10 ways to get siblings to help with the care of a parent

Family caregiver meeting

Today, June 20, is the longest day and for families in the throes of Alzheimer’s, it probably won’t seem any different than most days. Every day that you spend caring for a loved one whose needs are demanding is the “longest day.” In order to reduce the burden on yourself, it’s imperative that you carve out some “me time” each day. You’ve heard it before, but it is worth repeating: You need to take care of yourself, because if you get sick who will take care of your loved one?

Sharing the care

If you’re caring for a parent, have you had a conversation with your siblings about sharing the responsibility? Family dynamics and unresolved issues can make it harder to get everyone to pitch in. And of course, location makes a huge difference. An adult child who lives nearby the parent needing help, typically bears the brunt of the responsibility. In fact, a study done by the National Health and Aging Trends (2011-2017) found that three quarters of older adults reported receiving help from only one child.

In order to avoid resentment, divvy up the tasks.

Here’s how

  1. Have a family meeting. If there already is conflict and disagreement among siblings, find a professional to facilitate the meeting in a neutral place, such as a library meeting room, a church, mosque, temple, or synagogue, etc. If the parent being cared for wants to be included and is cognitively aware, include them.
  2. Introduce the purpose of the meeting and have an agenda. Begin with facts such a “Mom or Dad needs full-time care.” Or, “it’s time to move Mom or Dad to a memory care because she/he needs more care than I can provide.” Or, “Mom or Dad is still able to stay at home, but needs assistance. How can each of us help?”
  3. To clarify the situation, maybe include a doctor or nurse explain the medical issues and forecast what the future will look like.
  4. Next, discuss the care plan. Who can provide hands-on care at home? What kind of financial contribution can everyone provide? If the parent can remain at home, split up the day-to-day tasks such as grocery shopping, meal preparation, rides to the doctor, picking up medications, providing companionship, housecleaning, yard-care, etc.
  5. Acknowledge everyone’s feelings. Individuals will be at different places in their own lives. One sibling may be a new parent. Another may have lost their job. Or a sibling may live thousands of miles away. Or a sibling may be angry at a parent and not want to be involved at all. In these cases, ask gently if there is anything they can do to lighten the load for the others.
  6. If your parents have planned for retirement and were proactive about estate planning, your task will be easier than if they haven’t. Have them help you find the appropriate papers and resources as soon as possible while they are capable. Get the names and contact information for their legal professionals and make sure someone has been designated as power of attorney and durable medical power of attorney. If your parents have not done due diligence in sorting out their affairs and they are still able to, you need to stress the importance of doing so immediately. This is extremely important in the care of a parent. A sibling who is not involved in the hands-on care should be assigned this task.
  7. We’ve all become zoom experts in the past year and a half. Schedule monthly caregiver meetings so everyone stays informed about your parent’s needs. If a new care plan is needed, discuss the details.
  8. Make sure there is a point person for emergencies. Connect the family on “WhatsApp.”
  9. Take advantage of local resource such as Meals on Wheels and adult day programs.
  10. If siblings are unwilling to cooperate or if the situation escalates into an unmanageable situation, seek help. Call your local Area Agency on Aging. For more information, call the Family Caregiver Alliance, 800-445-8106 or visit http://www.caregiver.org and click on Family Care Navigator.

Express appreciation for any help your family is able to provide. Accept your siblings for who they are and understand that not everyone will agree with everyone’s opinion. Sharing the care for parents can either drive a wedge between siblings or bring them closer. Hopefully you’ll be able to communicate like adults and understand each other’s needs during the trying and stressful period that requires parenting our parents.

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 Ways to prevent falls in Alzheimer’s patients

Woman falls on slippery bathroom floor.

People with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia are four to five times more likely to fall than older people who don’t have cognitive impairment. They are also three times more likely to fracture their hip when they fall, which leads to surgery and immobility. The rate of death following a hip fracture for those with Alzheimer’s is also increased.

A person with dementia may have trouble recognizing sight, sound or touch. Their vision may be distorted, not because of an actual eye problem but because of how the brain interprets what it is seeing. They may have problems with depth perception, get confused by patterns or light intensity, and they may lose coordination of movement and physical strength.

Some of these changes are inevitable and irreversible. However, movement and physical activity can go a long way toward fall prevention.

Scott Salus, occupational therapist and co-owner with physical therapist Daniel Basta, of Kind Rehabilitation says, “One of the main things that helps prevent falls is understanding that a fear of falling is one of the best predictors that someone will eventually fall.

“It’s really important to address falls before they happen. Caregivers need to come from an honest and firm place, because the moment someone has their first fall that can be the moment they lose their independence,” he says.

When Salus’ then-65-year-old, physically-fit mother and her boyfriend were moving, he insisted they look into the future to think about mobility issues. Would it be more prudent to live in a ranch than a multi-level home? “You can start the conversation early and plan for an eventuality that may never take place,” he says.

Salus, who specializes in working with patients with dementia and Parkinson’s, says, “The process of fall reduction is a delicate one that includes practicing every-day activities. We

reassure patients that it’s safe to practice pulling up their pants, or going into a shower fully clothed.”

He evaluates if the patient has vertigo when bending to tie their shoes or getting up from a seated position. Have they had a recent surgery or new diagnosis? How do they manage pain? Do they need a commode, or learn to reposition their arms, feet, and legs when toileting or getting out of a chair?

A physical therapy program might include exercises for strength, flexibility, good posture, and gait training. Learning to maintain balance while you’re walking and distracted or multi-tasking is also important, Salus adds.

The Feldenkrais Method® (Awareness Through Movement® and Functional Integration® developed by Moshe Feldenkrais) is another modality that helps prevent falls by teaching individuals to pay closer attention to the way they move.

Al Wadleigh, a Feldenkrais practitioner who teaches privately and at the Longmont Senior Center, starts a chair class by asking the participants to begin with a scan by turning the awareness inward. “Get a sense of how you’re making contact with the chair and with your feet on the floor. How is your weight distributed on the pelvis? Now roll back and forward to sense how your lower back is in relationship to the chair,” he says.

“We go through the lessons—and there are 2,000 of them—to fill out the idea of exploring and sensing what feels good. It’s to figure out, when given a better opportunity and choice, what the nervous system prefers. It’s development learning in order to change habits from old injuries, surgeries, emotions, work, and thoughts that don’t serve us.”

The aim of Feldenkrais is to invigorate your brain and nervous system with new ways of organizing and sensing your movement in the world. “Around age 50 the brain says ‘we’re not using all our neuro-pathways.’ We have fewer to rely on, so we have to neutralize the old habits in order to live life with more vitality,” Wadleigh adds.

He ends the class by asking participants to do a self-inquiry. One person says, “I’ve done the pelvis rock many times but sitting on a chair made it clearer.”

Wadleigh responds that the smaller the movement the more precise it can be. Once you’re aware of what you’re not aware of, you can fill in those parts.”

Another person with Multiple Sclerosis says that one of his feet was dragging that morning. “Now I can lift it up.” He adds, “I feel a centered-ness since doing Feldenkrais, and have better structure. Now when I stand and I’m reaching for something I’m able to move easier. That’s big for me.”

20 Tips for preventing falls

  1. Have adequate lighting throughout the house; place night lights in the bedroom and bathroom.
  2. Limit liquids after dinner to reduce night-time toileting.
  3. Get adequate sleep.
  4. Remove loose area rugs.
  5. Wear gripping socks, sturdy slippers, or shoes in the house.
  6. Avoid unsafe shoes, i.e. flip flops and high-heels.
  7. Place guardrails where needed.
  8. Stand up slowly.
  9. Use a walker or cane for steadiness.
  10. Declutter and remove excess furniture.
  11. Implement an exercise program to support muscle strength, stability, and balance.
  12. Use a “reach stick” to grab out-of-reach items.
  13. Do not use a step ladder.
  14. Eliminate or reduce alcohol and smoking.
  15. Be wary of medications that cause dizziness, sleepiness, and unsteadiness.
  16. Be attentive to pain management.
  17. Be aware of where your pet is to avoid tripping.
  18. Get adequate calcium and vitamin D to maintain bone health.
  19. Maintain a healthy weight.
  20. Get regular vision and hearing check-ups.
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.

Pets can provide people with Alzheimer’s and dementia companionship, comfort and joy

Man resting in garden with his dog

My next door neighbor got an adorable lap dog that loved him to pieces during his struggle with Alzheimer’s. Now that he has passed away, his wife has a loving companion that gets her outside several times a day for walks. And that animal gazes at her with the love that only a dog can give. This was a success story of dog companionship for an elderly couple immersed in navigating the dark Alzheimer’s journey.

Pets can provide loving companionship, emotional therapy, and an excuse for getting out of the house for a walk and chat with other people on the trail. But pets can also pose a hazard when they get in our way or pull hard on a leash.

I have a friend who tripped this winter while walking her dogs. She fell and broke her collarbone. Another friend tripped over her dog in the kitchen and instinctively put her hand out to brace a fall. Unfortunately, she put her hand on a very hot stovetop and got a second-degree burn.

Pets offer numerous benefits

When people interact with pets the physiological response is a lowering of blood pressure and an increase in the neurochemicals associated with relaxation and bonding. These effects can help ameliorate behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. Several small studies suggest that the presence of a dog reduces aggression and agitation, and promotes social behavior in people with dementia. One study showed that having aquariums in the dining rooms of memory care homes stimulates residents to eat more and to maintain a healthier weight.1

When a dog is brought to visit memory impaired individuals (either at home or a facility), unexpected and positive reactions occur. Some patients who have refused to speak will talk to the dog, and others who have refused to move might pet the dog.

My daughter often brought her Miniature Schnauzer, Paco, to the memory care home where my husband lived. Paco always brightened the day for Morris and the other residents. He would run around scrounging for crumbs and sniffing the residents’ feet. Some residents reached out to touch him. One lady liked to hold him like a baby. She’d place a napkin on his head, pretending it was a hat. Paco created a bit of a stir, but he brought a smile to everyone’s face, including mine.

The human-animal bond goes beyond the mind and is centered in the heart. It can nurture us in ways that nothing else can. Sometimes a person with memory loss won’t be able to recognize a spouse, but can recognize a beloved pet. Just three days before Morris died a friend visited him with his trained pet therapy dog. Morris was bedridden, dehydrated, and non-communicative, but he opened his eyes and reached out for the dog.

If your loved one is used to being around animals, has had a pet, or if there is an animal that he or she is familiar with, by all means encourage the interaction to continue. It’s an easy, wonderful way to promote ease and happiness among care partners.

If you’re considering getting an animal companion, consider the following pros and cons.

10 Ways an animal companion or pet can help a person with dementia

Pets can:

  • Offer people with dementia unconditional love
  • Help relieve stress and anxiety
  • Help build confidence
  • Encourage laughter
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Help the person reminisce and recall memories
  • Provide an opportunity to get outside and walk
  • Support social activities, i.e. talking about the animal with neighbors, grandchildren, etc.
  • Bring back a sense of fun
  • Provide an opportunity to care for a living being, which in turn promotes empathy.

Things to consider

  • Does the person have the mental capacity to take care of the animals’ needs?
  • If the person has a caregiver, is that caregiver willing to provide the care for animal, including visits to the veterinarian.
  • Not everyone wants to interact with animal. Make sure the person really wants a pet and/or visit from a therapy dog.
  • A stuffed animal, cuddly toy, or robotic toy animal might provide the comfort that the person would get from having a pet. This might be a good option to explore before making a commitment to getting animal.
  • What happens if the person dies? Consider who will take responsibility for the animal.

In the end, you may find that a lower maintenance animal is a better fit. A fish aquarium can provide gentle stimulation, and quiet, relaxing beauty and grace.

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.

What if the Alzheimer’s patient gets cancer?

As if it weren’t bad enough to endure Alzheimer’s disease, when the patient gets a cancer diagnosis things go from bad to worse for the patient and the caregiver. Here’s what’s really interesting though. Studies show that individuals with Alzheimer’s have a lower risk of cancer and that cancer patients have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s.

In the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) Offspring cohort from 1999-2005, 2,043 participants (54% of them women) without dementia were given neuropsychological tests of memory and executive functioning, in addition to brain MRIs. The cohort consisted mainly of highly-educated, white, healthy middle-aged adults.

There were 252 participants with a previous history of cancer, and 1,7791 without a previous history of cancer. Those with invasive cancers, including the largest sub-types of prostate and breast cancer, actually had better executive function, but not memory function, and larger frontal brain volumes when compared to their peers. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6659723/

In a previous prospective analysis including 1,274 members of the original FHS cohort, cancer survivors were found to have a 33% decreased risk of developing probable Alzheimer’s disease. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22411920/

So, should you breathe a sigh of relief? It’s unclear because the researchers lacked information on the type of cancer treatments the patients received. They didn’t take into consideration whether the patients were getting chemo or hormonal therapy. They also concluded that they had insufficient evidence because the group of individuals were mainly white, well-educated and healthy middle-aged adults. But it does offer hope that if you have or had cancer, your chances of getting AD is and vice versa is less.

What if you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease who gets diagnosed with cancer?

There are two important questions to ponder in this situation.

  1. What stage Alzheimer’s is the patient in?
  2. What stage and type is the cancer?

Many factors come into play here: age of the patient, the stage of Alzheimer’s, and the cancer prognosis. It’s a tough one. If the person is in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s, they might be able to understand the treatment and be willing to go through it. If you are their caregiver, be prepared to go to all doctor appointments with them. Take notes, have the doctor make eye contact with the patient and explain and repeat things in simple language, if necessary. Provide the information in a quiet space without distractions. If your loved one is admitted to the hospital, provide the staff with information about their cognitive needs.

If your loved one has advanced Alzheimer’s you’d have to consider whether putting the patient through cancer treatment is something that the patient would want to do. They will be confused, possibly terrified, and suffer greatly from side effects. Also, a person with late-stage Alzheimer’s doesn’t have a lot of quality of life. Is it worth it?

If the cancer is widespread it could result in pain and discomfort for the patient. Or it might be a slow-growing cancer such as prostate, that can be treated without invasive surgeries or treatments.

It can be difficult to know what is best for the patient. If you are faced with a situation such as this, or another difficult diagnosis, get help from a professional social worker or therapist. Have a family conference, but know there might be conflicts that arise when not everyone is on board.

And remember, you are doing the best that you can do. Take care of yourself and remember to breathe. “This too shall pass.”

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.

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.

The best gifts for your Alzheimer’s loved one

Instead of worrying about what to give a friend or loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia consider this. What that person really wants more than anything is to just be with you.

But this holiday season is going to be very different. If your loved one is in a memory care home, you probably won’t be able to visit them. If you can stand outside their window you could play their favorite music on your phone, or if you’re a musician you could sing or play an instrument. Or, eat a favorite dessert together, even if it’s through glass, and it’s not freezing cold.

Here’s a general list of gifts for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, no matter where they live. Of course, the stage of the disease will determine the gift that is most appropriate.

  • A soft bathrobe or blanket in a color they love
  • A CD with their favorite music
  • A digital photo frame.
  • Non-skid slipper socks.
  • Books in large print or audio books if the person is still able to follow and/or read.
  • Poker chips that can be sorted and counted.
  • Non-toxic modeling clay or PlayDoh
  • Water-based paints, brushes and paper
  • An aquarium, if someone else can take the responsibility to feed the fish
  • A terrarium or beautiful plant
  • Easy puzzles, word search books, etc.
  • Plastic nuts and bolts sets
  • Weighted blanket
  • Doll or stuffed animal

If your loved one lives with you and you are the primary caregiver, here are activities to do together.

  1. People with dementia love ice cream. Share a pint of his or her favorite. Bring the toppings and arrange them on a table in little bowls—sprinkles, chocolate chips, chopped fruit, whipped cream, butterscotch or chocolate sauce, etc.
  2. Watch a comedy together. It doesn’t matter if your loved one can follow the plot or not. If you laugh, he or she will probably join in the merriment. Laughter triggers the production of endorphins; the brain chemicals that reduce the sensation of pain and make you feel good.
  3. Listen to music together. Put on a CD and sing together. Big Band Music is usually a hit with most 70, 80 and 90 year olds. If your loved one is younger, you can try classic rock.
  4. Get out the paint brush, paper and water colors. You don’t have to be an artist or art teacher to have fun with your loved one. Painting and drawing is a great way to share time together, and to even express feelings of frustration, irritation and fear—on paper.
  5. Dance to the music. If your loved one is still mobile help him or her get up and move. The exercise will enhance memories, even if temporarily. A short surge of condensed exercise boosts the compression of memories in both elders in good mental shape as well as those with slight cognitive impairment, according to new research by a team of scientists from UC Irvine’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory.http://www.cnlm.uci.edu/ If the person is in a wheel chair, move his or her arms to the rhythm.
  6. Go for a drive and get some fresh air. Just getting out of the house does a body good and uplifts the spirit.
  7. Hold hands, give a foot massage. Use aromatherapy oils (see chapter 18 “Aromatherapy” in The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia
  8. Create a book of photos that depict your loved one’s life and share memories without saying “remember when. . .”
  9. Share a special meal together and set the mood with candles and music.
  10. Just breathe together and be still in the silence. It’s the greatest gift of all.

Whatever you do, I wish you and your loved ones a peaceful holiday season. Be safe, wear a mask whenever you leave the house, and please be careful.

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.


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.

Is it okay to leave a person with Alzheimer’s home alone?

Confused woman at home alone

This is a tricky question. The short answer is it depends. It depends on a lot of things. But if you are asking the question, the answer is probably no.

Use this assessment questionnaire. These issues are difficult to think about, let alone deal with. But if you have a sense of unease when thinking about your care partner’s abilities, it’s time to put safety precautions in place.

  • How far along in the disease is the person? If the person is in the moderate phase of dementia, the phase when they need help with basic daily activities such as bathing and brushing their teeth, it’s not safe to leave him or her home alone.
  • Do they get easily confused?
  • Do they get lost walking around the neighborhood or in the house?
  • Do they follow you throughout the house?
  • Could they make a phone call if they need help or become anxious?
  • Do they still cook, make coffee or use the microwave? Do they forget to turn off the stove or oven? If so, they should not be allowed to cook any longer.
  • Are they able to make themselves something to eat? If not, could they find food that has been prepared for them, or are they able to find a snack?
  • Do they wander?
  • Do they recognize dangerous situations such as fire?
  • Are they susceptible to scam phone calls? Are they apt to provide private information?
  • Can the person engage in enjoyable hobbies or activities such as gardening, knitting, wood work?
  • Can they distinguish between a family, friend, neighbor and stranger if someone comes to the door?
  • Is it easy for them to toilet without assistance?
  • If there were an emergency in the house, could they leave and seek shelter?
  • Is there a possibility the person could damage or destroy your personal property if they got highly agitated?

Keep your care partner safe from wandering

There’s nothing more frightening than discovering that your care partner has wandered out of the house and is nowhere to be found. If the weather is very hot or very cold this could turn into an emergency situation. Or if the person needs a medication at a specific time, it could become a matter of life or death.

Here are some ways to reduce this risk.

Never leave your care partner alone in the car, even for a quick stop.

Hide the car keys. I had a neighbor whose husband took the car keys and drove off into an isolated area. Although the car was found, he was never seen again. It was an unspeakable tragedy.

Camouflage the exterior doors with curtains, a poster, or sign that says, “Stop,” or “Do not enter.

Don’t leave shoes, hats, coats, or keys near the exit doors. All are reminders of leaving home.

Inform your neighbors so if they see your care partner wandering around the neighborhood, they can alert you or the police, or gently guide the person home.

Have your care partner carry a photo ID, and wear a medical bracelet. Put labels inside their coat, hat, etc.,

Project Lifesaver is a program offered by police departments. Some police departments offer wristbands at discounted rates or at no charge. To find out or enroll in Project Lifesaver, contact your local police department and ask if they participate. Call Project Lifesaver International Headquarters at (757) 546-5502 or visit the Project Lifesaver website.

Enroll in the MedicAlert https://www.medicalert.org/ and Alzheimer’s Association’s safe-return program. Read about it here: https://www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving/safety/medicalert-with-24-7-wandering-support. For a fee, participants receive an identification bracelet, necklace or clothing tags and access to 24-hour support in case of emergency. You also might have your loved one wear a GPS or other tracking device.

Read Dr. Laura Struble’s excellent article “How to Minimize Wandering in a Senior with Dementia” in which she says it’s important to first observe the person and try to figure out why your care partner is wandering or trying to leave, what they are trying to achieve, and where they want to go. https://www.agingcare.com/articles/help-a-senior-with-dementia-who-wanders-167541.htm

Safety first is always a good motto. It might take a little work and effort to put these safety measures into place, but it will definitely be worth it for your own peace of mind and for the health and safety of your care partner.

Care for the caregiver

If you are the caregiver of someone at home, it’s vital that you take care of yourself and get out of the house, hopefully, for at least a walk every day. During the coronavirus pandemic, you aren’t doing as much as you normally would outside of the house, but try to take a daily walk.

If you’re depressed, learn about 20 natural remedies that can uplift your mood. https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/barbracohn.com/5720 Or, 20 energy and stress fixes to use now! https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/barbracohn.com/4998

If you aren’t able to leave your care partner even for a short walk, it’s time to get respite care. When the time came for my husband to need full-time care, I hired someone to be with him husband twice a week so I could get out of the house. Is there a neighbor who would be willing to come in for 30 to 60 minutes twice a week? This might be tougher during the pandemic. But while the weather is still warm, a care person could take your loved one for an outing, sit on the porch with them, or go for a drive.

Be safe. Be well. Take care.

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.