecare #breaking #coronavirus #covid19

The guide covers strategies every adult can understand, from what to do if you must stay home to infection control and basic nursing skills to what supplies to have on-hand. What’s more, the book’s authors underscore a pivotal theme that often gets overlooked amidst a globally stressful time: we can’t do this alone.

Albuquerque, NM/ March 16, 2020

In 2008, three women health care professionals responded to a potentially dire situation—the bird flu, or H5N1 epidemic. During that period, the nurses noticed a troubling effect—it was clear that rural communities would not receive the care needed to survive, and residents were asking for guidance in the event they were without access to health care.

They decided to do something.

Collaborating with scientists, teams of nurses, and physicians, the women began transcribing their deep experience mitigating the spread of influenza outside of a hospital setting. They gathered evidence-based tactics from historical outbreaks, including the 1918 pandemic. They amassed a veritable “how to” in the face of a pandemic in America.

The first edition of Pandemic Flu Home Care: A Detailed Guide for Caring for the Ill at Home was published in 2008, another in 2013, and is now under its 3rd edition in consideration of coronavirus (COVID-19). It is widely regarded as one of the most principle publications on how to slow influenza, care for yourself, and your community during a pandemic.

This is flattening the curve: allowing a system to care for patients over time as opposed to all at once.

“I believe (this book) should be the starting point for governments in pandemic/bioterrorism preparedness planning,” says William D. Stanhope, MS, PA Associate Director at the Institute for Biosecurity.

“When we studied these historical influenza outbreak events—and hearing the stories of living through it firsthand—the setup of a network of support with family, neighbors and friends was one of the best things people could do.” advises co-author Maurine Renville, LISW, MEd. “Sharing resources. Helping one person if the other fell ill. That saved a lot of people. We don’t want anyone to wait until it’s too late to have a plan in place.”

Pandemic Flu Home Care: A Guide to Caring for the Ill at Home is available in both Spanish and English on Amazon.com. All profits go to non-profit organizations and charities after expenses and taxes.

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Contact:

For information on interviews, speaking engagements, or other press-related inquiries, please contact:
Kim Naujock
707-985-8122

info@pandemichomecare.net

www.pandemichomecare.net

About the Authors:

Sandra L. Schwanberg, PhD RN has over 35 years of experience in community and public health nursing and nursing education. She has served on many non-profit community agency boards. Dr. Schwanberg received her basic nursing education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, completed a master’s degree in nursing at the University of Illinois and a doctorate at the University of New Mexico.

Maurine Renville, LISW, MEd has 30 years of experience in education and training, business, community building and clinical social work. She has taught in baccalaureate programs and has developed and implemented a business-training model in communication skills. She received bachelor and master’s degrees in education from Central Washington State University and a graduate degree in social work from New Mexico Highlands University.

Contributions from:

Lesley J. Mortimer, MSN, MPH, FNP has over 38 years of experience in nursing, and deemed an expert in infectious diseases and tropical medicine having worked and lived in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Ms. Mortimer received training from St. Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing in Racine, Wisconsin and holds a baccalaureate degree from the University of Montana, a master’s in nursing degree from Vanderbilt University and a master’s in public health degree from Johns Hopkins University.

 

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20 Ways to give your body the nutrition it deserves

Health food fitness. Food sources of omega 3 on dark background top view. Foods high in fatty acids including vegetables, seafood, nut and seeds

Health food fitness. Food sources of omega 3 on dark background top view. Foods high in fatty acids including vegetables, seafood, nut and seeds

It’s National Nutrition Month and a perfect time to think about ways to increase your nutritional intake. By now most folks have forgotten about their New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, eat healthier, become a vegetarian, reduce sugar intake, etc. It doesn’t matter. New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken.

This is a good time to develop a new plan that makes sense. Whether you want to support your brain health, relieve stress and anxiety about caregiving responsibilities, or just want to rev up your energy, stamina and immunity, here are some ways to protect your health and support your mood.

  1. Did you know that 70% of your immune system lies in your gut? Probiotics are live bacterial microorganisms that populate the human gastrointestinal tract. They combat the daily bombardment of toxins and pathogens (bacteria, fungus, parasites, and viruses) that enter our digestive system every day through contaminated food and other toxins. Recent studies show that the bacteria in your gut can also affect your mental health, mood and stress levels. Fermented foods such as kombucha, Greek yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, cottage cheese are probiotics. Probiotic bacteria colonize the digestive tract with good bacteria. Prebiotics are the food and nutrients that feed probiotics. Prebiotic fiber is found in fruits and vegetables such as artichokes, jicama, wild yams, onions and garlic, asparagus, beans, oats, chicory root and Jerusalem artichokes. Prebiotics support mineral absorption, vitamin utilization, and healthy blood sugar levels. Your gut needs both pro- and prebiotics in order to stay healthy and keep you healthy.
  2. The brain is very sensitive to the food we eat. A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine (Aug. 8, 2016) evaluated 242 participants, measuring fasting blood sugar and neuro-cognitive functioning. Those with elevated blood sugar, including people who did not have diabetes, had a dramatic increase of developing dementia. Just remember that what is good for your heart is good for your brain. So try eating a Mediterranean based diet of olive oil, fish, and lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts and seeds, with less meat, cheese and sweets.
  3. Drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated and to flush out toxins. Your brain is 70% water when fully hydrated, and it gets dehydrated just like your body. When it is dehydrated neurotransmission—which is heavily dependent on water—is impaired, resulting in poor memory, concentration and impaired abstract thinking. The next time your mind is muddled, drink a tall glass of water and notice the difference.
  4. Take a complete B-vitamin supplement to make sure you are getting a balanced amount of B vitamins. Vitamin B complex optimizes cognitive activity and brain function, has a positive effect on memory, learning capacity and attention span, and supports a healthy nervous system and a stable mood. Vitamins B6 and B12, in particular, play a role in the synthesis of serotonin, the neurotransmitter linked to improving memory, lifting mood and regulating sleep.
  5. Berries are berry good for your health. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, cranberries, as well as some others you may never have heard of, contain unique phytochemicals that may help prevent cancer, heart disease, age-related brain declines, and much more. Blueberries score highest on the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) test—a measurement that rates the total antioxidant score of foods, and many berries, such as raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, and strawberries contain ellagic acid, which preliminary research suggests may help to prevent certain types of cancer. Summer is almost here, so enjoy your berries. They are good for you!
  6. Eat more healthy fats and skip the hydrogenated and trans fats found in doughnuts, potato chips and other pastries and desserts.  Omega-3 fatty acids are rich in DHA, the major unsaturated fat in the brain. This long-chain fatty acid provides the necessary fluid quality to the membranes of the nerve cells so that electrical nerve impulses can flow easily along the circuits of the brain. One study found that Alzheimer’s patients given an omega-3-rich supplement experienced a significant improvement in their quality of life. Eating fish such as wild-caught salmon, sardines and other cold-water fish can protect you against Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Numerous studies have shown that elderly people who did not have dementia had high blood levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an essential fatty acid found in cold-water fish, in comparison to those with dementia, who had on average 30% to 40% lower blood levels of DHA. Ways to increase your DHA intake: eat cold-water fish such as wild-caught salmon, sardines and mackerel, at least twice a week. Add flax meal to cereal and baked goods, sprinkle flax oil on your salad, eat a small handful of walnuts at least several times a week.
  7. Eat breakfast! It is the meal that you break your fast with. During the night our blood sugar levels drop, so it’s especially important to eat within one hour of arising and by 10am. Eating breakfast restores healthy blood sugar levels, but make sure your breakfast isn’t coffee and a doughnut. Have some protein and a healthy fat such as an omelet and avocado and a piece of whole grain or gluten-free toast. It’ll provide you with the energy you need to get through the morning while maintaining a sense of equilibrium. My favorite cool weather breakfast is eggs (any way you like them), a side of beans such as black or pinto, and a pile of sautéed greens. When the weather is hot, I prefer home-made granola made with oats, a bit of coconut oil and maple syrup, coconut flakes, and lots of nuts including almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pumpkin seeds. Add chia seeds, flax meal, yogurt and fresh berries and you’ve got a breakfast for champions.
  8. Avoid commercially processed meats and favor grass-fed meats, free-range chickens and eggs fed an organic, non-GMO diet. And limit your meat consumption to no more than twice a week.
  9. Eat like a rabbit to reduce your risk of stroke, dementia, macular degeneration, and other chronic illness. Veggies are low in calories and high in fiber. Fruits are also high in fiber and like veggies, contain numerous vitamins and minerals. Just like people, fruits and vegetables come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. And it’s the colors that identify many of the bioactive substances called phytonutrients that give us antioxidant protection and other special health benefits. The scientific community has produced a large body of research showing the potential of these super nutrients. Compared with people who eat few fruits and vegetables, populations that consume a large variety and generous amounts of plant foods enjoy longevity and reduced risk of disease. For example, the people of Okinawa have a long life expectancy, numerous centenarians, and a low-risk of age-associated diseases. Their diet is low in calories, fat, sugar, salt, and meat and dairy products. Instead, Okinawans eat fish, tofu, whole grains, and lots of fruit, dark green leafy vegetables, onions, green peppers, sea vegetables and sweet potatoes—which are all dense in phytonutrients and antioxidants. These islanders are known for a low-stress, carefree and relaxed attitude. Their rates of stroke, dementia, cancer and heart disease are also the lowest in the world. For every 100,000 people in Okinawa, 30 have passed their 100th birthday, one of the highest rates in the world.
  10. A cup of Joe will do you good . . . just don’t overdo it and don’t add lots of cream and sugar. Researchers from the University of Scranton found that coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the U.S. diet. Coffee has been shown to improve mental acuity. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (2012) found that people older than 65 who had higher blood levels of caffeine developed Alzheimer’s disease two to four years later than people with lower caffeine levels. The study included 124 people who had mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Typically, 15% of people with MCI will go on to develop full-blown Alzheimer’s disease each year. The study participants who had less than 1,200 ng/ml of caffeine levels in their blood developed Alzheimer’s disease. This is equivalent to drinking several cups of coffee a few hours before their blood was taken. The people whose memory loss did not progress to full-blown Alzheimer’s disease had higher levels of caffeine in their blood. Coffee appeared to be the only source of caffeine for the participants in the study. Some big caveats: if you have high blood pressure limit your coffee intake to 2 cups a day, and avoid drinking it before exercise or physical labor which both naturally raise blood pressure. Coffee acts as a diuretic, depleting the body of necessary fluids, so make sure you drink a glass of water for every cup of coffee you drink. Coffee can raise homocysteine levels, an indicator and risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It can also cause headaches, fatigue, depression, anxiety and drowsiness if a coffee drinker forgoes his or her usual daily dose of caffeine. So be smart and listen to your body.
  11. Drink green tea if you don’t like coffee or are unable to drink it. Scientists have found evidence that green tea extract can help fight everything from glaucoma to prostate cancer and leukemia. Now a research team composed of chemists, biochemists and biophysicists at the University of Michigan has found a new potential benefit of green tea extract: preventing the clumping of proteins associated amyloids in the brain, which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. The study found that the specific molecule in green tea, ( — )-epigallocatechin-3-gallate, also known as EGCG, prevented aggregate formation and broke down existing aggregate structures in the proteins that contained the metals copper, iron and zinc. At Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine, researchers tracked the green tea consumption of nearly 14,000 people over age 65 for three years. The participants’ quality of life (measured in day-to-day activities such as getting dressed, walking the dog, and performing household chores) was examined in relation to how much green tea they drank. The authors found that the more green tea participants consumed, the longer they were able to ward off the difficulties associated with old age. The people who drank at least five cups a day were one-third less likely to develop disabilities than those who had less than a cup per day. Those people who averaged three or four cups a day had a 25 percent lower risk. Just remember that while green tea and its extracts are considered safe in small amounts, they do contain caffeine and small amounts of vitamin K, which means it could interfere with drugs that prevent blood clotting. So the next time you feel the need for a cup of coffee or black tea, consider drinking a cup of green tea instead. It just might help you maintain clarity of mind, healthy bones, and cardiovascular health well into your senior years.
  12. Herbs or adaptogens can be helpful for increasing energy without stimulation. An adaptogen is a natural substance—usually an herb—that helps the body adapt to stress by producing a calming effect on the whole physiology, and stress is often blamed with being the root cause of many illnesses and diseases. Phytosterols, the plant compounds in the herbs ashwaghanda, gotu kola, passion flower, schizandra, skullcap, rhodiola, and cordyceps have been scientifically shown to support the adrenal glands and healthy blood chemistry, and enhance the body’s ability to resist the ravages of stress. Valerian, Siberian ginseng, kava kava, oat straw, and hops also help reduce stress. These herbs can be taken as a tea or in the form of a nutritional supplement. Culinary herbs also have numerous health benefits. Turmeric, the spice used in Indian cooking, has dozens of studies backing up its ability to reduce inflammation, another major cause of chronic disease, and risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Cinnamon helps to stabilize blood sugar levels, which is vital to healthy aging. Oregano contains antioxidants that offer antibacterial protection. Garlic has been called the natural antibiotic, and ginger root has been used for thousands of years for its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects. The list goes on and on.
  13. Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in your body—which means it is absolutely essential to your healthy blood pressure, cardiovascular health, bone and overall health. In fact, you cannot live without it! Magnesium is involved in more than 300 biochemical reactions, particularly as a catalyst for food metabolism and the release of energy. Yet, only about 25% of Americans meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of 400 mg per day for magnesium. Good sources of magnesium include: dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, Swiss chard and kale dark green, legumes, peas and beans (especially soybeans), seeds and nuts (especially almonds, cashews and pumpkin seeds) whole, unrefined grains, including oatmeal and bran, and halibut
  14. Go nuts on Brazil nuts. They are rich in selenium, a potent antioxidant which is concentrated in the thyroid gland. They also contain copper, which helps to support a healthy thyroid. Regardless of whether you have thyroid issues, selenium is a good all-round antioxidant. According to the Institute of Medicine, the tolerable upper intake level (UL) (i.e., the highest level of intake that is known to avoid toxicity) for selenium is 400μcg per day. On average, Brazil nuts have 544 mcg selenium per ounce, but studies indicate that the selenium content may vary widely depending on country of origin, cultivation methods, etc. With that in mind, a good starting point for most folks would be to consume 2 – 3 Brazil nuts per day.
  15. Eat more tomatoes. Recent epidemiological studies have suggested that eating tomatoes and tomato-based food products can reduce the risk of prostate cancer and macular degeneration.  This protective effect has been attributed to carotenoids, which are one of the major classes of phytochemicals in this fruit. The most abundant carotenoid in tomato is lycopene. Cooking tomatoes in olive oil helps you digest and assimilate the lycopene so if you like tomato sauce on your pasta, go for it. Just make sure you are eating a healthy pasta product–think whole grain, quinoa, etc.
  16. Include flax oil, flax meal or flax oil in your diet. They are the best source of lignans. Lignans are compounds that form the building blocks of plant cell walls. They contain phytoestrogens that help regulate the body’s estrogen production. When we eat plant foods the lignan compounds are converted in our intestines by good bacteria to produce a form that the body can assimilate. Enterolactone—the primary lignan metabolite (a substance produced by metabolism) that circulates in our blood—produces weak estrogenic activity. Dozens of reports have revealed that high levels of enterolactone in our blood help to reduce risk of breast, prostate and colon cancers, and cardiovascular disease. Studies have also shown that high levels of lignans can support healthy weight and glucose metabolism, reducing the risk of insulin sensitivity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Most plant foods contain small amounts of lignans, but flax seeds are by far the best source. Other good sources include high fiber foods such as whole grains (wheat, barley), sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews, kale, broccoli, carrots, legumes, garlic, asparagus and berries.
  17. Lutein and zeaxanthin reduce eye health risks. What are they? They are antioxidants in the carotenoid family—a group of naturally occurring, fat-soluble pigments found in plants—that play a key role in our the health of our eyes.  Carotenoids are the red, orange and yellow plant pigments that give fruits and vegetables their vivid colors.  All fruits and vegetables contain varying concentrations of carotenoids.  But their colors are often covered up by green chlorophyll contained in the plant. Lutein is found in spinach, kale, collard greens, romaine lettuce, leeks, peas, egg yolks, tomatoes, carrots, marigold flowers, and fruits. Zeaxanthin is found in corn, kale, mustard greens, spinach, egg yolk, orange peppers, collard greens, lycii berry fruit, green algae spirulina and other types of commercially produced algae. Lutein and zeaxanthin accumulate in the macula, the prominent, bright yellow spot in the center of the retina that allows you to clearly distinguish fine detail. And studies are showing that people with macular degeneration—the slow deterioration of the cells in the macula, which affects your central vision, the vision you use for reading, writing, driving and identifying faces—have low concentrations of these two pigments in the macula. So make sure you are eating plenty of the above mentioned fruits and veggies.
  18. Chromium is a first class blood sugar and insulin regulator. Yet, nine out of 10 American diets fall short of this trace mineral, which is essential for the transfer of sugar from the bloodstream to muscle cells, giving them the fuel they need to work.  Chromium is also involved in maintaining cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and supporting healthy muscles.  Chromium levels decrease with age and are often low due to poor diet. Eat more foods that are naturally high in chromium: broccoli, barley, oats, green beans, tomatoes, Romaine lettuce, black pepper, Brewer’s yeast.
  19. Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10is a vitamin-like compound and an important antioxidant. It exists in every cell of your body and you could not survive without it. CoQ10 is essential in the body’s production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which produces energy within the cells and is the basis for normal functioning of all body systems and organs. If you think of the body’s cells as little engines that use oxygen to burn the organic fuels that come from food, you may think of CoQ10 as the part of the engine that provides the spark for this process. No other substance will substitute for CoQ10. Without it there is no spark and therefore no production of energy for the cell. And without energy there is no life! As we age, it becomes more and more difficult for the body to produce enough CoQ10. An 80-year-old person has about half the CoQ10 levels of a 20-year-old.  Body levels of CoQ10 are also influenced by stress, cold, illness, high blood pressure, hormone concentrations, physical activity and prescription drugs, which can deplete CoQ10 levels. Scientists estimate that once levels drop below the 25% deficient level, a variety of health problems can take hold. But your cells’ energy and efficiency can be restored with supplementation and/or by eating eggs, dairy products, meat, and poultry, fatty fish, nuts and seeds, broccoli, cauliflower, and some fruits and vegetables.
  20. Are you getting enough vitamin D? Most people, especially the elderly, are vitamin D deficient.  Researchers have found a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and low mood, depression and worse cognitive performance in older adults. In a recent study, 1618 patients who averaged 73.8 years old were tested for vitamin D deficiency. Those with severe vitamin D deficiency were twice as likely to suffer from depression. Vitamin D is most commonly known for helping the digestive system absorb calcium and phosphorus. In that way it helps the body build and maintain healthy bones. But it does much more. Adequate vitamin D is believed to play a role in the reduction of falls, as well as supporting cardiovascular health, a strong immune system and cognitive function. Also, scientists theorize that one of the reasons that influenza occurs in the wintertime is that we do not manufacture enough vitamin D, and the resulting vitamin D deficiency might promote our susceptibility to the flu virus. Which foods contain vitamin D? Fatty fish such as salmon, trout, tuna and sardines, milk, and fortified cereals provide more than 100 IU per serving. And mushroom is the only food in the produce section that has vitamin D. But you’d have to eat an awful lot of these foods to get the recommended daily dose of vitamin D, which is 2400 IU, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition. For instance, you would have to eat at least five servings of salmon a day or drink 20 cups of fortified milk. Play it safe and take a vitamin D dietary supplement. According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition (March 9, 2009) adults need at least four times the current recommended dose of 600 IU of vitamin D. In 2008 The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) doubled its recommended minimum intake for infants, children and teens from 200 IU to 400 IU per day.

Be well, be heathy, and please subscribe to my blog for more articles filled with information on how you can support your health and the health of your loved ones.


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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

Does Alzheimer’s Cause Vision Problems?

Depressed old woman in eyeglasses on ophthalmologist appointment, vision problemMy husband wore glasses. And he had Alzheimer’s. And he had a retinal tear that required a laser procedure, which was no fun.

My kids and I thought Morris’s vision was deteriorating because he couldn’t see objects, such as a drinking glass right in front of him. This went on for years. Sometimes he was afraid to walk, thinking he’d fall or run into something. But it wasn’t his vision. The problem was in his brain.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between sight loss and visual problems due to dementia. Often times, one condition can mask the other.

Here’s what I learned.

People with Alzheimer’s and other dementias have visual difficulties caused by what is happening in the brain. They can still have healthy eyes, or have vision that hasn’t changed significantly. Their perception problems are not due to how clearly they see, but to changes in the brain.

Some of these difficulties may indicate dementia. My husband had to deal with almost every one of these issues.

  • reading
  • recognizing people
  • coping with low light, bright light or both
  • finding objects
  • avoiding obstacles
  • recognizing food on the plate
  • seeing well even with glasses on

In Alzheimer’s dementia, there are five main areas of visual deficit that can affect perception.

(See the last section, below, for some ways to help with these issues.)

  • reduced ability to detect motion
  • reduced peripheral vision
  • loss of depth perception
  • difficulty recognizing colors, especially in the blue-violet range
  • reduced contrast sensitivity to gradients of color–trouble picking out objects that are surrounded by similar colors, i.e. finding the toilet in a bathroom where the floor, walls and toilet are all white

Alzheimer’s disease can be detected through an eye test

According to researchers, changes in your sight and smell may be the key to early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. A decreased sense of smell is an early clue. In the case of vision, people with Alzheimer’s have fewer blood vessels and less blood flow in the retina (back of the eye). The retinal nerve that comes out of the brain gets narrower and this can be detected by an eye test that uses a non-invasive scanning technique called OCTA (optical coherence tomography angiography).

Having a thinner retina can also cause blurry vision at first that may interfere with normal activity, making things to appear hazy or out of focus.

Results from two studies show that OCTA can see signs of Alzheimer’s disease in a matter of seconds. Researchers at Duke University in North Carolina compared the retinas of 39 people with Alzheimer’s, 37 people with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), and 133 healthy people. The average age was 71.

The researchers excluded various people from the study, including people with non-Alzheimer’s dementia, diabetes, high blood pressure, neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration or poor vision.

They took scans looking at the tiny blood vessels in different parts of the retina, and then compared blood vessel density between the groups. They found that people with Alzheimer’s had fewer blood vessels and less blood flow in the retina than healthy controls and those with MCI, and that a specific layer of the retina was thinner. They also found that the small blood vessels in the retina are altered even in patients who have a family history of Alzheimer’s but have no symptoms.

Because the retina is connected to the brain by way of the optic nerve, researchers believe that the deterioration in the retina and its blood vessels may mirror the changes going on in the blood vessels and structures in the brain, thereby offering a window into the disease process.

Because genes play a significant role in how Alzheimer’s disease begins and progresses, another team of researchers from Sheba Medical Center in Israel examined 400 people who had a family history of the disease but showed no symptoms themselves. They compared their retina and brain scans with those who have no family history of Alzheimer’s.

They found that the inner layer of the retina is thinner in people with a family history. The brain scan showed that their hippocampus, an area of the brain that’s first affected by the disease, had already begun to shrink. Both factors, a thinner inner retina layer and smaller hippocampus, were associated with scoring worse on a cognitive function test.

The goal of this latest research is to find a quick, inexpensive way to detect Alzheimer’s at the earliest signs. Diagnosing Alzheimer’s is a currently a challenge. Some techniques can detect signs of the disease but are impractical for screening of millions people: Brain scans are expensive and spinal taps can be harmful. Instead, the disease is often diagnosed through memory tests or observing behavior changes. By the time these changes are noticed, the disease is advanced. Even though there is no cure, early diagnosis is critical as future treatments are likely to be most effective when given early. Early diagnosis would also give patients and their families time to plan for the future.

Regular eye exams are important

I wondered how the doctor could ascertain what Morris’s eye glass prescription was since Morris was unable to read the eye chart. The ophthalmologist assured me that they have their way of checking someone’s eyes without verbal feedback. The doctor adapts the test for the patient, and allows for more time. It is important, however, that someone who knows the patient well accompanies him/her.

People with dementia can have the typical causes of sight loss that many aging people have, including cataracts, macular degeneration, normal aging of the eye, and stroke.

Ways to help your patient with sight loss and dementia

  • Make sure their eyeglass prescription is current.
  • Clean the glasses often, and try to prevent loss or misplacement by attaching them to a strap, lanyard or chain.
  • Improve the lighting where the patient lives, and install automatic lights that come on at dusk.
  • Use contrasting colors to help the patient discern places and things, i.e. Serve colorful veggies (which are higher in antioxidants and vitamins) on a white plate. Put DO NOT ENTER signs on outside doors, if there is a risk your patient might wander, etc.
  • Play books on tape, or read to your patient if he/she is unable to read.
  • Focus on what your patient can do and is familiar with, and help him/her to have positive experiences.


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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

When your loved one has difficulty eating

senior woman eatingMeals can be challenging for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, not to mention their caregivers. As the disease progresses, it can become difficult for the person to consume enough calories to maintain a healthy weight. But there are ways to encourage healthy eating. Eventually, toward the end of life, it’s natural for humans, and all animals, to lose the desire for food.

As his Alzheimer’s progressed, my husband, had trouble recognizing food items. Morris forgot how to hold a sandwich, and I’d have to place it in his hand. He forgot how to cut his food, so I served it to him already cut into small pieces.

Once when I handed him a sandwich to eat, he asked what it was. I replied, “Chicken salad.” He threw the sandwich across the table and exclaimed, “This chicken is dead!” It was hilarious, and shocking.

But there are ways to encourage your loved one to enjoy food and get good nutrition throughout most of the course of the illness.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Seniors and elders with health issues tend to be hungriest in the morning and eat less as the day progresses. Make a healthy breakfast packed with protein, healthy fat, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Eggs, anywhere you like them, served with avocado, toast, beans, and  greens provides everything needed to establish the beginning of a good day. The same goes for caregivers! You need the strength and energy to get through the day, so start it off with a nutrient- rich breakfast.
  • Setting the table–Put as little on the table as possible in order to not confuse the patient or detract for their ability to clearly see what is in front of them. Use a colorful plate mat, and a white plate so the food stands out. And serve colorful foods, which are higher in antioxidants and vitamins and minerals. Think sweet potatoes, winter squash, corn, beets, greens, etc. Root veggies can be pureed and served in a mash, which is easier to chew and swallow.
  • Make sure the environment is clean and pleasing. Put on some favorite music. It can be stimulating or soothing, depending on the mood.
  • Has the patient kept up with their dental appointments? My mother was always fastidious about dental care, visiting her dentist several times a year for cleanings. But at the end of her life, she began to lose teeth, most likely from poor nutrition. Observe your loved one and make sure there are no signs of pain, grimacing, trouble chewing, etc.
  • Sometimes, a person will not remember that they have eaten just a little while before saying, “When is lunch (or dinner)?” Or, “I’m hungry. When are we going to eat?” Leave their plate on the table longer as a visual reminder. You might have to hide food, if they have the tendency to overeat. And if you want to make sure they, as well as you, are eating the best diet possible, refrain from buying cookies, sweets, chips, and crackers, that are filled with empty calories and hydrogenated fats.
  • Provide a meal companion for your loved one. If you can’t eat with him/her, ask a friend to share a meal. Or, if he/she is still able to eat in a restaurant, have a friend make a weekly lunch date and bring them to a quiet restaurant that serves their favorite food.
  • The taste for sweet things is the last one to go. If your loved one doesn’t have any appetite, it’s almost guaranteed that they will enjoy ice cream. There are lots of options on the market to choose from ranging from traditional ice cream to frozen desserts made with cashew cream, coconut cream and soy milk.
  • Make sure the temperature of the food isn’t too hot or too cold, and that the patient is seated comfortably in a room that is neither too hot or cold.

Dysphagia

Dysphagia is any problem with swallowing. This was a major issue for my dear mother, who, at the end, couldn’t eat without the food going into her lungs instead of her stomach. In determining the extent of dysphasia, the patient does a swallow test drinking liquid of various consistency and thickness.

Food and drink categories

  1. Nectar thick, he consistency of nectar, quickly runs off a spoon
  2. Honey thick, the consistency of honey, slowly drips off a spoon
  3. Pudding thick, the consistency of pudding, plops off a spoon

My mom had to drink water that was thickened, which tasted disgusting. As a result, she often refused to drink and once became dehydrated to the point where she was hospitalized.

If your patient is put on a dysphagia diet, experiment and find ways to keep him or her hydrated. Puree their favorite foods, make shakes that are delicious and nutritious. You can puree just about anything and make it taste good with herbs, tomato sauce, etc. Please don’t add salt. Yogurt and puddings are another good option. Read the labels and try to avoid added sugars. Especially watch out for high sugar content in flavored yogurt.

Poor appetite

If your loved one doesn’t want to eat, accept it as the course of the illness. But if they are still walking and reasonably active, rule out contra-indications of newly administered drugs and illness, such as urinary tract infections.

Additionally, your patient might have a poor sense of smell, which will translate into a poor appetite. Try adding more seasoning to the food, but try to avoid salt and use herbs and spices that include antioxidants such as thyme, basil, oregano, cumin, cinnamon, and cardamom.

Laraine Pounds, R.N., an internationally recognized aromatherapist lists aromatherapy essential oils that stimulate appetite in chapter 18 of my book “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia.”

Eating issues are common amongst individuals with dementia. Experiment with these suggestions and see what makes a difference. Sometimes, just sitting next to someone and offering gentle conversation helps.


 

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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

10 New Year Resolutions for Caregivers

2020 New year concept. Goals list in stationery, blank clipboard, smartphone, pot plant on pink pastel color with copy spaceYou’re tired, you’re stressed–You and 45 million or so American caregivers. So what are you going to do about it? Don’t say that “I don’t have time to take care of myself.” I’ve been there and done that. But I always promised myself that I was not going to be a martyr and sacrifice my health for my husband’s illness. Because if both of us went done that wasn’t going to serve any purpose, least of all our children. They were barely adults when my husband was in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease. They needed at least one healthy parent. And whether you are taking care of a spouse, parent or child, there are other people in your life who love and need you, not necessarily to take care of them, but to love and support them emotionally.

When you are a caregiver, it’s hard to find the time to go to the gym or even take a shower, somedays. But it’s absolutely vital that you take care of yourself or you will end up getting sick and then who will take care of your loved one? Who will take care of YOU?

Here are 10 easy ways to take the edge off your stress and fatigue so you feel some relief.

  1. Say a positive affirmation before you get out of bed. “This day is going to be a good one.” “I am grateful for my friends and family.” “I am healthy and full of energy.” “I am strong and competent.” Say something positive to set the tone of the day.
  2. Before you reach for a cup of coffee, drink a glass of hot water with lemon. It hydrates your body and brain, the lemon helps to alkalize the system (yes, it’s counter intuitive), which is usually too acidic, and it helps with regularity.
  3. Ask for help! You don’t have to do it all by yourself. No one is going to think badly of you if you take some time for yourself. If your loved one resents your going out, it’s okay. Don’t become a slave to their wishes and rants. If you can’t leave your loved one alone, please ask a neighbor, friend or home care professional to help at least a couple hours a week. Some social service programs provide free respite care.
  4. Many cities throughout the U.S. offer volunteer snowbusters (volunteers who will shovel your walk and driveway), fix-it volunteers who will help with easy home repairs, and yard maintenance volunteers.
  5. Meet a friend for a chat over coffee. Having a good chat and/or laugh, either via telephone or in person does wonders.
  6. Find a walking partner in your neighborhood and try to walk at least once a week (preferably 3 times a week).
  7. Put on a CD, vinyl record or the radio and listen to your favorite music. If your care partner is mobile, ask him/her to dance. There is nothing like music or dance to uplift the spirit.
  8. Use essential oils to immediately diffuse feelings of sadness, depression, anxiety, etc. Lavender oil is the most frequently used fragrance. You can also try bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, orange, clary sage, geranium, rose, and ylang ylang, frankincense, and myrrh. Put the oil in a diffuser or spray bottle to mist your collar or pillow. Find a fragrance that is pleasing to your care partner. It’ll help him/her also.
  9. Take a multi-vitamin mineral supplement to support your overall health, well-being, and immunity.
  10. It’s important to get at least 6 hours (preferably 7 or 8) of sleep every night. Of course, this isn’t always possible if you are caring for someone and need to get up at night, or are worried about paying the bills, taking care of the car, getting a new stove, etc. If you can’t get in the hours at night, put your feet up for 10 minutes during the day when your care partner naps. Or take a power nap. It really helps.

Wishing you and your loved ones a healthy, happy New Year! And remember that “this too shall pass.”

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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

High blood pressure is a risk for (MCI) mild cognitive impairment

Close up of digital monitor device with cuff showing high diastolic and systolic blood pressureDid you know that high blood pressure puts you at risk for developing Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)? The problem is, MCI can eventually develop into dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

A recent study involving 9,400 adults that was published in JAMA (January 28, 19) indicates that you can reduce your risk of MCI by lowering your blood pressure.  Adults in their 50s or older with high blood pressure participated in a clinical trial led by scientists at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC. The purpose of the trial was to evaluate the effect of blood pressure control on risk of dementia. The participants received either intensive blood pressure control or standard treatment.

Intensive control was used to bring systolic blood pressure below 120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), while the purpose of standard treatment was to lower it to under 140 mm Hg. Systolic blood pressure is the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts. It is the top number in a blood pressure measurement, as in 120 mm Hg over 70 mm Hg.

The results revealed that significantly fewer of those who received intensive blood pressure control went on to develop Mild Cognitive Impairment, compared with those on the standard treatment. The lead investigator Dr. Jeff D. Williamson said that “three years of lowering blood pressure not only dramatically helped the heart, but also helped the brain.”

However, the study did not show that intensive blood pressure control reduced the incidence of dementia. The authors suggested that low numbers and the study finishing earlier than planned could be reasons for this.

What is Mild Cognitive Impairment? 

MCI is a condition in which the individual has some loss of mental acuity, such as forgetting appointments, losing the flow of a conversation, and difficulties making decisions and keeping track of finances, as well as trouble with reasoning. The individual is still able to care for him or herself and live a fairly normal life.

Approximately 15 to 20 percent of people 65 and older have MCI. People living with MCI are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. But MCI doesn’t always lead to dementia. In some cases, MCI remains stable or resolves on its own. Some medications may result in symptoms of MCI, including forgetfulness or other memory issues.

There are no pharmaceutical drugs approved in the U.S. for the treatment of MCI. However, the study discussed above, is a good indication that high blood pressure that is controlled through changes in lifestyle can help prevent MCI.

Why is high blood pressure dangerous?

It’s called the “silent killer” because it is insidious. It often has no warning signs or symptoms.

If your blood pressure is high it causes strain on the vessels carrying blood throughout your body. This can injure the vessels and lead to plaque buildup as a response to injury. Eventually, this can lead to narrow blood vessels and then clotting of passageways, which can cause damage to the heart and/or brain. High blood pressure ultimately increases your risk for getting heart disease, kidney disease, dementia, and for having a stroke.

Taking Your Blood Pressure

When your doctor takes your blood pressure, he/she is measuring the pressure in your arteries as your heart pumps. The heart contracts and relaxes during each heartbeat. When it contracts, the blood is being pumped out of the two ventricles (chambers) and your blood pressure goes up. Systolic pressure (the top number in the blood pressure reading) is the peak reading of the pressure produced by this contraction.

When the heart relaxes, blood fills the ventricles and your blood pressure goes down. The diastolic pressure (the bottom number in the blood pressure reading) measures the pressure between the beats as the heart relaxes.

What’s normal blood pressure?

High blood pressure used to be considered 140/90 or higher.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (a division of the Institutes of Health), normal blood pressure is now considered to be lower than 120/80 according to the guidelines released in November 2017.

The guidelines state that for BP above 115/75, every rise of 20/10 mm Hg doubles the risk of cardiovascular disease. Since 2017, the American Heart Association has advised that people with high BP should receive treatment at 130/80 rather than 140/90.

In the new guidelines, the AHA also recommends that doctors only prescribe medication in cases of a previous heart attack or stroke, or in the presence of risk factors such as: age, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. Rather, at the earlier stages of hypertension, another word for high blood pressure, patients should make lifestyle changes. Here are a number of ways to do that:

10 Ways to support healthy blood pressure and prevent MCI

  1. Eat a nutritious, high-fiber, low-fat heart healthy diet. Learn about the MIND diet.
  2. Beware of your intake of sodium.
  3. Include foods high in phytonutrients—fruits and veggies.
  4. Take nutritional supplements proven to support a healthy heart: magnesium, potassium, B vitamin complex, vitamin D3, CoQ10, Grape seed extract, Resveratrol, Quercetin.
  5. Avoid decongestants if possible. These drugs can raise blood pressure.
  6. Practice a stress reduction technique such as yoga or meditation.
  7. At the minimum, take a walk 3-4 times a week.
  8. Stop smoking and reduce consumption of alcohol.
  9. Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water every day.
  10. If you snore, have sleeping problems, or are sleepy during the day, discuss sleep apnea with your physician.

Give yourself the gift of peace and get plenty of rest and sleep.

Happy Holidays!


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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

30 Tips for Coping with Holiday Grief

candle lightThe holidays can bring up all sorts of emotions: joy, anxiety, depression and grief, especially if you’re missing a loved one, or if a loved one is a shadow of their former self.

You are entitled to feel any and all emotions as they arise. If you’re at a holiday party and the tears well up, simply excuse yourself until you’re ready to rejoin the group. If you’re overcome with fatigue and grief and simply can’t make it to a party, it’s okay. Make yourself a bowl of popcorn and watch a movie or read a book. But keep in mind that socializing might do you a world of good. The most important thing is that you do what’s best for YOU. So whatever you need to do in order to get through the holiday season, do it in a healthy way. Please don’t rely on alcohol or drugs to numb your feelings.

Here are some suggestions for feeling your emotions and feeling your best, while remembering your loved ones during the holidays and beyond.

  1. Be honest with yourself and with others. Tell them what you’d like to do and what you’d prefer not to do.
  2. Create a new tradition in honor of your loved one, i.e. if you typically hosted a dinner, set a place setting and serve your loved one’s favorite dish.
  3. Decide where you want to spend the holidays. Maybe go to a new place or take a trip with another widow or widower whom you met in a support group.
  4. If you’ve had a hard time discarding your loved one’s clothes, think about donating them to a homeless shelter, etc.
  5. Start journaling. It’s a wonderful way to express your feelings and get things off your chest.
  6. Write a letter to your loved one and express your love, your sadness, grief, guilt, etc.
  7. Place two chairs facing one another. Sit in one and speak out loud the words you would like to express to your loved one. Tell him or her how much you miss them, or express your anger and guilt, etc.
  8. Watch what you eat. You should definitely enjoy your favorite foods, but don’t use grief as an excuse to overindulge in foods that aren’t good for you.
  9. Splurge on a gift for yourself!
  10. Help out at a shelter or food bank, or make a donation in honor of your loved one.
  11. Don’t overcommit. You don’t need to make the holiday meal, if you’re not up to it.
  12. It’s okay to be happy. It’s the holidays! Don’t feel guilty for enjoying yourself. It won’t diminish the love you have in your heart for your loved one.
  13. Read a book that will help identify your feelings and cope more easily with grief. I recommend these two: The Empty Chair: Handling Grief on Holidays and Special Occasions by Ed.D Zonnebelt-Smeenge, Susan J. R.N. and Robert C. De Vries | Sep 1, 2001. The Secret Life of Grief: A Memoir by Tanja Pajevic, 2016, 2016
  14. Get a massage.
  15. Use aromatherapy. Citrus oils are generally refreshing and uplifting for the mind and emotions, relieve stress and anxiety.  Consider: bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, and orange. Floral oils are often used as a personal fragrance and are useful to relieve anxiety, depression, and irritability. These oils are useful as an inhaler, in a body lotion, and for the bath. Consider: clary sage, geranium, lavender, rose, and ylang ylang.
  16. Get the sleep that you need.
  17. Make an appointment with a professional therapist if you need help.
  18. Eat a serving of high-quality protein with every meal and snack
  19. Focus on complex carbohydrates (whole grains, veggies and fruits), and eliminate junk foods (refined carbs).
  20. Enjoy unlimited amounts of fresh veggies.
  21. Eat a good breakfast!
  22. Eat 3 balanced meals and 1-2 snacks/day.
  23. Magnesium, B complex, fish-oil, walnuts, flax seeds, dark leafy greens, and high quality all help reduce stress and uplift mood.
  24. Meditate, light a candle, or find some quiet time for yourself.
  25. Take a multi-vitamin mineral supplement to support your overall health, well-being, and immunity.
  26. Exercise! At least take a short walk every day.
  27. Put on a CD, vinyl record or the radio and listen to your favorite music. Dancing as though no one is watching. There is nothing like music or dance to uplift the spirit.
  28. Put on a funny YouTube video and laugh.
  29. Meet a friend for a chat over coffee. Having a good chat and/or laugh, either via telephone or in person does wonders.
  30. Do the best you can. Try to relax and enjoy your family and friends.

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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

What do you most remember/or miss about your loved one this Alzheimer’s Awareness Month?

christmas angel on blur bokeh city lights at night on background. Little white guardian angel in snow.As we honor our loved ones this Alzheimer’s Awareness Month of November, I invite you to submit:

  • a memory, poem, or tribute on how being a caregiver has changed your life
  • how having a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease has changed your life
  • a bit of advice that you’d like to share
  • just a memory

You can add it as a comment on this site, or send it to my email account and I will add it for you. Feel free to send a photo. calmerwaters410@gmail.com

I’d like to share something that my husband said to me three years before he passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease. This is in response to being asked what it’s like to have Alzheimers.

In Morris’s wordsMarch 2007

One time I feel one way and another time I feel a different way. I cope by finding things to do. I read, talk to people, go out to lunch with my friends. I feel just like anybody else, but I’m limited in things that I want to do, or where I want to go. I have to have someone take care of me. I would rather be my own person and do what I can do as much as possible. It’s not great having this [Alzheimer’s] and there’s not much I can do about it. But I do have lots of great friends and family, and I’m lucky to be able to think and act and live a partial life.

I’m not very happy at times. It’s not easy for me, and my wife tries to help as much as possible. I feel frustrated. I can’t have my car, which was taken away. I don’t have as many options. We have our TM lunch*; one of the things I look forward to. That’s a happy thing to do. Having people around is obviously good. I like watching movies and TV.

Sometimes I don’t know what to do, or I forget things and have to depend on my wife. I’ve had things taken away from me. When I first got the diagnosis, I thought it was a bunch of crap. I didn’t think the doctor had the right diagnosis and that I was pretty much okay. Now I understand that I have Alzheimer’s disease and things are more difficult. That’s the way it is. Having a support group is very important to me. Sometimes I get frustrated and sometimes I feel that I’m still a human being and that I can do things.

I know I’m taken care of.  I’m able to just be a good person that other people want to be around. I’m already enlightened in my own way. I feel like I’m my own being, my own person, and am living a life to the best of my ability. I like music and culture. I’m very lucky to have a support group of friends and family. In this life, I’m doing the best I can and I’ll continue to with friends and family.

I want to be treated like any other human being. My message to others is try to find your own happiness and do the best you can. I still like to meditate and I like to take a nap every day. I am getting more tired. I can’t do a lot or do as well as I used to do.

* About a dozen friends who practice Transcendental Meditation have been meeting regularly for lunch every Tuesday for the past 18 years.


This morning, I listened to an interview with the flutist Eugenia Zuckerman on NPR. Sadly, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s three years ago. This past September, Zukerman was playing Claude Debussy’s “Syrinx” — a piece she said that she’s played more than 20,000 times since the age of 10.  In the middle of playing it, she drew a sudden blank.

Eugenia said that she wants people to know that having cognitive decline is “not the end of the world.” At this early stage of the disease, she is able to write, play the flute, and enjoy her everyday life. Her recently published book “like falling through a cloud” is a lyrical memoir of poetry that addresses coping with forgetfulness, confusion, and a dreaded disease.

Eugenia spoke of living each day to the fullest—a definite mantra of mine and most people.  I am happy that she is enjoying her life by loving, sharing and playing her flute. But she doesn’t have a clue about what’s in her future. There will tragically come a time when her memory lapses manifest as blank stares. She may eventually not be able to recognize her face in the mirror and ask the existential question who am I? 

I wish you, and Eugenia’s family and friends peace and strength on the hard journey ahead. Make each day count and, as Morris said, live it as well as you can. There will be days that are hard to get through, and days where you just want to stay in bed. Even if you have to drag yourself out of bed, do at least one thing that will bring you an inkling of joy. Make a cup of chai, take an Epsom salts bath, light a candle. Take a whiff of your favorite essential oil. Remember the good times.

 


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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.