15 self-care strategies to reduce holiday stress

Hand writing text caption inspiration showing Self Care. Business concept for Taking caring for own Health Written on sticky note paper, wooden background with folded pink paper meaning thinkingIt’s National Family Caregivers Month and the perfect time to consider how you can reduce the stress of the holidays by taking better care of yourself.

  1. First, pat yourself on the back. If you are a caregiver you’re doing an incredible service of giving of yourself and your time. Whether your care recipient verbally expresses appreciation or not, know that you are a bright light in that person’s life and in the world.
  2. Before getting out of bed in the morning repeat an affirmation several times to set the tone of the day. Some ideas: “Today is going to be a good day,” “I am a loving, kind person,” “I am grateful for my family and friends.”
  3. It’s especially important to eat well at this time of year when colds and flues are rampant and the stress of the holidays taxes the immune system. Focus on warming foods such as soups and stews, mineral and bone broths, and ginger tea. Citrus fruits are in season and offer vitamin C, important for immune support. The winter squashes offer beta carotene and vitamin A, which are also excellent antioxidants. Please listen to my interview with Mary Collete Rogers on her podcast “The Healthy Kitchen Companion” for ideas about how to include healthy foods into your diet and how to organize your kitchen. Caring for yourself and others with good nutrition.
  4. Make a food plan for the week and bring a shopping list with you so you don’t have to make a repeat run to the grocery store.
  5. Calm yourself with calming foods. Studies show an association between the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin and mood. The good news is you can naturally increase your serotonin levels with food such as these: sweet potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal, amaranth, buckwheat, millet and quinoa allow your brain to process more serotonin. Eating protein and healthy omega-3 fats, found in fish, walnuts and flax, will also improve mood. B vitamins, which are abundant in fresh leafy greens and in chemical-free, pasture-raised meat, are another important factor because they’re needed for serotonin production. Leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, collard greens, are high in folic acid, a B vitamin. Low levels are linked to depression. Bananas contain vitamin B6. They are high in potassium, an important electrolyte for a happy and calm mind.
  6. Reduce stress by supporting your adrenal glands with supportive supplements. The adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys and produce adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormones. If you press on your kidneys and they hurt, there’s a good chance your adrenals are working overtime due to stress. Stress may hit us as a headache, backache, insomnia, anxiety, irritability, respiratory, illness, or the flu.  If we really become overwhelmed, stress may accumulate to the point where our entire immune system is compromised and we end up fighting a serious illness. The good news is that adaptogens and nervines —two categories of herbs—can help your body adapt to stress, creating a state of homeostasis.

Recommended adaptogens:

  • Ashwagandha – is an Ayurvedic herb that has also been called “Indian ginseng.” It raises energy levels, enhances immunity, helps the body cope with stress, and reduces the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Cordyceps – is a revered Chinese nourishing tonic used to build strength and stamina, support the immune system, combat fatigue and the effects of aging, and invigorate the elderly and those weakened after serious illness.
  • Gotu kola – is an important brain and nervous system restorative in Ayurvedic medicine. It is also used as a mild diuretic and for insomnia and gastric complaints.
  • Rhodiola – also called golden root, stimulates and protects the immune system by supporting the adrenal hormones. It boosts immunity, improves concentration and stress resistance, and increases physical performance and uplifts mood.  It is also a remedy for sleep difficulties, poor appetite, irritability, hypertension, headaches, and fatigue from intense physical or intellectual strain.

Nervines

According to David Hoffmann, a leading herbalist and spokesperson for a return to herbal medicines, a nervine is a plant remedy that has a beneficial effect upon the nervous system in some way.  Nervines are especially useful during times of stress because they have a strong relaxing and calming effect without producing a dulling, “hang-over” side effect.  They also tone and restore the nervous system to a more balanced state.  Some nervines are also anti-spasmodic, meaning they relax the peripheral nerves and the muscle tissue, which in turn has a relaxing effect on the whole system.

Recommended nervines:

  • Passion flower- is beneficial for anxiety, insomnia, tension headaches, muscle aches and spasms, pain, hyperactivity, epilepsy, and to alleviate anger and help lower blood pressure.
  • Skullcap – is antispasmodic and relaxing and is recommended to relieve headaches, mood swings, insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, and nervous tension and exhaustion

The next time you’re feeling nervous, agitated, restless or hyped up, calm your nerves with a nervine herb. If you want to rejuvenate your adrenal glands and boost your entire immune system, take an adaptogen.  You’ll have more energy, feel happier and less stressed, and your overall health will improve too!

7. Move! Exercise is vital to staying healthy and strong. The days you feel “stuck” or stiff are the days it’s most important to put on your walking shoes, sunglasses, and a hat, and go for a walk. Chat with/walk with a friend or with your pet dog

8. Take a bath. Hydrotherapy has been used for thousands of years as a healing modality throughout the world to relieve stress, release aches and stiffness, and refresh the mind and emotions. For an added benefit, add Epsom salts and/or essential oil.

9. Dance is an amazing healing aid that can instantly enhance your mood and create joy. Put on your favorite Motown, R & B or salsa music and dance in your living room as though no one is watching. A twenty-one-year long Einstein Aging Study, completed in 2001, found that dancing is the best physical activity to help prevent dementia when compared to eleven other activities including team sports, swimming, and bicycling. The study was summarized in an article that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2003.

10.Breathe deeply. Most of us breathe shallow breaths that restrict oxygen flow to the lungs and throughout the body, resulting in fatigue and depletion of our vital energy. Breathing is not only free, but it will set you free. Try this simple exercise: Sit on a chair with your back straight and focus on your breath. Take a deep breath, and then let it go, exhaling all the stale air out of your lungs. Continue for several minutes. Notice any sensations in your body. Eventually your body and thoughts will settle down, and you’ll emerge feeling more relaxed. Try to do this at least five minutes on a regular basis.

11. Stay hydrated! It’s important to keep your brain hydrated as well as the body. Have non-caffeinated, unsweetened beverages throughout the day, particularly water and tea. The rule of thumb is to have 48 to 64 ounces of non-sweetened, non-artificially sweetened drinks. Hydration keeps the body in proper pH (how acidic or alkaline your body is) and protects it from getting dehydrated, which is a cause of inflammation and other kinds of imbalances.

12. Meditate, pray, take a walk in nature. Take a walk around the block, even for 15 minutes.

13. Listen to some classical music, meditative music, religious music, etc.

14. Use aromatherapy essential oils such as lavender for an instant relaxing effect.

  • Use essential oils (lemon, peppermint, lavender, frankincense, bergamot, thyme, sandalwood, vetiver, myrrh) to boost immunity. 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

15. Practice good sleep hygiene. It’s hard to function at your best and to stay healthy when you aren’t sleeping well. Here’s a quick reminder of how to improve your sleep.

Don’t drink caffeine after 1:00 pm. Limit your fluid intake after dinner so you don’t have to pee during the night. Turn off all electronics at least 30 minutes before bed. Cool your bedroom, but make sure you don’t feel. Or, warm your bed with a heating pad. Get black out curtains. Eat a banana; it contains potassium and magnesium which help reduce risk of muscle cramps. Or, have a protein snack such as a slice or cheese or tsp of peanut butter on a cracker to help maintain balanced blood sugar. For more suggestions read 16 ways to sleep better . . . so you can be a better caregiver. 

Best wishes for a happy, safe and relatively stress-free holiday season!


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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.

 

Caring for yourself and others with good nutrition

Mary Collette Rogers interviewed me on her podcast “The Healthy Kitchen Companion.”

Find out more about Mary’s programs around The New Kitchen Way: cookhappylivehealthy.org/blog/

Discover insights and tools for handling the challenges of caregiving, particularly stress. Sobering statistics highlight the need for addressing this topic: In 2017, fully 16 million friends and family provided 18 billion hours of unpaid care for 5½ million Americans with Alzheimer’s. That figure, of course, accounts for just one of many chronic conditions that required the services of caregivers.

Equally important is the need for self-care since it is said that at some point you’ll either be a caregiver or be cared for yourself. Self-care can minimize the need for care from others, or make it possible to provide care to those you love.

In this conversation, Barbra Cohn and Mary Collette Rogers share a wealth of knowledge and strategies for using the power of good nutrition to alleviate the stress of caregiving–whether for yourself or others.

Barbra, author of Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia, provides solid nutritional advice for
** Introducing the Stress Vitamins and minerals, and foods where they can be found
** How neurotransmitters like serotonin improve mood and how to use natural mood boosters in foods to uplift mood
** Why breakfast is the most important meal of the day for caregivers and key breakfast foods
** Barbra’s secret for boosting immunity, staying hydrated and replenishing nutrients drained by stress

Mary Collette, Healthy Kitchen Companion, explores how to ensure that Barbra’s nutritional wisdom doesn’t just get parked at the kitchen door. With The New Kitchen Way, her integrated approach to meal making, you’ll see good nutrition advice actually show up on your table–deliciously and easily. Learn
** About the power of organization and why it works as well in the kitchen as the business world
** How chaos and lack of control are the true culprits that sabotage kitchen fun and success
** How organization alleviates stress when you invite it into your kitchen and meal making
** How the kitchen and meal making can be broken down into just six areas, and
** How the 6 KitchenSmart Strategies easily guide you to get those six areas under control, leaving you relieved and confident about making nourishing meals.

 

 

Men: Are you taking care of yourself?

仲の良い父と娘Happy Father’s Day to all men who play a caring role in the life of a child, and kudos for  all that you do. But let me ask you this: Do you take care of yourself? Typically, most men take better care of their cars than themselves. Most men wait until a symptom pops up, and by then the illness or disease has progressed.

I’m not going to give you a lecture about how you should make an appointment tomorrow to get a routine preventative check-up, but hopefully after going through the following list, you’ll see my point.

Take this quiz to see how much you really know about men’s health. 

1) As a man gets older, it’s almost inevitable that he:

  1. loses interest in sex
  2. has a difficult time maintaining an erection
  3. doesn’t need to exercise as much
  4. develops an enlarged prostate

2) To detect prostate cancer early, a man should:

  1. have a colonoscopy
  2. practice a monthly self prostate examination
  3. have a digital rectal exam and PSA blood test
  4. have a sonogram of his prostate every year

3) Impotence can result from:

  1. drinking too much alcohol
  2. recreational drug use (smoking marijuana)
  3. high blood pressure
  4. diabetes
  5. all of the above

4) 75% of prostate cancer occurs in:

  1. Hispanic men
  2. men over 65
  3. men who eat a low-fat diet
  4. men with low testosterone levels

5) The most common cancer among men is:

  1. prostate cancer
  2. lung cancer
  3. skin cancer
  4. colon cancer

6) Which racial/ethnic group is most likely to develop prostate cancer?

  1. Caucasian
  2. Asian
  3. Hispanic
  4. African-American

7) A common risk factor for developing prostate cancer is:

  1. lack of exercise
  2. high fat diet
  3. high testosterone levels
  4. growing older
  5. all of the above

8) What beverage has been found to support prostate health?

  1. beer
  2. green tea
  3. orange juice
  4. red wine

9) What common food has been found to support prostate health?

  1. oranges
  2. tomatoes
  3. beef
  4. cheese

10) Which disease is considered the number one cause of death among American males?

  1. diabetes
  2. prostate cancer
  3. obesity
  4. cardiovascular disease

11) Cardiovascular disease kills far more men and women than cancer.

  1. True
  2. False

12) Eating a diet that includes plenty of pasta, potatoes and white rice can reduce your risk of heart disease.

  1. True
  2. False

13) The heart muscle is totally responsible for maintaining normal blood pressure levels.

  1. True
  2. False

14) Cardiovascular disease is hereditary and cannot be prevented.

  1. True
  2. False

15) CVD starts in the teenage years.

  1. True
  2. False

16) An aspirin a day is the best way to thin the blood, in order to reduce the chance of stroke and heart attack.

  1. True
  2. False

17) High blood cholesterol is the best overall indicator of cardiovascular disease.

  1. True
  2. False

18) Statistics show that the stress of caregiving can result in chronic disease for the caregiver and take as many as ten years off one’s life.


Answers:

1) d

2) g

3) e- all of the above. Not smoking, eating a healthy diet, not overdoing it when it comes to drinking, regular exercise, getting enough sleep, will all help support normal blood flow. Also, Ginkgo biloba extract helps support normal blood flow to the penis

4) b. Simply growing older increases a man’s risk. Seventy-five percent of prostate cancer occurs in men over 65 with only 7% diagnosed in men under 60 years of age.

5) c. Skin cancer is the number one form of cancer in the US. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men next to skin cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in men after lung cancer.

6) d. African-American males have the highest incidence of prostate cancer, a third higher than white males, and African-American males are also twice as likely to die from it.

7) e. Also, men who have higher testosterone levels, or who eat a high fat diet have been shown to have an increased risk of developing prostate cancer.

8) b. Green tea is chock full of antioxidants that have been shown to reduce cancer. Red wine, on the other hand, is a natural preventative against cardiovascular disease.

9) b. Tomatoes contain lycopene, especially potent in the fight against prostate cancer.

10) d. Among major disease groups, heart disease is the leading cause of death within the elderly population.

11) True. Although cancer fears are more common, cardiovascular disease is the chief cause of death and disability in the United States today. It affects close to 60 million Americans and every year more than a million people suffer from new or recurrent heart attacks. In fact,every 20 seconds a person in the United States has a heart attack, and one-third of these attacks leads to death. The American Heart Association calls CVD “the silent epidemic.”

12) False. For years we were told that a heart-healthy diet included foods low in fat and high in carbohydrates, such as fruits, veggies, legumes, grains and other starches. But now experts are saying that overloading on carbohydrates (especially the wrong kind) can make you fat and increase your risk of heart disease. Eating foods with a high glycemic index—such as cookies, cake, candy, bagels, pasta, white rice, refined bread and grains, potatoes and potato chips—raises blood sugar and insulin levels, which in turn stimulates the production of triglycerides (blood fats that raise heart disease risk).

13) False. Your kidneys, blood vessels and heart all control blood pressure. In order to maintain healthy blood pressure and keep blood moving, the walls of your arteries, capillaries and veins need to be flexible and strong. Research has shown that nutrients such as Co-Q10, hawthorne, red wine polyphenols, notoginseng (a cousin of ginseng), and astragalus help strengthen blood flow throughout the entire body, maintaining healthy blood pressure. In addition, EDTA (the main ingredient in Health Freedom Nutrition’s Cardio Clear) removes heavy metals and toxins that interfere with the production of nitric oxide, a major factor in controlling blood pressure.

14) False. Even if there’s heart disease in your family, and even if you have high cholesterol, combining an regular exercise program with and a Mediterranean based diet and healthy lifestyle (no smoking, reduced alcohol consumption) can dramatically reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.

15) True. Dr. Scoot Calig, M.D., a pediatrician at West Hills Medical Center and an assistant clinical professor at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, says, “It’s important to keep in mind that the development of cardiovascular disease begins in the teenage years. Studies have shown that by that time, arterial plaque formation is well under way.”  Just another reason to exercise, eat a healthy diet, and take nutritional supplements such as oral EDTA to strengthen the heart and arteries and clear out toxic metals that inhibit the production of nitric oxide.

16) False. For years, aspirin has been prescribed after a heart attack, in order to avoid a subsequent heart attack. And now, a panel of experts is recommending aspirin as a precaution against heart disease for all at-risk, healthy adults over 40. But Alfred Berg, M.D., of the University of Washington, head of the panel says, “Do not assume that an aspirin a day is without risk.” Aspirin can cause intestinal bleeding and hemorrhagic stroke. Herbs such as hawthorne, nattokinase, garlic and Ginkgo biloba have the ability to thin the blood like aspirin, without damaging the esophageal and intestinal linings, or exacerbating ulcers.

17) False. Homocysteine—a by-product of the amino acid methionine— is a more sensitive indicator of cardiovascular health than cholesterol. Too much of it increases injury to arterial walls, as well as accelerates oxidation and accumulation of cholesterol in blood vessel. The good news is that folic acid, and vitamins B6 and B12 help keep homocysteine levels low!

18) True—for men and women! Click here to read 16 Stress-busters to nourish your body, mind and soul

Have a happy Father’s Day, and please take care of your health so you can continue to enjoy life and be a support and friend to everyone who loves you.


For dozens of general health tips and caregiving help read Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia  by Barbra Cohn.image

The Brain Support awards: The Best, Worst, and Weirdest

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It’s Brain Awareness Week and a good time to assess what we are doing to enhance our memory, focus, cognition and other mental processes.

I recently read “In Pursuit of Memory: The Fight Against Alzheimer’s” by Dr. Joseph Jebelli, a British neuroscientist. It is a wonderfully written comprehensive analysis of the disease, including a history of research, theories, clinical trials, and possible ways to stave off the disease. Although the research and scientific language might dissuade some readers, I found the book very readable and accessible, especially since Jebelli includes his personal account of his grandfather’s Alzheimer’s disease. Here are some of his recommendations for supporting brain health.

The Best Brain Support Awards

  • Staying socially and physically active has a positive effect on mood and well-being.
  • Eating a healthy diet, especially the Mediterranean diet (lots of fresh fruits and veggies, cold-water fish such as wild salmon and sardines, whole grains, and healthy oils (olive, walnut, avocado) and nuts). For more ideas on how to eat well, read 20 Ways to give your body the best nutrition it deserves.
  • Using turmeric to season your food or taking a turmeric supplement. Dr. Jebelli writes about an in vitro (in a petri dish) study in which curcumin, the bioactive ingredient in turmeric, actually dissolves the beta-amyloid plaque found in the Alzheimer’s brain. Beta-amyloid is responsible for creating the plaques that inhibit the communication between neurotransmitters, leading to loss of memory and other functions. For more information about turmeric read Turmeric does a body good.
  • Maintaining a positive attitude

Additionally, here are a couple of my favorite brain support aids.

1. Coconut oil–I was skeptical when I first heard that Alzheimer’s patients were having a reversal of the disease process after consuming coconut oil. But after hearing anecdotal stories, I am very curious about how coconut oil improves cognitive performance in individuals with Alzheimer’s. A Spanish study published in March 2017 concluded that after consuming 40 ml of coconut oil each day for 21 days, (divided into two servings) 44 patients with Alzheimer’s exhibited a significant improvement in language skills. Read more about it: How does coconut oil affect cognitive performance in alzheimer patients?

Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides, which go directly to your liver. The liver naturally converts the oil into ketones. Ketones are chemicals made in your liver. You produce them when you don’t have enough insulin in your body to turn sugar (or glucose) into energy. Ketones are released into the bloodstream where they are transported to the brain as an alternative fuel. Other fats are not readily released into the blood stream and are typically mixed with bile released from the gallbladder before they can be broken down in the digestive system.

Dr. Mary Newport, author of the 2011 book “Alzheimer’s Disease: What if there was a cure?: The story of ketones,” discovered that when her husband ingested coconut oil his Alzheimer’s-impaired cognition improved. In fact, it improved so much that “by the fifth day I felt as though I had gotten my husband back,” says Newport. “His personality and sense of humor returned, he was less depressed, and was able to walk normally again. And he started running and resumed the activities of vacuuming and mowing the lawn.” Additionally, two months after he started taking coconut oil his Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) score went from 12 to 20 out of 30 points, and he was able to draw the face of the clock, says Newport.

Therapeutic levels of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) have been studied at 20 grams a day, or about 7 level teaspoons. That comes to about 240 calories per day, since one tablespoon of coconut oil is about 120 calories. But there are no significant long-term human clinical studies completed at this point in time.

groundbreaking research study of a ketone ester in an Alzheimer’s mouse model was released for publication January 4, 2012 in Neurobiology of Aging. This study showed that compared to animals fed a normal control diet, the Alzheimer’s model mice that were fed ketones had significantly less amyloid plaques and tangles in their brain. The animals also showed reduced anxiety, and improved learning and memory compared to the mice fed the control diet.

Mild to moderate Alzheimer’s patients are having good results from a medical food called Axona® which contains a proprietary formulation of medium-chain triglycerides. Axona, which provides an alternative fuel for the brain, as does coconut oil, is a medical food product and not a drug or a dietary supplement. Medical food products are regulated by the FDA, but are in a unique category separate from drugs and dietary supplements. Axona is available by prescription, and is used in conjunction with other Alzheimer’s medications. For more information visit: http://about-axona.com/

Since we have yet to see long-term human clinical trials, I would not call coconut a miracle remedy for Alzheimer’s disease as indicated by Dr. Mary Drew. But if my husband were still alive I would definitely try giving him coconut oil or Axona. Besides some possible minor gastrointestinal side effects and a slight weight gain, adding medium-chain triglycerides to the health regimen of someone with Alzheimer’s disease might just make a difference.

2. Phosphatidylserine (PS) is one of my favorite daily supplements. I notice a difference in my mental acuity when I take it. And when I forget to take it, I am definitely not as sharp as I like to be. PS protects the integrity of brain cell membranes, facilitates the efficient transport of energy-producing nutrients into cells, and enhances brain cell energy metabolism. PS has been sanctioned by the FDA as a safe “brain booster.”Because there are global concerns about mad cow disease, commercial sources of PS, once derived from cows, are now made from soy-derived PS.How does phosphatidylserine work? Phosphatidylserine keeps fatty substances soluble and cell membranes fluid.  It also helps to increase glucose metabolism in the brain. This is especially significant because Alzheimer’s disease has been called a type of diabetes–diabetes 3- because the Alzheimer’s brain is inefficient in metabolizing glucose. PS has also been found to increase the number of neurotransmitter receptor sites in the brain.

A study published in August 2015 found that PS decreased cholinesterase, the enzyme that interferes with the brain’s uptake of choline. Most importantly, the patients who took supplemental PS showed an improvement in their memory. In conclusion, PS decreased cholinesterase, improved memory.

The Worst Brain Support Awards 

You have probably heard it before, but it’s worth repeating. Refrain or at least cut back on eating these foods. They really do a body harm, and especially your brain.

  • Alcohol
  • Refined carbs
  • Soda, and high fructose corn syrup, which tricks your brain into thinking you’re hungry when you’re not
  • Trans Fatty acids in processed foods, margarines, salad oils, bakery goods, potato and corn ships, candies
  • Saturated fats meat, chicken skin, full fat dairy products and butter

Lack of sleep has been demonstrated to increase risk of dementia and other health concerns. For more information about the importance of sleep, read 16 ways to sleep better . . . so you can be a better caregiver.

Sitting all day and not getting enough exercise is bad for the body and bad for the brain. If you have an office job where you sit most of the day try to get up and move every hour or so. And during your lunch break, go outside for a walk. You will feel so much better!

The Weirdest Brain Support Awards

Stress has a big impact on brain health.  But there are dozens of ways to reduce stress and protect our overall health and brain health. Here are some that were a surprise to me.

  • Applying pressure to the space between your second and third knuckle (the joints at the base of your pointer and middle fingers) supposedly calms you down instantly because it activates a nerve that, according to Sharon Melnick, author of “Success Under Stress,” “loosens the area around the heart, so any fluttery feeling you feel when you’re nervous goes away.”
  • Kissing helps your brain release endorphins, the feel-good neurotransmitters. Laura Berman, Ph.D., a Northwestern University researcher found that in a study of 2,000 couples, those who only kissed when they had sex were eight times more likely to report feeling chronically stressed or depressed. So kiss often and more passionately.
  • I see “the lemon trick” every so often on Facebook. Well, it’s not a trick and it’s not lemon. Rather, this post is about a dietary supplement made from a lemon balm plant called Blueness that is grown only in Bavaria, Germany. The marketing copy claims that if you take this supplement within one hour you will be thinking “I can do anything if I just set my ind to it.” It supposedly improves rapid fire oscillation, which means you’ll be able to remember where you parked your car and the names of people you haven’t seen in years), and you won’t be destined to a life of “What’s this thingamajig called?” It sounds too good to be true, but the hype convinced me to continue reading to the end, where I discovered that the supplement is pretty expensive. No thanks.

I’d love to hear about your favorite brain support tips.

I will send to the first 10 people who respond a chapter from my book “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia” called “Living in the Now.” The chapter includes affirmations for staying positive throughout the day and techniques for staying present when you are worried about the futurefrom my book.

“Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia” by Barbra Cohn contains a treasure trove of information on how to stay connected with your loved one, keep calm, improve immunity, reduce stress and feel happier and healthier. Plus, it includes 20 healing modalities that the caregiver can do alone or with their loved one. Available wherever fine books are sold and on Amazon.

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6 healing soups to help you get through the cold and flu season

fresh soup 1January is National Soup month. It’s also the month when there are a lot of colds and flues. This year there is an especially bad flu affecting seniors and young children. It’s important to support your immune system, get plenty of sleep, and try to maintain an uplifted mood.

Winter soups can warm us, strengthen us, help heal us and protect us from getting sick.  Home-made soup contains fresh ingredients that have more antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and protein. Canned soups are typically overcooked, high in sodium, and can have additives and preservatives. A big pot of soup will last several days, saving time in the kitchen. It is also an easy-to-eat, easy-to-digest form of nutrition for patients with a chronic illness such as Alzheimer’s, and for those bed-ridden with the flu.

If you’re lucky, your grandmother or mother gave you their delicious soup recipes. Here are some of my favorites for nourishing the body and soul during the cold winter months.

Immune boosting soups

Tomato Vegetable Soup

  • 2 cans whole tomatoes (organic, chopped)
  • 2 onions (sautéed)
  • 6 cloves garlic (pressed and sautéd)
  • 1⁄2 tsp oregano (dried)
  • 1 medium winter squash (peeled and cut into chunks)
  • 1 medium rutabaga (chopped)
  • 1 bunch turnips (chopped greens and roots)
  • 1 pound zucchini (cut into chunks)

Add water to cover and simmer until done. Serve with brown rice or couscous.

Miso Stew

  • 5 cups water
  • 1/2 cup dried quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp-sized chunk minced ginger
  • 2 stalks chopped celery
  • 2 carrots chopped
  • 1 cup chopped kale
  • 1/4 cup torn pieces combo/arame/nori seaweed (your choice)
  • 2 eggs (optional)
  • 1/4 cup organic red or white miso
  • 3 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne

Saute onion until soft in 2 tsp of the sesame oil. Add garlic and cook for a few minutes. Bring water, quinoa and carrots to a boil.  Reduce  to medium and add onion, garlic, ginger, celery and seaweed (if it’s a firm variety). Cook for five minutes. Crack eggs into pot and stir gently. When egg is mostly cooked, remove from heat and add kale and any tender seaweed. In a separate bowl mix miso, the remaining sesame oil, turmeric and cayenne. Add a large spoonful of broth (not boiling) and stir until smooth. When pot of soup has cooled enough to touch, add in miso mixture and serve hot. This soup can be reheated but do not boil the miso because this will kill the beneficial enzymes.

Chicken soup (Jewish penicillin)

  • 1 large whole chicken
  • 4 carrots chopped
  • 3 stalks celery chopped
  • 2 medium parsnips chopped
  • 2 medium rutabagas
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • small bunch of fresh dill
  • 2 Tbs salt, or salt to taste

Wash the chicken inside and out, remove any feathers and place in a large pot. Cover the chicken with water. Bring the liquid to a boil, lower the heat, and for the next several minutes, remove any scum that rises to the surface. Add the vegetables and salt.

Cover the pan partially and simmer the soup for 2-1/2 hours or until the chicken meat is very soft when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife. Pour the soup through a strainer or colander into a large bowl or a second pot. Set the chicken and vegetables aside. Remove the fat from the surface of the liquid with a spoon or fat-skimming tool.

For best results, refrigerate the strained soup; when it is cold, the fat will rise to the surface and harden and you can scoop it off. (Refrigerate the vegetables and the chicken separately.) Serve the soup plain or with the vegetables and boned, cut-up chicken.

Ward off the negative effects of stress

Mineral Broth

This broth helps to alkalinize the body and warm the system. It also helps counter the negative effects of stress. Have it as a bowl of soup, or sip it throughout the day.

Wash with a scrub brush and cut into 1-inch chunks:

  • 1 medium potato (any variety, raw with skin)
  • 1 cup zucchini
  • 1 cup cabbage
  • 1 cup green beans
  • 2 cups celeryCut into strips:
  • 1 cup kale or collard greens
  • 1 cup onion 

 

Coarsely chop:

  • a small bunch of dill weed
  • 1 clove garlic

Place ingredients in a large pot with a lid. Cover with  water, just to the level of the vegetables and add:

  • 6 slices fresh ginger root
  • 1/4 cup or more seaweed (dulse, nori, wakame, hiziki, kombu)
  • Seasonal greens (kale, mustard, spinach, broccoli)

 

Bring the water to a boil, then turn down to a simmer, and cover for three to ve hours. Strain the broth with a colander. Let cool before refrigerating or freezing. Will keep in fridge for five to seven days or in the freezer for four months.

Variations:

  • Add cubed sweet potato to soup mix in the beginning of cooking time.
  • Add 1⁄2 tsp. curry 10 minutes before serving for a zesty flavor.

Alleviate joint and inflammation

Bone broth

  • 6 pounds of any kind of bones (beef, chicken, etc.)
  • 3 cups of your favorite vegetables, chopped (carrots, celery, onion, potatoes, etc.)
  • 1 bunch flat parsley
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 head garlic, halved crosswise
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 1 Tbs vinegar*
  • pepper and salt to taste

Rinse the bones in a large pot with cold water. Drain the water and place the bones back in the pot. Cover with at least 4 inches of cold water and cook over medium-high heat for about 45 minutes until the liquid boils. Reduce heat to medium.

Simmer until broth looks clear, about 1 hour. Skim the fat off occasionally using a ladle. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 2 hours. Skim off fat and discard bits of meat. Then pour the broth through a fine-mesh strainer. Discard the solids. Cool before storing. This broth can be sipped throughout the day. It will keep in the refrigerator for 3 days. It can also be frozen in BPA-free bags, glass jars and BPA-free plastic containers.

* You must add some vinegar to the pot of soup in order to force the calcium in the bones to dissolve from the bones into the soup juice. Just 1 pint of soup can give you as much as 1,000 milligrams of calcium.

Ayurvedic healing soup

This traditional soup is wonderful during times of stress, stomach upset, and any time the appetite is diminished due to sickness or stress.

Kicheree

  • 4 Tbs organic Basmati rice
  • 4 Tbs mung dal or red lentils
  • 4 1/2 cups water (more or less, depending on whether you like it soupy or thick)
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup assorted veggies cut bite-sized (zucchini, yam, carrot, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.)
  • 1 tsp ground coriander seed
  • 1 tsp ground cumin seed
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine the rice, dal ginger, veggies and water in pot. Add the spices. Bring to a boil over medium heat; then lower to a simmer for 45-50 minutes. Add water if it gets too thick. Remove from the stove. Add the lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Enjoy!

For more great information about how you can reduce stress, feel happier, more energetic, healthier, deal with issues of grief and depression, and ultimately experience inner peace, read Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia.   Available on Amazon and at all bookstores that sell quality books.

BarbraCohn__

12 quick energy and stress fixes to use throughout the holiday season . . . and all year long

Young ambitious executive enjoying his business success as he stThe holidays are stressful for everyone, but especially for caregivers. Here’s a list of some of my favorite stress relievers and energy boosters.

  1. Breathe! When we are stressed, we tend to hold our breath. Take a 5-minute break and sit down in a comfortable chair. Close your eyes and take a deep breath, in and out. Then focus on your breath and watch how your mind quiets down and your muscles relax. Then remember to breathe throughout the day. Whenever you feel yourself getting anxious or tight, take a deep breath and let it go.
  2. Drink water. We’ve heard it a million times but it’s always good to be reminded. Forget about sodas and limit the wine and alcohol. Staying hydrated, especially at this time of year, is vital to supporting the immune system and reducing inflammation. It’s also important to support healthy cognitive function and memory.
  3. Eat walnuts. A daily dose of about 9 whole walnuts or 1 Tbs. walnut oil helps your blood pressure from spiking during stress. Walnuts contain L-arginine, an amino acid that helps relax blood vessels, which in turn helps reduce hypertension.
  4. Drink green tea. L-Theanine is the main chemical constituent in green tea. It is an ideal nutritional aid for stress because it produces alpha-wave activity that leads to deep relaxation and mental alertness. This is especially important because in order to mitigate stressful situations, it’s important to remain calm and alert. Theanine also stimulates the release of the neurotransmitters GABA, serotonin and dopamine, which help us feel happy, motivated and calm. Green tea extract is available as a nutritional supplement, which might be easier and quicker to take, and it’ll save you a lot of trips to the bathroom.
  5. While we’re on the topic of “green,” be sure to eat green leafy vegetables for vitamin B and magnesium, both of which help your body cope with stress.
  6. Two handfuls of cashews (make that a small handful, please; one ounce of cashews contains 157 calories.) provide the equivalent mood-boosting effect as a therapeutic dose of Prozac because they are one of the highest natural sources of tryptophan, the precursor for serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter.
  7. Did someone mention dark chocolate? It reduces cortisol, the stress hormone that causes anxiety symptoms. Just a couple of pieces should do the trick.
  8. Walk around the block. Just getting out into fresh air will instantly relieve stress, and moving your body gets your blood pumping and will clear your mind.
  9. Light candles and play relaxing music while you eat. It will change the mood instantly.
  10. Aromatherapy is a miracle cure for stress and anxiety. Use a wall plug-in to diffuse the aroma of lavender oil to uplift mood, or place a few drops on a handkerchief and tuck it into a shirt pocket or on a pillow. Other oils to try: vetiver, frankincense, myrrh, orange, lemon, bergamot, and grapefruit.
  11. Music is the universal language, and it is also the universal stress reliever. Whether it’s jazz, classical, or hard rock that makes you feel better, by all means, play it loud, play it soft, dance to it, drive to it, go to sleep to it. It will definitely help.
  12. Getting the proper rest is vital to staying healthy and reducing stress. Prepare yourself for a deep night’s sleep by unplugging from electronics at least an hour before bed, taking an Epsom salt bath (put several drops of lavender oil in the water for added relaxation), and making sure the room temperature isn’t too warm.  Good night, sleep tight!

If you, or someone you care about, tend to suffer from stress, anxiety, or depression, these recommendations might just “take the edge off” and improve your quality of life … without the risk of side effects. May the holiday season begin!

For dozens more tools and techniques for reducing stress, uplifting mood, supporting your immune system, and finding ways to connect on a spiritual and emotional level with the person you care for, read Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

BarbraCohn__

A UTI, fall or a cold can lead to cognitive decline and even death in a person with Alzheimer’s disease

Dementia disease and a loss of brain function and memories

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month 

People with Alzheimer’s who get even a mild respiratory or gastrointestinal infection, or a bump or bruise are at risk for having a significant, permanent memory loss, according to a report that was published in the September 8, 2009 issue of the journal Neurology. These patients can have high levels of tumor necrosis factor—alpha (TNF-a)—a protein that is linked to inflammation and is associated with memory loss and cognitive decline.

In the study, which was done at the Clinical Neurosciences Research Division at the University of Southampton, United Kingdom, 222 Alzheimer’s patients were followed for six months. Of those, 110 people had an infection or injury that resulted in inflammation. These individuals had twice the memory loss during that period of time as the individuals who did not have an illness or injury. Researchers attribute the memory loss to inflammation. In patients whose TNF-a levels were high to begin with, an infection increased their memory loss to 10 times more than those who had low TNF-a levels.

Clive Holmes, PhD, lead researcher, said that this population should be vaccinated against the flu, and infections and injuries should be treated as soon as possible.

It is not uncommon for an elderly person to die from a urinary tract infection, especially someone who has dementia. Even a mild cold can develop into a serious pneumonia and lead to death in an elderly person. My husband developed a kidney stone, and died six weeks later. He progressed from a person in mid- to late-stage Alzheimer’s to someone in the final stage of Alzheimer’s, unable to walk or talk.

Tips for keeping you and your loved one healthy and safe

  • Inoculate against flu, pneumonia and shingles
  • Boost immunity with zinc, vitamin D and vitamin C
  • Prevent falls and accidents (recommended: Complete Guide to Alzheimer’s Proofing Your Home by Mark L. Warner
  • Reduce systemic inflammation with a curcumin (turmeric extract) supplement
  • Use a humidifier to moisturize nasal passages and mucous membranes to help keep them healthy
  • Engage in gentle exercise to reduce inflammation
  • Keep hydrated by drinking at least 6-8 glasses of water each day
  • Reduce risk of urinary tract infections with D-Mannose powder and cranberry extract 
  • Use essential oils (lemon, peppermint, lavender, frankincense, bergamot, thyme, sandalwood, vetiver, myrrh) to boost immunity. 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
  • Eat yogurt. 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.
  • Drink mineral broth. It helps alkalinize the body and warm the system. It also helps counter the negative effects of stress. Have it as a bowl of soup or sip it throughout the day. Use your vegetables scraps or chop 2 cups yams, 1 medium potato, 1 cup zucchini, 1 cup cabbage, 1 cup green beans, 2 cups celery, 1 cup onions. Add herbs, garlic, parsley–anything you like. Place in a large pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and cover for 3-5 hours. For more information read chapter  31 “Nutrition” in “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia” by Barbra Cohn

BarbraCohn__

16 ways to sleep better . . . so you can be a better caregiver

Woman sleeping on a comfortable bed in the clouds

We’ve all had those sleepless nights in which we toss and turn, look at the clock and feel stressed that we aren’t going to get enough sleep. When you are caring for someone else–whether it’s a toddler, sick relative or someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s even more important to get a good night’s sleep.

There are plenty of studies linking poor sleep to a host of physical and psychological ailments: poor immunity, elevated levels of cortisol and insulin, weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even Alzheimer’s disease. And irritability, foggy thinking and anxiety, depression and low energy can directly impact your ability to care for another person, do household chores and get in the way of your interpersonal relationships.

Here is a list of things to try when you are stressed, your mind is on overload, or when you’ve just had too much stimulation and can’t fall asleep or stay asleep.

Good sleep hygiene is the first step to improving your sleep.

  1. Refrain from drinking caffeine after 1:00 pm.
  2. If you need to visit the bathroom during the night, limit your fluid intake after dinner.
  3. Do not resort to alcohol to help you sleep. It usually impairs sleep, and you might wake up with a headache.
  4. Try valerian, passion-flower or skullcap herbal tea at least a couple of hours before bedtime.
  5. A cup of warm milk with a small pinch of cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric and cumin, and an 1/8 of a tsp of ghee is a tasty and relaxing bedtime drink. The calcium in the milk is a muscle relaxant and the Indian spices help induce relaxation. Experiment to see which spices you like.
  6. Turn off all electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime. This is difficult for most people so it will take some effort. Instead, listen to soothing music or read a relaxing book.
  7. Do not watch the news or listen to the radio with current news before bed. World and political events can be upsetting and unsettling.
  8. Make your bed as comfortable as possible. Cotton sheets are usually more comfortable than synthetic. Is it time to replace your mattress? When is the last time you turned it over?
  9. A cool bedroom is usually more conducive to sleep than an overheated room. On the other hand, feeling cold will not help you sleep, either. If you feel cold at bedtime, warm up some neck wraps in the microwave and place them in your bed so it’s toasty when you get in. Then when you feel warm and are starting to fall asleep you can throw them on the floor. Or, warm up your bed with a heating pad. One of my favorite thing to do is to put on pajamas that have been heated in the clothes dryer for 5 minutes.
  10. Get black out curtains. It’s easier to sleep when there is no light coming through the windows.
  11. Eat a banana. Bananas contain potassium and magnesium that help reduce risk of muscle cramps. These two minerals also support heart health and cognitive function.
  12. A drop in blood sugar during the night can cause us to wake up. Although it’s better to not go to sleep on a full stomach, a small protein snack such as a slice of cheese or smear of peanut butter on a cracker can help maintain balanced blood sugar.
  13. Exercise during the day to get your heart pumping and to maintain overall health. Just don’t do it too close to bedtime because you will get energized.
  14. Go to sleep when you get sleepy but make sure it’s before 11:00. According to Ayurveda, the ancient Indian healthcare system, it’s best to be in bed by 10:00.
  15. Melatonin supplements help some people, but you might have to experiment with the dosage. I like Natural Vitality’s Natural Calm, a powdered calcium supplement that you put in water or juice. I also like the homeopathic remedy Hyland’s Calms Forte.
  16. Use ear plugs if it’s noisy in your neighborhood. Again, you might need to experiment in order to find the product you find is most comfortable.

As a caregiver you probably think of yourself last. But it’s crucial that you take care of yourself because if you don’t, it will be able to take care of your loved one(s). So take the time to experiment. Promise yourself that you will put an emphasis on trying to improve your sleep. You will notice a difference right away, and so will everyone in your life.

Good night, sleep tight!


“Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia” by Barbra Cohn contains a treasure trove of information on how to stay connected with your loved one, keep calm, improve immunity, reduce stress and feel happier and healthier. Plus, it includes 20 healing modalities that the caregiver can do alone or with their loved one. Available wherever fine books are sold and on Amazon.

BarbraCohn__

 

 

12 ways to make sure your loved one is safe in a nursing home

 

Nurse serving food in nursing homeIt’s horrific and tragic that eight residents of a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida died this week as a result of dehydration, respiratory distress, and heat-related issues.  The nursing home administrator Jorge Carballo said “The Center and its medical and administrative staff diligently prepared for the impact of Hurricane Irma. We took part in emergency management preparedness calls with local and state emergency officials, other nursing homes and health regulators. In compliance with state regulations, the Center did have a generator on standby in the event it would be needed to power life safety systems. The Center also had seven days of food, water, ice and other supplies, including gas for the generator.”

But clearly something was wrong, very wrong. One man who learned about his mother’s death from a report said communication with the staff had always been difficult, so it did not strike him as unusual that his calls were not returned. Lack of communication is a big red flag.

My husband spent a little over two years in an assisted care facility, and my mother lived in a continuum care facility for seven years. Here is what I learned from my experience as the primary family caregiver responsible for making decisions about their care.

  1. If you anticipate that your loved one will be going into a nursing home or assisted living facility in the near future prepare months in advance. Visit a number of facilities in the area where s/he will live. Once you shorten the list to two or three, drop in unannounced so you can observe how the patients are treated. Supposedly, the best time to “drop in” is Saturday evening when there are fewer staff members around and visitors are not expected. Your senior services ombudsman will know which facilities have had complaints filed against them and can give you an idea of which ones to look at based on your family’s needs.
  2. Notice if residents are crying out for help, are in distress or appear dehydrated, and if their needs are attended to quickly. Be aware of odors (especially ammonia or urine) and whether the halls, dining areas, and residents’ rooms are clean.
  3. Once your loved one makes the transition into a home, get to know the staff—as intimately as your time allows. By making a personal connection with the people who care for your loved one, you will become more than a familiar face.  Professional caregivers make little income, have a huge responsibility, and are often the people who know best about the patient’s needs and status. These are people with families of their own. Ask about their child’s sports team or dance class. Ask about their grandchild’s birthday, etc. Your personal interest in their life will be appreciated and they will naturally develop an interest in your loved one and your family.
  4. A friend of mine visits his wife in a nursing home every single day, bringing her fresh berries or cut-up melon because the home doesn’t provide fresh fruit. It’s not practical for everyone to visit a loved one every day, but when you do, bring something nutritious such as fresh fruit instead of sweets. Fresh fruit is usually easy to eat and provides vitamins and antioxidants that help prevent colds and flues.
  5. Make sure water is provided throughout the day–not just that it is available but that it is offered. Seniors often lose the signal that they are thirsty and dehydration can be a serious problem for the frail and elderly.
  6. If your loved one is incontinent, make sure there are plenty of adult diapers in the room and that s/he is being changed regularly. Urinary tract infections are a serious problem with this population and staying dry and clean is a key to preventing them!
  7. Be on the alert for bruises or sores. A bed sore can lead to a systemic infection and death. Speak to the attending doctor or nurse immediately if you notice a sore that is not healing. A bruise can indicate that your loved one has fallen or, in the unlikely but not unheard event, that s/he has been abused.
  8. Sit with your loved one while s/he eats in the dining room. Is she able to feed herself or does she sit there not knowing what to do with her sandwich? If it is a problem, make arrangements with one of the staff to help her.
  9. Does your loved one require oxygen? Nursing homes are required to have generators in case of power outages such as during a hurricane. Familiarize yourself with the provider of the oxygen that your loved one receives and make sure the company is equipped to provide liquid oxygen for use when there is no power.
  10. Remove all loose rugs and obstacles in the room that your loved one might trip on. Also, place a lamp in easy reach of the bed so s/he doesn’t fall while trying to turn it off or on.
  11. My husband lost numerous pairs of glasses when he was in the assisted living home. Leave at least one extra pair with the floor nurse, and keep an extra pair at home.
  12. Know who to talk to if you have a question or concern. Over the years, I had to speak with the director of the facility where my mother lived several times. Don’t be shy and don’t be afraid of making a nuisance of yourself. Your family might be paying big bucks for the care you expect. If something is not agreeable to your loved one or your family speak up. Most of the time the director will be appreciative to hear your concerns and the matter will be quickly remedied. If not, contact the regulatory agency in your state to file a complaint. On this page you’ll find contact information for each state and territory. We provide information (where available) so that you can: 1) file a complaint about a nursing home; and 2) find additional nursing home information provided by a state.

Lonely? Two easy ways to make meaningful connections that might just help you live longer.

Bringing Back MemoriesBarbraCohn__

“Calmer Waters” contains more great information on how to stay connected, improve your immunity, and reduce stress. Available wherever fine books are sold and on Amazon.

I’m no stranger to loneliness. When I moved cross-country as a college student to a place  that was as foreign to me as if I had time-traveled to a different century, I didn’t know a soul. It didn’t help that I had transferred my second semester sophomore year after everyone had established their group of friends. I’ll never forget the feeling of being alone in the world, not having a friend to confide in or hang out with. Having moved from my hometown where I grew up surrounded by many relatives and a strong support network, I felt like an alien who didn’t know which foods would sustain or poison me. That experience has allowed me to understand what loneliness is and how it can trigger a downward spiral to depression. Now we are hearing from the medical community how devastating this “aloneness” can be.

Studies are showing that loneliness might be a bigger health risk than smoking or obesity. In fact, loneliness and social isolation is considered not just a psychological issue but a medical one that can actually kill you. According to a far-reaching study (meta-analysis of scientific literature on the subject January 1980 to February 2014) conducted by Brigham Young University, social isolation and loneliness is as dangerous to health as smoking 15 cigarettes and drinking six ounces of alcohol a day, and increases one’s likelihood of death by 32%.

Isolation and feeling alone has also been shown to contribute to depression, cognitive decline, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and poor recovery from illness and surgery.

Two programs that help seniors and caregivers connect on a personal level

Senior Center Without Walls

Senior Center Without Walls is a telephone-based national program that offers free weekly activities, education, friendly conversation, classes, support groups, and presentations  to individuals 60 years or older anywhere in the United States. There are activities occurring throughout the day, every day.

Play a game, write a poem, go on a virtual tour, meditate, share a gratitude, get support, and most importantly, connect and engage with others every day. SCWW is a community consisting of participants, staff, facilitators, presenters, and other volunteers who care about each other and who value being connected. All groups are accessible by phone and many are acessible online.

Katie Wade, program manager, says SCWW offers 75 options. People can join a particular group, call in the same time each week, hear the same voices on a regular basis and make friends. This has a positive impact on their emotional and physical life. “The gratitude activity, which is offered twice a day, is especially popular and well attended,” says Wade. “Participants share something they are grateful for. This allows for an increase in social connectedness. We also have fun and intellectual programs that help individuals feel valued, stimulated and engaged, and sometimes we invite presenters from the outside in.”

Wade points out that Senior Center Without Walls is not just for people with mobility concerns. We get folks who are active, people who are married and individuals in a co-housing situation. Anyone can feel lonely, she says. “We take a survey every year and the results indicate that 85% of our participants feel more intellectually stimulated and  socially connected. And on a daily basis, we get calls of gratitude from participants who say, ‘this program saved my live,'” says Wade.

Senior Center Without Walls is an award-winning program of Episcopal Senior Communities. For more information: SCWW@jtm-esc.org 1-877-797-7299 (also known as 1-877-797-SCWW)

Circle Talk

CircleTalk is a structured conversation program guided by leaders trained to inspire sharing among the participants. It follows a customized curriculum that engages older adults in meaningful conversations through creative activities. Director Deborah Skovron explains that the program is modeled on Rachael Kessler’s Passage Works Institute which works with school districts throughout the United States to teach teacher how to create safe, positive environments in which students are free to experience deep connection to themselves, others, and the world around them.

“Rachael asked me to take the principles of her model and create a program for seniors,” explains Skovron. Now, after eight years of development and refinement, Circle Talk has six programs running at any given time in senior living communities in Boulder, Colorado. A trained leader guides the one-hour circle following the same six steps, says Skovran.

  1. 10-12 people sit in a circle and get name tags.
  2. The group settles down by being led in a brief meditation.
  3. The leader does a warm-up activity asking simple questions such as, “What was your favorite game as a kid?”
  4. Next, the leader connects to the previous week by saying, “Last week we talked about . . .”
  5. The main focus of the week is introduced. A topic might be something like “What’s an important moment in history that helped inform who you are today? i.e. the first man on the moon, the Depression. How did it impact your life?” This leads to questions and conversation.
  6. The leader ends with a ritual such as asking each person to pass a message to the person sitting next to him/her, passing a squeeze, giving a “word” for the week, etc.

“My favorite thing is finding out no matter what age people are, they still require connections to other people and to themselves to remember who they have been. Circle Talk really allows for that opportunity,” says Skovron.

Skovron’s goal is to make Circle Talk available nation-wide. For information about volunteering, becoming a certified leader, donating, or participating in Circle Talk, visit CircleTalk. Circle Talk programs are thoughtfully designed conversation groups. They make it possible to form new relationships, providing a chance for reflection and self expression that many thought were lost to them forever.