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.

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.”

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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.

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.

How to increase GABA, your brain’s calming chemical

Everyone is stressed out these days. But caregivers are dealing with pandemic stress on top of normal caregiving stress. And if you live in the West, you may be dealing with the stress of being evacuated because of wildfires, or smoke that is hampering your ability to breathe. Ask yourself this:

Are you feeling stressed and burned out?

Are you unable to relax or loosen up?

Do you feel stiff? Are your muscles tense?

Do you have a hard time falling asleep because your mind keeps racing?

If you answered yes, you could use of a boost of GABA.

What is GABA?

Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid that is produced in the brain and acts as a neurotransmitter, communicating information throughout your brain and body. GABA inhibits nerve cells from firing, and helps us to feel balanced, calm and relaxed.

GABA also:

  • Reduces mental and physical stress
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Eases muscle tension
  • Creates a calm mood
  • Supports balanced blood pressure
  • Promotes restful sleep
  • Regulates muscle tone
  • Uplifts mood

What are neurotransmitters?

Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that communicate information throughout your brain and body. The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest. They can also affect mood, sleep, concentration, weight, and can cause adverse symptoms when they are out of balance. Neurotransmitter levels can be depleted many ways. It is estimated that 86% of Americans have suboptimal neurotransmitter levels. Stress, poor diet–protein deficiency, poor digestion, poor blood sugar control, drug (prescription and recreational), alcohol and caffeine can deplete them. (Emmons, The Chemistry of Joy, 2006).

What depletes GABA?

Too many carbs and refined foods, and certain drugs and medications deplete GABA. If you rely on tobacco, marijuana, alcohol, Valium, sweets or starch, you probably have a GABA imbalance

A GABA deficiency often results in:

  • High anxiety, panic, worry
  • “Monkey mind” or a racing mind.
  • Difficulty falling and staying asleep

5 Ways to Boost GABA

  1. Eat these foods

The best foods for helping your body produce GABA, according to a May 2018 review published in Nutrients, include:

  • Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts)
  • Soy beans
  • Adzuki beans
  • Mushrooms
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Buckwheat
  • Peas
  • Chestnuts
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Sprouted grains
  • Rice (specifically brown rice)
  • White tea

Fermented foods including kefir, yogurt, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles help increase GABA levels. These foods may also boost GABA: whole grains, fava beans, soy, lentils, and other beans; nuts including walnuts, almonds, and sunflower seeds; fish including shrimp and halibut; citrus, tomatoes, berries, potatoes, and cocoa.

2. Meditation and yoga have a positive effect on GABA levels.

3. Passion flower, lemon balm and valerian help support GABA, and help you fall asleep if your mind is on overdrive. Infuse them in hot water for a soothing herbal tea.

4. Nutritional supplements support GABA. Make sure you let your physician know which supplements you take, since some may interfere with medications.

L-theanine is a relaxing amino acid found in green tea. It’s available as a nutritional supplement, or get it by drinking green tea.

Magnesium is the most important mineral for the heart, It supports healthy blood pressure, decreases food cravings, balanced blood sugar, nourishes and calms the nervous system, and protects the body from damage of stress. Besides food, Epsom salt baths are another way of getting magnesium–absorbed through the skin. Magnesium is found in dark, leafy greens, dark chocolate, avocados, nuts, legumes, tofu, seeds, whole grains, bananas, and some fatty fish.

Taurine is an amino acid that activates GABA receptors and encourages the release of GABA. It is found in dairy food, shellfish, and the dark meat of turkey and chicken. It is also taken as a dietary supplement.

GABA is available in amino acid from as a dietary supplement. It is questionable, however, if it is able to cross the brain barrier.

5. Exercise, and being outdoors, paying attention to your personal needs are important.

How to boost all your neurotransmitters

  • Eat a serving of high-quality protein with every meal and snack. Focus on complex carbohydrates, and eliminate junk foods (refined carbs).
  • Enjoy unlimited amounts of fresh veggies.
  • Eat a good breakfast!
  • Eat 3 balanced meals and 1-2 healthy snacks per day.

Complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes, brown rice or oatmeal, allow your brain to gradually process more serotonin, the neurotransmitter that keeps us happy. Eating protein and healthy omega-3 fats, found in fish, walnuts and flax, will also improve mood. B vitamins, which are abundant in fresh leafy greens and in chemical-free, pasture-raised meat, are another important factor because they’re needed for serotonin production.

For more information about how to prevent caregiver burnout and ways to boost your neurotransmitters, visit: https://barbracohn.com/2019/07/03/preventing-caregiver-burnout-with-good-nutrition-and-foods-that-support-neurotransmitters/

Recommended Reading

  1. The Mood Cure, Julia Ross, MA
  2. The Edge Effect: Achieve Total Health and Longevity with the Balanced Brain, Eric Braverman, MD
  3. The Chemistry of Joy, Henry Emmons, MD
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.

Keep your cool with healthy summertime smoothies and popsicles.

Mango banana popsicles on ice
Mango banana popsicles on ice with fresh fruits and berries

It’s hot and you’re probably stressed like most of the world. It’s especially important to keep up with your supplement and exercise regimen, and eat well. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy the bounty of summer fruits and delicious smoothies and popsicles.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you’ve heard me say repeatedly how important it is to stay hydrated — all year-long. It’s even more important during the summer and now during the pandemic.

Our body is 50-65% water. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and to flush out toxins. The brain, which is 70% water, gets dehydrated just like your body. When it is dehydrated, neurotransmission — which is heavily dependent on water — is impaired, resulting in poor memory, concentration and impaired abstract thinking. The next time your mind is muddled, drink a tall glass of water and notice the difference.

Stay away from carbonated and caffeinated drinks. herbal teas and fresh fruit or vegetable juices are great in summer. Just remember that fruit juices are high in sugar and calories. Coconut water is cooling and helps to replenish electrolytes, which is especially important during and after an illness.

Enjoy these smoothie and popsicle recipes. They provide hydration, vitamins and minerals, and are perfect for kids as well as for folks with dementia and Alzheimer’s who may forget to eat or lose interest in food.

Popsicles

Watermelon and Kiwi–makes 8

4 kiwis, peeled and sliced

3 cups of pureed watermelon

Place kiwi inside the sides of the popsicle molds. Pour in the watermelon. You can make this with other fruits: watermelon and strawberries, etc. Add basil or mint; lemon or lime juice with or without the rind.

For a beautiful popsicle with 3 layers: Add watermelon puree but leave room for 2 more layers. Freeze for 30 minutes. Take out of the freezer and pour in a small amount of coconut milk, the full-fat canned variety. Freeze again. Take out and add pureed kiwi and freeze. This is a treat for the eyes as well as your taste buds.

Strawberries and Cream–makes 8

2 cups of pureed strawberries (leave some chopped for texture)

2 cups cream of vanilla yogurt.

Blend and freeze.

Coco-Mango–makes 4-6

2 cups pureed mango

1/2 cup canned coconut milk

Optional: Add coconut flakes.

Blend and freeze.

Orange Cream–makes 4-6 popsicles

1 cup orange juice

1 cup vanilla yogurt

Blend together and freeze.

Protein shake recipes

My favorite delicious and easy-to-make shakes

Banana Berry Shake

  • 1 frozen banana
  • ¼ cup sliced strawberries
  • 8 ounces of milk or non-dairy drink such as soy, almond, or coconut milk
  • 1 scoop of whey protein powder
  • Blend together until smooth.

Berry Sunrise Shake

  • 1/3 cup frozen blueberries
  • 3 medium strawberries
  • 8 ounces of orange juice
  • 1 scoop of whey protein powder
  • Blend together until smooth.

Chocolate, Banana, Peanut Butter Protein Shake

  • 1 banana
  • 2 Tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1-cup almond, soy or coconut milk
  • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
  • 3-5 ice cubes
  • Blend together until smooth

Enjoy!

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 most important supplements you need for protection against COVID-19 and influenza

 

We’re already getting warnings from the CDC and other prominent doctors and scientists that COVID-19 is not going away. Coupled with the influenza threat, which normally starts around October and lasts through March or April, it’s a good idea to start building up your immune system now.

Here are the vital nutritional supplements that health practitioners recommend to protect you from COVID-19 and influenza.

Vitamin D
All the recently published studies are showing that individuals with low levels of vitamin D fared worse from COVID-19 than those with higher levels. Additionally, in a study published April 2020 there is evidence that vitamin D3 supplementation might reduce your risk of influenza and COVID-19 infections and deaths.

The authors of one study recommended that people at risk of influenza and /or COVID-19 consider taking 10,000 IU a day of vitamin D3 for a few weeks to rapidly raise their vitamin D concentrations, followed by 5000 IU a day. For treatment of people who become infected with COVID-19, higher vitamin D3 doses might be useful. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32252338/

Another study advises that older adults, especially those with Parkinson’s disease, should take 2000-5000 IU a day of vitamin D3 which has the potential to slow Parkinson’s while also potentially offering protection against OVID-19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7287983/

How does vitamin D help?

Vitamin D supports immunity in two ways: 1) It is necessary for the production of antiviral peptides in the respiratory tract, making the respiratory tract less likely to be infected with a virus. 2) It helps promote a balanced inflammatory immune response.

Researchers at Northwestern University analyzed publicly available patient data from 10 countries and discovered a strong correlation between vitamin D levels and cytokine storm—a hyper-inflammatory condition caused by an overactive immune system — as well as a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and mortality. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/05/200507121353.htm

According to Ali Daneshkhah, the study’s first author, “Cytokine storm can severely damage lungs and lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome and death in patients. This is what seems to kill a majority of COVID-19 patients, not the destruction of the lungs by the virus itself. It is the complications from the misdirected fire from the immune system.”

The research team believes that this is where vitamin D plays a major role. Vitamin D enhances our innate immune systems, and prevents our immune systems from becoming dangerously overactive. This means that having healthy levels of vitamin D could protect patients against severe complications, including death from COVID-19.

Lead researcher Vadim Backman said, “ Our analysis shows that it might be as high as cutting the mortality rate in half. It will not prevent a patient from contracting the virus, but it may reduce complications and prevent death in those who are infected.

Getting enough Vitamin D

Vitamin D is made in the skin as a result of exposure to sunlight. The problem is, most of us do not get the sunlight needed for cutaneous vitamin D synthesis.

Vitamin D is actually a hormone that is made in the skin as a result of exposure to sunlight. The problem is, if you live at a latitude of 42 degrees (a line approximately between the northern border of California and Boston) the sun’s rays are too low between November and February for your skin to get the sunlight needed for cutaneous vitamin D synthesis.

If you live at a latitude below 34 degrees north (a line between Lost Angeles and Columbia, South Carolina) your body can make vitamin D from sun exposure yearlong. However, it’s important to expose a large portion of bare skin (like your midriff) to mid-day sun for at least 15 minutes every day. Most people are unable to fit this into their schedule, so vitamin D supplementation is highly recommended, especially since so few foods contain it.

According to Michael Holick, PhD, MD, an internationally recognized expert on vitamin D and director of the Vitamin D, Skin and Bone Research Laboratory at Boston University Medical Center, approximately one billion people throughout the world are deficient in vitamin D.

Blacks, Browns, and other dark skinned individuals are at even higher risk for inadequate levels of vitamin D because their skin isn’t able to absorb as much sunlight. This may be one of the reasons that these populations have fared so poorly in the fight against COVID-19.

Foods that are high in vitamin D

  • Cod liver oil, salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, smoked whitefish, rainbow trout, swordfish
  • Milk and fortified non-dairy drinks (orange juice, coconut, soy, almond, etc.)
  • Fortified cereals
  • Mushrooms are the only food in the produce section that has vitamin D. Portobello, maitake, white button have the highest vitamin D content.

How much should you take?

Dr. Holick says, “I recommend to all of my patients that they should take 2000-3000 IU of vitamin D a day from dietary sources, sensible sun exposure and supplements. I believe that it is important for women to take at least 2000 IU of vitamin D a day. Although many of the studies are association studies there continues to be strong evidence that increasing vitamin D intake has other health benefits besides those for bone health. From my perspective there is no downside to increasing your vitamin D intake to levels I have recommended in “The Vitamin D Solution” which is 1000 IU of vitamin D a day for children and 2000-3000 IU of vitamin D for adults.” https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmra070553

If you’re over 60, consider taking at least 3,000 IU daily during the summer, and take 5,000 IU in the winter if you want to increase your protection against COVIC-19 and other respiratory illnesses.

Zinc

Zinc is naturally found in the body and is the second most abundant trace element. It is commonly taken to relieve symptoms of the common cold and influenza. It prevents viral replication and the binding of viruses to cells. However, moderate deficiencies can increase the risk of infection.

How does it help?

Researchers are working on lab studies showing how zinc supplementation can help reduce risk of COVID-19. But we know this: Zinc is thoroughly involved in cell-mediated immunity against any infectious agent such as bacteria and virus. Zinc is one of the major factors that control function and proliferation of neutrophils, natural killer (NK) cells, macrophages, and T and B lymphocytes as well as cytokine production by the immune cells. Zinc also mediates protection from the adverse effect of ROS that are generally produced during inflammatory processes. 

Zinc supplementation might play an important role to COVID-19 patients by adding immune boosting effects with anti-viral drugs.

Foods that are high in zinc

  • Meat
  • Shellfish
  • Legumes—chickpeas, lentils, beans
  • Seeds—pumpkin
  • Nuts —cashews,almonds, pinenuts, peanuts
  • Dairy
  • Eggs

How much should you take?

The recommended daily allowance of zinc will vary according to the age, sex, and health conditions of an individual. For healthy adults, the recommended daily allowance is typically 15–30 mg of elemental zinc. Make sure the supplement contains some copper, which makes the zinc more absorbable. The supplement should contain a ratio of 15 mg of zinc to 1 mg of copper.

Other important supplements

Vitamin C and selenium are antioxidants with lots of studies showing how they help support the immune system.

Selenium

Selenium is an essential trace element obtained from the diet (i.e. fish, meat and cereals) which has been found to affect the severity of a number of viral diseases in animals and humans.

Margaret Rayman, Professor of Nutritional Medicine at the University of Surrey, said: “Given the history of viral infections associated with selenium deficiency, we wondered whether the appearance of COVID-19 in China could possibly be linked to the belt of selenium deficiency that runs from the north-east to the south-west of the country.”

Examining data from provinces and municipalities with more than 200 cases and cities with more than 40 cases, researchers found that areas with high levels of selenium were more likely to recover from the virus. For example, in the city of Enshi in Hubei Province, which has the highest selenium intake in China, the cure rate (percentage of COVID-19 patients declared ‘cured’) was almost three-times higher than the average for all the other cities in Hubei Province. By contrast, in Heilongjiang Province, where selenium intake is among the lowest in the world, the death rate from COVID-19 was almost five-times as high as the average of all the other provinces outside of Hubei.

Most convincingly, the researchers found that the COVID-19 cure rate was significantly associated with selenium status, as measured by the amount of selenium in hair, in 17 cities outside of Hubei. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/04/200429105907.htm

How does it help?

Selenium supplementation modulates the inflammatory response in acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) patients by restoring the antioxidant capacity of the lungs, thus improving lung function. When there isn’t enough antioxidant capacity in the lungs because of selenium deficiency, mutations within viruses occur. This makes them even more dangerous and infectious.

Foods that are high in selenium

  • Brazil nuts
  • Tuna
  • Shellfish–oysters
  • Pork chops
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Firm Tofu
  • Whole wheat pasta, kamut, oatmeal, brown rice
  • Shrimp
  • Shitake mushrooms

How much should you take?

It’s best to make sure you’re eating foods containing selenium. When taken by mouth: Selenium is LIKELY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth in doses less than 400 mcg daily, short-term. However, selenium is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth in high doses or for a long time. Taking doses above 400 mcg can increase the risk of developing selenium toxicity. Most multi-vitamins contain selenium. Check yours (and yes, you shuld be taking a multi-vitamin. Make sure it contains adequate selenium. The recommended Daily Value (DV) or daily allowance for selenium is 55 mcg per day for adults. During pregnancy, a woman should get 60 mcg, and lactating women should get 70 mcg a day.

Look for my next blog in which I’ll discuss how vitamin C infusions can help keep you from being put on a ventilator if you get COVID-19.


 

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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.

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.