Traveling with someone who has dementia (this article first appeared in AAA’s EnCompass magazine)

https://living.acg.aaa.com/travel/15-tips-traveling-someone-dementia

Portrait of a senior couple at sea at sunset

My husband, Morris, loved to travel so much that he memorized plane and train schedules for fun. Until he developed Alzheimer’s, that is. When he was unable to convert dollars into the local currency on our 25th anniversary trip through France and Spain, I realized something was very wrong. He followed me like a puppy dog around Barcelona and was afraid to hop on the subway. I was forced to read maps (not something I’m great at) and choose where to go and what to see, without any input. It was like traveling with a young child. My suspicion that he had Alzheimer’s was confirmed when we returned home.

That winter we went to an all-inclusive resort on the Riviera Maya, south of Cancun, to escape from our new reality. The last-minute get-away helped alleviate the stress of worrying about the future. But I couldn’t totally relax because I quickly learned that you can’t trust someone with dementia to find their way back to an unfamiliar hotel room.

Since he had been an avid lap-pool swimmer, I later took Morris on a quick trip to Glenwood Springs for a soak in the mineral pools. I was concerned that he would have trouble getting dressed in the locker room without my help. My first question to the staff was, “Do you have a family changing room?”

They actually have two, complete with toilet, sink, shower, and fold-down bench. There are also three ADA (American Disabilities Act) accessible rooms in the new restroom facility near the kid’s area at the west end of the property. 

Changing was easy. But Morris was afraid to get into the pool. I later learned that people with Alzheimer’s have difficulty with depth perception and peripheral vision. Their eyes might be healthy, but changes in the brain affect the way they process visual information and alters their perception of the world and how they understand it.

I wish I had known this before our family took a trip to Arches National Park. Morris was terrified as we slowly made our way through the Devil’s Garden. And I became impatient with him, not realizing that he probably felt as though he was about to fall off a cliff.

The good news is that you can travel with someone who has dementia. It’s a bit of a challenge, but it’s doable in the early stages. It just takes more planning, patience, and time. Our family took several fun trips to Hawaii with Morris after his diagnosis. They were even more special than our previous trips because we wanted to enjoy every precious moment together.

20 Tips for traveling with someone with dementia

It’s inevitable that routines will be disrupted while traveling. Here’s how to make it easier on yourself and the person you are caring for.

  1. Don’t leave home without an ID bracelet or wearable GPS unit that can’t be easily removed by your traveling companion. List the person’s name and your cell number on the ID. If the person can still use a cell phone, make sure your number is the emergency contact.
  2. Keep a current photo of your care recipient with you in case you get separated. And carry a laminated card that briefly explains that they have dementia. Showing this to service people helps to avoid frustration, impatience, confusion, and embarrassment.
  3. Consider staying in a hotel rather than with relatives who may be alarmed by or unfamiliar with dementia symptoms. If there’s any sort of drama in the household, this will only add to everyone’s confusion and frustration.
  4. Let the hotel staff know ahead of time of special needs. Ask for a vase of flowers to be placed in your room. They always seem to freshen up the environment.
  5. Bring an aromatherapy diffuser that plugs into the wall. Aromatherapy works like magic to allay anxiety. Put a few drops of lavender oil, sage, geranium, rose, or ylang ylang oil on a pillowcase, or handkerchief that you can stick in a shirt pocket, or in a diffuser. Try out different blends before your trip to see what your traveling companion prefers. Essential oils and diffusers are available at natural food stores and online.
  6. Try to avoid noisy, crowded situations that might provoke anxiety, fear, or confusion. Instead, visit tranquil environments such as art museums and galleries, botanical gardens, and special interest museums. If you’re meeting friends or family, picnic in a beautiful park. If children are included, choose a park with a playground.
  7. Have afternoon tea, cookies, and fruit in your hotel room, and allow time for a nap.
  8. Ice cream treats always work when the going gets rough!
  9. If you’re flying, book a direct flight and limit flight time to under four hours.
  10. Pack everything in a light backpack to carry on board, if possible, to avoid waiting at baggage claim. Carry documents and medications with you.
  11. Leave the lace-up shoes at home. Velcro shoes or slip-on shoes are a must.
  12. Most airports have a seating area a few feet from where you pick up your belongings, where you can put yourselves back together.
  13. Just beyond that is a handicapped seating area where you can hitch a ride on an electric cart that brings you to your gate.
  14. Use the family restrooms, rather than the public restrooms. Your traveling companion will appreciate the help.
  15. Take advantage of early boarding.
  16. Bring your own food, snacks, and water. Make sure you don’t bring anything that qualifies as a liquid. That includes yogurt.
  17. Let flight attendants know about special needs. They are more than willing to help.
  18. Don’t worry about your companion getting locked inside the cabin restroom. It is possible to open the door from the outside.
  19. Bring an iPad or headphones for entertainment and relaxation.
  20. Sit back and try to relax!

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: TheCaregiver’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.

The memory care home wants to evict my loved one! What should I do?

Caregiver yelling at man in wheel-chair

Sometimes a person with dementia will act out and strike the person who just happens to walk by, or the person who accidentally walks into their room. Or, the aggressor might bite another person. Aggressive behaviors aren’t that unusual, but sometimes they get out of control. If they continue, the director of the memory care home will give the family a warning, and if the behavior isn’t resolved, the patient may be asked to leave.

Before things get out of control, there are modalities that can be used to help calm things down. Please read Chapter 18 “Aromatherapy” in Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia by Barbra Cohn (see below) on how essential oils can immediately diffuse a tense situation. The book contains 19 other healing modalities that really do work.

In our case, the care facility wanted my husband to leave because he became too needy. Even though the director assured me that the facility would be able to take care of him to the end of his Alzheimer’s journey when I signed the contract for him to move in, that’s not what happened.

After Morris had surgery for a kidney stone, he was unable to walk or toilet by himself. He couldn’t do much of anything anymore. He stopped talking and couldn’t feed himself. The facility where he had been for two years refused to accept him back from the hospital. The hospital discharged him on a Friday afternoon and we had to scramble for a facility that would take him. It was stressful and the new facility was awful. I begged the home where he had been to take him back, and they agreed, but with a big caveat. I had to hire a care person to be with Morris one-on-one because the facility didn’t have the staff to give him the extra care that he needed.

We hired extra care, but the cost became prohibitive. I moved Morris for the third time in four weeks to a different facility that specialized in end-stage Alzheimer’s. It was the perfect decision. He died there two weeks later, after having compassionate end-of-life care.

If things hadn’t gotten so crazy, and my husband hadn’t deteriorated as quickly as he did, I would have called my ombudsman to help me communicate with the first memory care home’s director. Her refusal to take Morris back after his hospitalization was virtually the same as kicking him out, and it was contrary to what was promised when I signed the initial contract: that they’d care for him until the end.

Contact your ombudsman

If you have any similar issues, contact your ombudsman. An ombudsman is someone who advocates for the health, safety, and rights of individuals in long-term facilities (LTC), and ensures that the residents are protected by the standards required under the Nursing Home Reform Law of 1987. Under the federal Older Americans Act, every state is required to have an Ombudsman Program that addresses complaints and advocates for improvements in the long-term care system. 

Unlawful evictions are one of the major complaints that an ombudsman deals with. The ombudsman will

If you can’t resolve a conflict or your concerns with the director of the facility or are uncomfortable, you can contact your ombudsman to:

  • Investigate suspected abuse (mental, physical, and emotional) of your loved one
  • Review inadequate staffing or training that should meet the level of care expected and promised
  • Discuss and resolve grievances that you and the staff have
  • Learn about your options and legal rights

Who can use an Ombudsman?

  • Residents of any nursing home or board and care facility, including assisted living facilities
  • A family member or friend of a nursing home resident
  • A nursing home administrator or employee with a concern about a resident at their facility
  • Any individual or citizen’s group interested in the welfare of residents
  • Individuals and families who are considering long-term care placement

How do I contact my Ombudsman?

Residential care communities must post the area’s ombudsman program contact information and responsibilities. You can also search for your state’s ombudsman by visiting the Elder Care Locator website (eldercare.acl.gov) or contact the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s (AFA) Helpline – 866-232-8484.

What if my loved one is asked to leave because of aggressive behavior?

First, try to figure out why your loved one is acting out. Does s/he have a urinary tract infection? Is s/he in pain because of a tooth abscess? Have a physician do a complete physical exam to rule out pain. Your loved one may be unable to articulate what is bothering them.

Be on the lookout for bruises, bedsores, stomach upset, missing personal items such as eyeglasses, or anything else that may be the cause of a change in behavior. Is another resident walking into your loved one’s room accidentally? Is loud music being played in the dining room? What about community TV shows? Are they violent, disturbing, or too loud?

Sadly, residents who have behavior issues are often given medications to control their outbursts. Try everything you can before resorting to those. My husband was given a sedating drug at one point and he became catatonic. As soon as I ordered the doctor to take him off the drug, Morris quickly reverted to his usual, pleasant self. When he would start to show agitation, I’d plug in an aromatherapy diffuser with a blend of oils that immediately calmed him down.

Essential oils can 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 loved one’s collar or pillow. Find a fragrance that is pleasing to them.

It’s always in everyone’s best interest to try to solve things amicably. An attorney can help review your contract with the facility, especially when it comes to involuntary transfers and aggressive behavior. But hopefully, the situation won’t get to that point.

All the best to you in the new year,

Barbra

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.


Is your care partner driving you nuts?

Stressed caregiver

It’s hard to maintain equanimity and patience when your care recipient is constantly repeating him/herself. Of is following you around the house like a puppy dog. Or is accusing you of “stealing” their wallet, or is getting up several times during the night so you’re unable to get the sleep you need for your own health and in order to take care of them without losing your cool.

When I couldn’t handle my husband’s early stage Alzheimer’s behavior, I’d simply leave the house and walk around the block. But as the disease progresses and it isn’t safe to leave your care partner alone in the house, that’s not always possible.

Here are 16 things that might help you keep your sanity, and your care partner’s too. 

  1.  Simplify communication by asking one question at a time. Break down complex ideas, and give only one choice, i.e. when helping your care partner get dressed simply ask “Do you want to wear the blue or green shirt?” Don’t ask open-ended questions. Ask questions with yes or no answers, if possible.
  2. Before speaking, make sure the television, radio, and music are turned off. Look directly in the eyes of your care partner. Use their name and maintain eye contact.
  3.  Provide a gentle physical touch. Just stroking someone’s arm, shoulders or head can reduce agitation.
  4. Put on soothing music. Or, if your care partner loves dance music (Big Band or Rock n/Roll, Latin), turn up the volume and dance!.
  5. Reduce or avoid use of caffeine, sugar, tobacco and alcohol.
  6. Reduce clutter, noise, and the number of visitors.
  7. Bring out the family photo albums to help the person reminisce about happier times. They may not remember what they ate 30 minutes ago, but chances are they will remember special events from the past.
  8. Go for a walk together, or drive to a park where you can sit together and watch children play, or the ducks swim in a pond.
  9. Schedule a relaxing massage for both of you. It will do you good!
  10. Ice cream works like magic. Go for a drive to your favorite ice cream shop.
  11. If your care partner accuses you of stealing their money, let them keep a small
    amount of money in a wallet. When they make an accusation, simply pull out the
    wallet to show them the money is still in there. In case they hide the wallet
    and you’re unable to find it, have a spare one on hand that looks identical to
    the original one.
  12.  If you need to bring your care partner to an appointment, leave plenty of
    extra time for getting dressed, eating, moving from the house to the car, etc.
    If you feel rushed and stressed, they will pick up on your feelings and start
    mirroring them.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. Get help! Hire someone to come in a couple of times a week so you can get out of the house. If your budget doesn’t allow it, contact your county’s area agency on aging or senior care services agency for information about respite care.
  16.  When all else fails, maintain your sense of humor. Towards the end of my husband’s
    10-year Alzheimer’s journey, for some reason, we both shared a lot of
    meaningless laughs, probably because the whole damn journey was so exhausting
    for both us and what else was there to do? I had already shed more tears than I
    had in all the years leading up to the diagnosis.

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.

Dental hygiene for people with dementia

oral hygiene products

As with any debilitating disease, Alzheimer’s and other dementias pose limitations to what a patient can and can’t do. Good dental hygiene is one of the self-care daily habits that, unfortunately, often fall by the wayside in cognitively impaired individuals.

In the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, a daily reminder might be all it takes to ensure that a person with dementia continues with their dental hygiene routine. As the disease progresses, the individual might need a more hands-on approach.

Why is dental care for dementia patients important?

It doesn’t matter whether you have dementia or are in tip top shape, dental care is a primary factor in overall health. Maintaining your dental health is much more than having a beautiful smile. Tooth decay and gum disease can affect your heart, your lungs, and your brain.

Periodontal disease has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every two American adults over the age of 30 has some form of gum disease. Oral bacteria can migrate to distant sites in the body. Elderly and immuno-compromised patients, such as those suffering from cancer, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, may be especially vulnerable to systemic oral pathogens.

Periodontal disease is also associated with weight loss and wasting, which might contribute to cognitive decline. Gum disease often results in tooth loss, which often leads to problems with chewing, swallowing and food selection. And individuals don’t absorb nutrients from food efficiently if it is not chewed well. Evidence from several studies indicates deterioration in nutritional status in individuals missing teeth.

Certain medications can cause dry mouth

Decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers, diuretics and antidepressants are known to reduce saliva flow. Saliva neutralizes acids produced by bacteria in the mouth and helps protect you from microbes that can multiply and lead to infection and disease. The problem is, salivary glands are less productive as we age. Individuals with dementia also forget to drink when they’re thirsty. It’s important to be alert to cracked lips and dry mouth in your care partner in order to know when an individual is dehydrated.

8 Tips for preventing dry mouth

  • Sip water throughout the day—carry a water bottle.
  • Suck on hard, sour candies.
  • Chew sugarless gum.
  • Avoid or reducing the medications listed above.
  • Use Biotene, Plax, or ACT mouthwash which contain no alcohol.
  • Eat fibrous foods like apples, carrots and celery. They’re mildly abrasive and sweep bacteria and plaque off the teeth.
  • Use a humidifier to keep the membranes moist.
  • Get regular dental check-ups and alert the dentist about dry mouth. The teeth can sometimes be coated with protective substances that protect the teeth from bacteria and plaque.

12 Ways to assist dementia patients with oral hygiene

  • Talk your patient through the steps of brushing, if necessary. Put your hand over their hand that is holding the brush to guide them.
  • We typically brush our teeth in the bathroom. However, if it’s more comfortable for someone to brush while sitting down on a chair or in bed, by all means provide a plastic tub and glass of water for the patient.
  • As dementia progresses, it becomes more difficult for patients to visit their dentist for regular cleanings. It also becomes more difficult for caregivers to help with daily brushing, which is why caregivers must be more diligent in trying other techniques.
  • If a regular toothbrush is hard to hold and manipulate, try an electric toothbrush. Or, provide a toothbrush with a large handle. Some caregivers get creative and put the handle through a tennis ball to give the patient something heftier to hold onto.
  • Don’t use fluoride toothpaste if the patient is inclined to swallow it. If the patient doesn’t like toothpaste, try using baking soda and water, or just plain water.
  • Flossing is very important. See “Does gum disease really cause Alzheimer’s disease?” https://barbracohn.com/?s=flossing&submit=Search. Flexi-Floss, Stim-u-dent-or a tiny brush makes the job a bit easier.
  • If you can trust the patient not to swallow mouthwash, try an anti-plaque mouthwash when brushing is not feasible.
  • Ask your dentist about using a super soft toothbrush or one with a sponge head instead of a bristle head. Foam oral swabs are available at medical supply companies.
  • If your patient wears dentures, make sure to take them out and clean them daily. Use a soft brush to clean the patient’s gums and roof of their mouth when the dentures are removed.
  • Be alert to dental pain which may be exhibited by rubbing of the jaw or cheek, flinching while being shaved or having their face washed, refusing to put dentures back in, moaning, flinching, etc.
  • As mentioned in the above section, eating fibrous foods like apples and celery, and drinking plenty of water can help prevent plaque build-up.
  • It’s important to find a dentist who is patient and knowledgeable about dementia in order to make your patient’s dental visits as pleasant as possible. Let the staff know ahead of time about any concerns. If your patient gets agitated, ask his/her physician for an anti-anxiety medication beforehand. Or, use a homeopathic remedy such as calcarea carbonica or aconite, or an essential oil such as lavender oil to reduce anxiety. For a list of herbal remedies that reduce anxiety see “20 Natural Remedies for Depressed Caregivers (and everyone else).” https://barbracohn.com/category/aromatherapy/

References

  1. Hee Lee, K, Wu, B, and Plassman, B. Cognitive function and oral health—related quality of life in older adults. JAGS. 2013: 61: 1602-1607.

2. Elsig, F, Schimmel, M, Duvernay, E, Giannelli, SV, Graf, CE, Carlier, S, Herrmann, FR, Michel, JP, Gold, G, Zekry, D and Muller, F. Tooth loss, chewing efficiency and cognitive impairment in geriatric patients. Gerodontology. 2013: 1-8.

3. Chalmers, JM, Carter, KD, and Spencer, AJ. Oral diseases and conditions in community-living older adults with and without dementia. Spec Care Dentist. 2003: 23: 7-17.

4. Fabiano, JA. Oral health management in the patient with dementia. Medscape. May 24, 2011.

14 ways that caregivers can achieve a healthier, more relaxed 2021

You’re tired, you’re stressed – You and 45 million or so American caregivers, including the 16 million adult family members caring for a someone with Alzheimer’s. 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 were sick that wasn’t going to help anyone, least of all our children. They were barely adults when my husband was in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease. Our kids 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’re a caregiver, it’s hard to find the time to get the exercise you need or even take a shower, somedays. But it’s absolutely vital that you take care of yourself or you’ll end up getting sick and then who will take care of your loved one? Who will take care of YOU?

14 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. Find a virtual class online. Yoga, Pilates, Barre fitness, Zumba, Les Mills Bodypump and more are offered through the YMCA for free if you have Silver Sneakers. There are hundreds of other classes available online.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Take a multi-vitamin mineral supplement to support your overall health, well-being, and immunity.
  12. Include more fruits and veggies in your diet. 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.
  13. Avoid isolation. Staying connected, especially during the pandemic, is sooooo important! Join an online support group if you don’t have friends and family nearby to listen to your woes and help out. Here are two great ways to make meaningful connections online: https://wordpress.com/post/barbracohn.com/3517
  14. 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.”

image

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.

32 Ways to Cope with Grief this Holiday Season

Lots of people are grieving for all kinds of reasons, but it all comes down to loss and loneliness. Loss of a loved one, loss of a friendship, loss of a job, and sheer loneliness as a result of being socially distanced.

Here are some ways to get through the darkest, most dismal holiday season most of us have had to endure.

  1. Take a drive on a country road. Park and out and walk.
  2. If you don’t have a dog, borrow a neighbor’s dog to take on a walk.
  3. Watch a recommended movie or t.v. series that you can get lost in.
  4. Bake cookies or quick breads and distribute them to your neighbors.
  5. If you’ve had a hard time discarding your loved one’s clothes, think about donating them to a homeless shelter, etc.
  6. Start journaling. It’s a wonderful way to express your feelings and get things off your chest.
  7. Write a letter to your loved one and express your love, your sadness, grief, guilt, etc.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Splurge on a gift for yourself!
  11. Help out at a shelter or food bank, or make a donation in honor of your loved one.
  12. Don’t overcommit. And don’t over donate. This is so easy to do and lose track of just how much money you are sending an organization, especially if you do it online, which is so easy.
  13. 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.
  14. 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
  15. Give yourself a massage. Refer to the chapter “Self Massage” in my book “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia.”
  16. 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.
  17. Get the sleep that you need.
  18. Make an appointment with a professional therapist if you need help. You can do it virtually from the comfort of your home.
  19. Eat a serving of high-quality protein with every meal and snack
  20. Focus on complex carbohydrates (whole grains, veggies and fruits), and eliminate junk foods (refined carbs).
  21. Enjoy unlimited amounts of fresh veggies.
  22. Eat a good breakfast!
  23. Eat 3 balanced meals and 1-2 snacks/day.
  24. Magnesium, B complex, fish-oil, walnuts, flax seeds, dark leafy greens, and high quality all help reduce stress and uplift mood.
  25. Meditate, light a candle, or find some quiet time for yourself.
  26. Take a multi-vitamin mineral supplement to support your overall health, well-being, and immunity.
  27. Exercise! At least take a short walk every day.
  28. 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.
  29. Put on a funny YouTube video and laugh.
  30. Sing your heart out while listening to your favorite showtunes.
  31. Meet a friend for a chat over coffee. Having a good chat and/or laugh, either via telephone or in person does wonders.
  32. Do the best you can. Try to relax and enjoy your family and friends, even if you can only meet over Zoom.

It’s easy to drown our troubles in alcohol or recreational drugs. Please be safe. Any of the above 32 ways to engage in self-care will do you a whole lot of good. Alcohol and drugs will not.

Be safe, be well, love yourself. Better times are ahead.

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 online at Target and Walmart, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

How to prevent and ease tension headaches without drugs

There’s been an increase in the incidence of stress headaches, no matter whether you’re a caregiver, someone who’s lost a job or a loved one, a parent juggling virtual school and a job, or dealing with loneliness and pandemic stress.

If you’re concerned that your headache may be a symptom of COVID-19, Dr. Emad Estemalik, director of the headache section at the Cleveland Clinic, said that although respiratory viruses often involve headaches, if a headache is your only symptom, it’s unlikely that it is related to COVID-19. https://www.news5cleveland.com/news/local-news/having-more-headaches-during-the-pandemic-its-not-just-you

On the other hand, “If you suddenly are short of breath or you have a fever out of the blue and you have an excruciating headache, that’s a different story,” he said.

What is a tension headache?

Tension headaches are typically caused by muscle contractions in the head and neck. They can be mild, moderate, or intense pain that you may feel in your head and neck or behind your eyes. Often they feel like a tight band around your head. They can be chronic or episodic, once or twice a month. Women are twice as likely as men to have tension headaches, and according to the Cleveland Clinic, chronic headaches affect approximately three percent of people in the U.S and can last more than 15 days a month.

Common causes of headache

  • Allergies and certain foods including MSG, artificial sweeteners, aged cheese, cured meats, salty foods, chocolate, pickled and fermented foods, frozen foods (i.e brain freeze)
  • Alcohol, caffeine, smoking
  • Depression, stress and anxiety
  • Dehydration
  • Eye strain and dry eyes
  • Emotional stress
  • Peri-menopause and pre-menstrual hormone fluctuations
  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor posture, especially looking down at our devices and at our computers for long stretches of time.
  • Cold, flu, or sinus infections
  • Vertebrae misalignment, especially of the atlas and axis
  • Over exercising
  • Hunger, not eating enough or on time
  • Air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, particulate matters from wildfires, and benzene from fracking
  • Change in the weather

Ways to prevent and ease a tension headache

According to the National center for Complementary and Integrative Health, these supplements may help prevent tension headaches:

  • Butterbur
  • Coenzyme CoQ10
  • Feverfew
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin B-12 (riboflavin)

Yoga postures help by increasing circulation to your head. Remember to breathe. For more information about deep breathing as a stress reliever, including two easy breathing exercises, visit: “Support your lungs with deep breathing exercises” https://barbracohn.com/2020/03/26/support-your-lungs-with-deep-breathing-exercises/

More ways to ease a tension headache

  • Dab some lavender essential oil on your temples. Some people report instant relief.
  • Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water each day.
  • Get plenty of sleep. If you have trouble sleeping read this: https://barbracohn.com/2017/10/25/16-ways-to-sleep-better-so-you-can-be-a-better-caregiver/
  • Exercise regularly and walk outside in fresh air.
  • Get an air purifier to clean the air in your house.
  • Set boundaries for yourself. Don’t take on more than you can handle.
  • Support your emotional well being. Avoid movies that elevate cortisol (stress hormone), avoid family arguments, engage socially on facetime or zoom to avoid loneliness. Take a walk with a neighbor with masks on, etc.
  • Get a massage or chiropractic adjustment.
  • Do something soothing for yourself at least once a day. Listen to some classical, religious or meditative music to uplift your spirit. Take an Epsom salt bath with lavender aromatherapy oil. Take time out to read a book. Keep a gratitude journal. Get a dog or cat.

Please make a telehealth appointment with your doctor if your headaches continue and to rule out other illness.

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 online at Target and Walmart, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

28 ways to practice gratitude and uplift your spirit this Thanksgiving and holiday season

This will be a different kind of Thanksgiving and holiday season, for sure. It’ll be quiet. It might bring up anxiety about staying healthy or being alone. If you’re at home caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, the holidays will be riddled with their typical challenges. If your loved one is in a memory care home, it will be sad because you might not be able to visit. However, this season will also allow us to pause in order to count our blessings and welcome unknown and unseen blessings.

In his book “Upward Spiral,” neuroscientist Alex Korb, M.D. explains that practicing gratitude is one of many pathways to an upward spiral to happiness.

Be grateful. Make a list of things that uplift you and that you’re grateful for. Keep a gratitude book and write about your favorite people and things. A job that you like, a special person, a pet, a warm and safe home, good food, a favorite book or TV show, a park where you walk, your health, a fragrant candle, a neighbor who helps out by shoveling your sidewalk, raking the leaves, or picking up groceries.

Before you get out of bed say an affirmation such as “I’m grateful for my strength and health.” “Today is going to be a good day.” “I have the power to change my attitude.” “I am happy to be alive.”

Write uplifting quotes, blessings, Bible verses, words of wisdom or other religious quotes in a blank book specifically designated as your “happy” book.

If you’ve lost a loved one in the past year, create an alter in your house in remembrance of them. Put up their picture, place a candle on the alter with some incense or food they loved. Be creative. Put on their favorite music. Sit and contemplate all the gifts that person brought to your life.

If you have leftover guilt, pain or regrets about your relationship, have a conversation with that person. Ask for forgiveness and give your forgiveness back. You might shed some tears, but it’ll open your heart to the possibility of healing.

15 ways to connect with your at-home care partner and uplift both of your moods.

  • Put on some music and dance. If your care partner doesn’t walk, hold their hands and gently sway to the music.
  • Look at photo albums together.
  • Make a collage with family photos or pictures cut from a magazine.
  • Make colorful paper chains to decorate the house.
  • Plan a family zoom party. If you have a musician in the family have a sing-along.
  • Try an intergenerational activity like a story chain. One person starts the story and hands it off to the next. It’s a little like the game telephone.
  • Do a puzzle, do board games.
  • Get out some watercolors and paper.
  • Borrow a neighbor’s dog, if you don’t have one and go for a walk.
  • If there’s snow on the ground, bring enough inside to cover a tray. Use food coloring to make designs.
  • Make and/or decorate a gingerbread house.
  • Bake gingerbread and eat it warm with whipped cream.
  • Make and decorate cookies. Then bring them to a neighbor.
  • Read to your care partner.
  • Give your care partner a massage.

If your loved one is in a care facility

  • Try to connect on Facetime or Zoom. Even if your care partner can’t see you very well, hopefully hearing your voice will help you to connect emotionally.
  • Drop off a basket filled with special treats and flowers.
  • Send a CD of favorite music.
  • Fill a memory box with small, special mementos.
  • Puzzles and coloring books help with fine motor skills and uplift the mood.
  • Seniors who loved to dress up will appreciate glittery and colorful costume jewelry.
  • A favorite book on tape might trigger memories and put a smile on one’s face.
  • Provide an aromatherapy diffuser that plugs in the wall, with an uplifting aromatherapy oil.

My 2020 Thanksgiving prayer

I am grateful for being loved and loving. I am grateful that I’ve stayed healthy this year. I am grateful to authors who share their beautiful imaginations, I am grateful to my parents who, many years ago, let me go west to college, where I’ve lived in the Rocky Mountains ever since. I am grateful for my beautiful environment, my comfortable home, my book club, and my writing groups. I am grateful for being able to eat organic food and drink pristine spring water. I am grateful that I live in a place where intelligent people question authority. I am grateful that I have healthy children who are contributing members to society. I am grateful for being blessed with four gorgeous, delicious and healthy grandchildren.

I am so grateful to be alive, and for so much more.

May your Thanksgiving be filled with good health, friendship, hope and ease.

Amen.

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.

15 Ways to Instantly Diffuse Anger

Young woman doing upward dog stretch, yoga.

Whether you’ve been caring for a loved one with dementia for a month or more than a decade, you’ve probably felt anger. Anger about having to listen to your care partner ask you for the hundredth time what’s for dinner, even though they have already eaten. Anger about having to downsize your world because you don’t have time to enjoy your previous social life. Anger about having to leave your career because you need to care for someone at home. The list goes on and on.Caregiving for someone with dementia is so hard. Some doctors think of caregivers as hidden patients because they are more likely to suffer from health problems stemming for stress, anxiety, anger, depression, and the inability to take good care of themselves.

It might be helpful to understand why you are feeling angry. You may not be aware of lingering feelings that fuel the fire. But there are ways to diffuse anger, which is one of the culprits that contribute to caregiver stress, depression, and poor health.

Are you resentful?

This is a common feeling that many caregivers share, especially if you are the eldest daughter and are caring for a parent. And it’s no wonder. Do your siblings step in to help with an ailing parent? Has your career advancement been put on hold? Is caring for a spouse destroying your dreams of travel or retirement.

I was only 48 when my husband was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease. And damn right I was resentful. Our youngest was just starting college and we were empty nesters. It was the time in our life that we were supposed to have more freedom. My parents were getting older and had numerous health issues. I was part of a caregiver sandwich. Not the one where you care for a spouse and children at home simultaneously, I had to fly back and forth to tend to my parents’ while caring for my husband. It was hard and exhausting, and I was resentful. I complained to my best friend that my life wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Are you frustrated?

Have you tried various modalities to help your loved one “get better” and not seen any improvement?

Are you exhausted?

It’s no wonder. You need to take care of yourself. Exhaustion and burnout can bring feelings of anger to the surface. Please read: Preventing Caregiver Burnout with Good Nutrition and Foods that Support Neurotransmitters. https://wordpress.com/post/barbracohn.com/5204

Do you feel guilty?

It’s been years since my husband passed away. But I still feel guilty about the times I got angry or the times I went out to enjoy myself. My therapist used to say to me: “If someone told you the story you’re telling me now, what would you say to them?” I’d say, “You’re doing the best that you can.” That’s the right answer. You are doing the best that you can, and I have to remind myself, even now, that I did the best that I could. (Maybe I need more therapy to totally release those feelings of guilt.)

If you fly off the handle when your loved one annoys you or when you haven’t gotten enough sleep, try some of these anger diffusers for immediate relief.

  • Take a deep breath. Breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, and release for 4 counts. Repeat twice more.
  • Make sure your loved one is safe and take a brief walk outside. If the weather is bad, walk up and down the stairs. If you can go outside, engage your loved one in an activity or have them watch television. Or just walk away from the situation and go into another room.
  • Put on some uplifting music. “Happy” by Pharrell Williams will definitely make you happy, I guarantee!
  • Call your best friend to vent.
  • Keep a book of inspirational quotes on your night table. Grab it and read a page. Sit there a moment and breathe.
  • Do jumping jacks or a few yoga postures. Corpse pose, legs up the wall, down dog. It doesn’t matter. Choose a few and do them.
  • Don’t lash out at your care partner. Rather than regret hurtful words, respond with an “I” statement or divert his/her attention. “I know you’re upset. I feel frustrated, too, etc.”
  • Use humor. Make a joke, put on a funny YouTube video.
  • Take yourself, your care partner, and your dog (if you have one) for a walk.
  • The British custom of making a cup of tea really works. Make a cup of green tea for added relaxation.
  • Use lavender oil to calm you down. Either put it in a wall plug-in diffuser or spritz your collar or a tissue that you can put inside a shirt pocket.  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.
  • Break open a dark chocolate bar and share it with your care partner. It reduces cortisol, the stress hormone that causes anxiety symptoms. Just a couple of pieces should do the trick.
  • Go into a quiet room and meditate.
  • Light a candle and put on some relaxing music.
  • Drink a tall glass of water, make an energy-boosting smoothie, or hot cocoa.

For more ways to destress, boost your energy and calm down, read “20 energy and stress fixes to use now!” https://wordpress.com/post/barbracohn.com/4998

If you continue to have anger issues, it might be good to speak to a therapist. It definitely helps to belong to a support group. To find an Alzheimer’s (and other dementias) support group in your area call 800-272-3900 or visit: https://www.alz.org/help-support/community/support-groups gclid=Cj0KCQiA7qP9BRCLARIsABDaZzhho3nQIye6hhfVM3umD7WeqWOeanDCfVcfmbF8Ld9MN5cGdPOAyCAaAjC7EALw_wcB

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.

20 Natural Remedies for Depressed Caregivers (and everyone else)

Forest MeditationLots of us have experienced some form of depression during this pandemic. It may have been fleeting or may have set in for a longer period of time. If you’re a caregiver your “blues” may have cascaded into feelings of anger, resentment, anxiety, and or depression.

If you’re a caregiver you may not feel like it but remember that you are a hero/heroine. You are doing the best you can under duress, whether you’re caregiving during a pandemic or on just an ordinary day during a “normal” year.

Please, if you have suicidal thoughts or just can’t seem to shake the blues, get help.  Call the national suicide prevention lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.  The Lifeline provides 24/7 free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.

Have you considered getting professional help? Like so many things nowadays, you can even get online therapy sessions. Check out his website for in-depth reviews on the best online therapy. https://www.consumersadvocate.org/online-therapy

Here are 20+ ways to combat depression

Natural supplements for depression

  1. St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a flowering plant which is used to make liquid extracts, nutritional supplements, and teas. 
  • It is a safe and effective way to treat mild to moderate depression over long periods of time
  • Is similarly effective as standard antidepressants
  • It has minimal side effects when compared to standard antidepressants
  • Understand that it can take 3-6 weeks until you feel the full benefits.
  • Please consult your health practitioner if you are taking an anti-depressant or other medications before taking St. John’s Wort.

One study done on laboratory animals found that St, John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) has antidepressant properties similar to standard antidepressants. The antidepressant profile of H. perforatum is closely related to the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors class of antidepressants.

A Swiss study evaluated 440 patients suffering from mild to moderate depression and treated them with 500 mg. of St. John’s wort for up to one year. Although mild side effects such as upset stomach were reported—which may or may NOT have been related to the treatment—the researchers reported that is a safe and effective way to treat mild to moderate depression over long periods of time. They also found that it is especially suitable for preventing a relapse.

A meta-analysis at the Centre for Complementary Medicine Research, Technische Universitaet Muenchen, Munich, Germany analyzed 29 trials (which included 5,489 patients), comparing St. John’s wort with placebo or standard antidepressants. The evidence suggests that the hypericum extracts tested in the included trials a) are superior to placebo in patients with major depression; b) are similarly effective as standard antidepressants; c) and have fewer side effects than standard antidepressants.

2. 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.

3. 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.

The main types of nervines are tonics, relaxants, and stimulants.

  • Nervine Tonics – are fundamental to any long-term change in the individual’s ability to cope with their lives and make changes to their health regimen and lifestyle. They are particularly helpful for strengthening the nervous system and restoring balance. In addition to having a relaxing effect, they appear to have a vaso-dilating action on the blood vessels of the brain.  This increases oxygen availability to brain cells and helps with mental agility and mood.
  • Nervine Relaxants – are especially beneficial for short-term use, for example in treating mild depression or acute anxiety. “This group of nervines are most important in times of stress and confusion, alleviating many of the accompanying symptoms. They should always be used in a broad holistic way, not simply to tranquilize.  Too much tranquilizing, even that achieved through herbal medication, can in time deplete and weigh heavily on the whole nervous system,” says Hoffman.
  • Nervine Stimulants– are used as a restorative “pick-me-up” when the individual needs an energetic boost without that revved up feeling produced by caffeine.

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.
  • Blue Vervain – is a nervine herb that may help when you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed, and just want to relax. It promotes relaxation and calmness.
  • Hops – the female flower from the top of the humulus lupulus creeping vine, does a lot more than make your beer taste good! It may reduce occasional stress, nervousness and restlessness.
  • Valerian – is the most researched herb for sleep. Interestingly, the word valerian is derived from the Latin verb valere, which means to be strong or healthy. It may provide relief of occasional sleeplessness and promote relaxation.
  • Catnip is a milder nervine that may soothe and promote a calming feeling and reduce irritability.

4. 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.

5. Drink water. Your brain needs to stay hydrated. Make sure you drink at least six tall glasses of water every day. When my mom went into the hospital for severe dehydration, among other things, she began hallucinating. A psychiatrist called to tell me “your mom has full-blown dementia.” I said, “No she doesn’t,”  and refused to allow the doctor to prescribe an anti-psychotic prescription. Sure enough, several days later my mom sounded completely normal. Her body had been dehydrated, as well as her brain. The simple habit of drinking water is sometimes all we need to maintain mood and mental health.

6. The Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments published a report in the “Canadian Journal of Psychiatry” in 2016 with this conclusion: For the management of mild to moderate depression it says exercise, light therapy, St. John’s wort, omega-3 fatty acids, SAM-e, and yoga are recommended as first- or second-line treatments.

7. A recently published study in the “Journal of Clinical Medicine” concluded that individuals who engaged in a meditative movement practice of Tai Chi, Qigong, or Yoga showed significantly improved treatment remission rates. The researchers conclude that emphasizing the therapeutic effects of meditative movements for treating MDD (Major Depressive Disorder) is critical because it may provide a useful alternative to existing mainstream treatments (drug therapy and psychotherapy) for MDD. Given the fact that meditative movements are safe and easily accessible, clinicians may consider recommending meditative movements for symptomatic management in this population.

8. Music is the universal language as well as one of the most common ways to affect mood.  My husband was never without head phones as he listened to music and wandered through the halls of the memory care home where he lived the last two years of his life. Music made him happy. It makes toddlers spin until they’re dizzy, teens hand bang until their necks get sore, and adults drum their car’s steering wheel. Music also helps decrease anxiety and improves functioning of depressed individuals as found in a meta-analysis that concluded music therapy provides short-term beneficial effects for people with depression. 

9. Dance! I was feeling pretty low the other day. My body hurt and I was lonely. I made myself get off the couch and stream a zumba class on my desktop. Within 30 minutes I felt like a new person.

10. Create a calm environment. Light candles at dinner, play classical music, have a vase of fresh flowers on the table.

11. Take a walk in a green environment, if possible. Forest bathing provides physiological and psychological benefits and there’s plenty of research to back it up.

12. Use aromatherapy 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.

13. Maintain your social connections. Loneliness can actually lead to health problems and mental decline. Join a group—any kind of group: worship,  hiking, scrabble, table tennis, knitting, discussion group or book club. Volunteer at a food bank, soup kitchen or animal shelter. It’s important to stay connected and to feel as though you are a contributing member of society.

14. 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.

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

16. 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.

17. 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.

18. 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.

19. Watch a comedy or funny You tube videos (cats, dogs, babies) that will make you laugh. Even when we’re depressed, we can laugh. And laughter is the very best medicine.

20. Sleep well by getting to bed before 11:00 pm, eating your last meal before 8pm, turning off your electronic devices, and eliminating light in your bedroom. If you have trouble sleeping consider using a lavender essential oil spray on your pillow or a sachet of lavender inserted into the pillowcase. There are lots of natural sleep aids available at your local health food store, such as melatonin, calcium/magnesium, valerian, hops, etc. Consult with a nutritional consultant about what might work best for you.

“Surround yourself with people who are only going to lift you higher.” anonymous


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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.