30 Tips for Coping with Holiday Grief

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

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

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

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

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

Did you know that napping can be an early Alzheimer’s warning sign?

Tired.

Senior sitting and sleeping. 

Researchers at the University of California (several campuses), and University of Sao Paulo recently found that if you need to nap more than usual, and if your nap time is getting longer than it used to be, it might be an early warning sign that you could develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Even if they’ve had a full night’s sleep, many people with Alzheimer’s will sleep a lot during the day. Now, based on this new finding, researchers are considering that examining daytime napping might help predict the future onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers were concerned about what comes first: sleep changes that play role in the development of Alzheimer’s or if changes in a person’s sleep pattern is indicative of the beginning of Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Lea Grinberg, senior author of the findings, which appear in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, explains that her team found evidence that an entire network of neurons that keeps us awake is wiped out by the accumulation of tau proteins which form tangles that disrupt communication between brain cells.

The researchers studied postmortem brain tissue of 13 deceased Alzheimer’s patients who had donated their brain to research and compared them to others without the disease. They found that in the Alzheimer’s brains the three areas of the brain that keep us awake (the locus coeruleus, the lateral hypothalamic area, and the tuberomammillary nucleus) had lost 75% of their neurons.

Researchers found “considerable amounts of tau inclusions” in the awakening areas of the brain, the study said.

Tau is a protein whose normal function is to stabilize a particular part of the neuron in all species. In the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s, tau acts abnormally and destabilizes the neuron. The build-up of tau protein is one of the main culprits of Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers said that it’s unclear how long it takes to notice memory loss after sleep pattern changes occur.

Sadly, the study’s lead author Jun Oh said in an article by Maria Cohut published in Medical News August 18, 2019, said that “It’s remarkable because it’s not just a single brain nucleus that’s degenerating, but the whole wakefulness-promoting network. Crucially, this means that the brain has no way to compensate because all of these functionally related cell types are being destroyed at the same time.”

As a result of this study and one in the past, she said, they have received funding to keep looking into changes in sleep patterns before memory loss begins.

The NIH and Rainwater Charitable Foundation are investing $1.4 million per year to this research group to continue their research into other areas of the brain responsible for promoting sleep and the areas that regulate circadian rhythm, as well as sleep pattern changes that occur before memory loss begins.

Until we know more, if napping is a normal part of your routine,  you don’t have to worry about taking a mid-day or mid-morning siesta. But if your pattern has changed, it might be a good idea to make an appointment with your physician to discuss your sleep habits and to rule out other medical conditions.

In the meantime, make sure your sleep hygiene is optimal. Click here for 16 ways to sleep better.

Good night, sleep tight.


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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.

Preventing Caregiver Burnout with Good Nutrition and Foods that Support Neurotransmitters

Keto diet concept - salmon, avocado, eggs, nuts and seedsWhether you want to support your brain health, relieve stress and anxiety about caregiving responsibilities, or just want to rev up your energy, stamina and immunity, here are some ways to protect your health and support your mood.

Start your day with an energizing breakfast to stabilize your blood sugar, so your mood stays even and you can perform at your best. When blood sugar is too high or low it’s a signal to the body to store calories, which adds fat around your middle. If you’re nauseous in the morning it means your blood sugar is low.

Eat within one hour upon rising and by 10am, and 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.

Healthy Breakfast with Wholemeal Bread Toast and Poached Egg

Breakfast of Champions

  • Top a bagel or slice of whole wheat break with a fried egg, sliced tomato, avocado, slice of low-fat cheese
  • Bagel topped with hummus, tomato, goat cheese
  • Spread a tablespoon of almond butter on a piece of bread or bagel
  • Yogurt/granola parfait with fresh fruit
  • Sautéed greens (kale or spinach) and onion, and a corn tortilla topped with eggs, beans, sprinkle of cheese, salsa
  • Oatmeal or multi-grain cereal with almonds or walnuts, prunes, cinnamon, flax seed meal, Greek yogurt
  • Spinach mushroom omelet with salsa, berries and wheat toast
  • Whole-grain mini-quiche with ½ cup of berries

Hydrate!

Senior couple staying hydrated after running jogging

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. Choose smoothies, fresh juices, water, herbal teas.

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, poor digestion, poor blood sugar control, drug (prescription and recreational), alcohol and caffeine can deplete them. (Emmons, The Chemistry of Joy, 2006).

 

list of neurotransmitters

Serotonin is necessary for a stable mood.

A deficiency can result in depression, irritability, sudden tears, insomnia, anxiety, or panic attacks, binge eating, carbohydrate craving, an overactive mind, and low tolerance to stress. When chronic stress is combined with nutrient deficiencies because of poor eating habits the risk of mood disorders can increase.

Foods that enhance serotonin: Salmon, Soy, turkey, cheese, eggs, spinach, cottage cheese, nuts, milk, avocado, meat, chocolate

Activities that enhance serotonin: cross crawl movement, as in swimming, hiking, biking

Dopamine keeps us focused and motivated. Dopamine is sometimes referred to as a “gas pedal” neurotransmitter. A deficiency can result in depressed mood, excessive sleeping, eight gain, obesity, lack of energy, addictions. When in balance, dopamine increases alertness, wakefulness, energy. It is depleted by addictions, sugar, cigarettes.

Foods that enhance dopamine: Meat, wild game, eggs, chocolate, blueberries, yoghurt, milk, soy, cheese, seeds and nuts, beans and legumes.

Activities than enhance dopamine: Deep breathing, weight bearing exercise and strength training enhance dopamine.

GABA inhibits nerve cells from firing. Too many carbs and refined foods deplete GABA. Exercise, and being outdoors, paying attention to your personal needs are important.

Passion flower, lemon balm and valerian help support GABA, especially helps you fall asleep.

How to boost your neurotransmitters

  • Focus on complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits and veggies) and eliminate junk foods or refined carbs.
  • Eat 3 balanced meals and 1-2 snacks/day. Include a high-quality protein with every meal
  • Unlimited amounts of fresh veggies
  • Eat a good breakfast

Do you lie awake at night?

Lack of sleep triggers the body to increase production of cortisol, the stress hormone, which makes it harder to fall asleep and stay in a deep sleep because on some level your body and brain think they need to stay alert for danger. Although insomnia isn’t considered a disease by itself, it can lead to numerous health problems. Lack of sleep may result in slower reflexes, irritability, fatigue, lack of motivation and depression. Your health, motivation, productivity, mood and energy all depend on getting quality sleep.

Foods that promote sleep

Although it’s not recommended to have a full meal close to bedtime, eating a snack helps maintain blood sugar levels, which helps promote restful sleep.

A cheese slice, or slice of turkey contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid, that promotes sleep. Other foods that might help: Whole grain crackers with nut butter, oatmeal, popcorn, almonds and walnuts. Some fruits (oranges, bananas, tart cherries, kiwis) contain melatonin.

  • Small amount of protein
  • Complex carbs
  • Nuts
  • Cottage cheese
  • Chamomile tea, warm milk
  • Fruits

Eat more healthy fats and skip the hydrogenated and trans fats found in doughnuts, potato chips and other pastries and desserts.  Omega-3 fatty acids are rich in DHA, the major unsaturated fat in the brain. This long-chain fatty acid provides the necessary fluid quality to the membranes of the nerve cells so that electrical nerve impulses can flow easily along the circuits of the brain. One study found that Alzheimer’s patients given an omega-3-rich supplement experienced a significant improvement in their quality of life. Eating fish such as wild-caught salmon, sardines and other cold-water fish can protect you against Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Numerous studies have shown that elderly people who did not have dementia had high blood levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an essential fatty acid found in cold-water fish, in comparison to those with dementia, who had on average 30% to 40% lower blood levels of DHA.

 Ways to increase your DHA intake: eat cold-water fish such as wild-caught salmon, sardines and mackerel, at least twice a week. Add flax meal to cereal and baked goods, sprinkle flax oil on your salad, eat a small handful of walnuts at least several times a week.

Make Healthy Choices

Choose these

  • Water, green tea, herbal teas
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Avocado, olive oil, omega-3 fatty acids
  • Fresh fruits and Veggies
  • Fish, high-quality protein
  • SOUL foods (seasonal, organic, unadulterated, local)
  • Sugar alternatives: stevia, monk fruit, coconut sugar, maple syrup, agave, birch sugar, honey

Avoid these

  • Coffee, soda, artificial sweeteners
  • Chips, cookies, pastries, candy
  • Poor quality fats (hydrogenated,
  • Processed lunch meats
  • Dairy products with rBGH (growth hormones)

Remember this

Whether you’re eating breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack, always think protein!

Assortment of healthy protein source and body building food

Build your meal around chicken, fish, tofu, cottage cheese or eggs, and then add low-starch vegetables or fruits. The general rule is to eat 3-4 ounces of lean, dense meat or 6 ounces of fish. Women should aim for around 30 grams of protein. Men should aim for around 40 grams of protein. Another rule of thumb is to divide your plate in half. Fill half of the plate with veggies, one quart with a protein, and the other quarter with a whole grain such as quinoa, rice, barley, etc.

Happy eating!


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

 

What happens to your body when you’re a stressed caregiver?

Woman having a headacheStatistics show the stress of care giving can result in chronic disease for the caregiver and take as many as 10 years off one’s life. In comparison to caregivers of people in all categories, caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients in particular rate their health more poorly, take worse care of themselves, and spend more money on their health care. Feeling more tired and depleted, they evaluate themselves as less healthy, engage in fewer health-promoting behaviors, and use more health services.

Given the demands on caregivers’ time and energy, they may neglect their own self-care by sleeping less, eating too much or too little, not exercising, or not managing their own health problems. Neglect of their own health may worsen pre-existing illnesses or increase vulnerabilities to new stress-related problems.

The Physiology of Stress

Walter Cannon described the fight or flight response in 1929.  Adrenaline is the fight-or-flight hormone: It causes cells, especially muscle cells, to speed up energy production so that the body will be ready to fight a foe or run away. It is needed for short blasts of stress.

  • Pupils dilate to sharpen vision.
  • Heart rate and blood pressure increase to accelerate the delivery of oxygen to fuel the muscles and critical organs.
  • Blood flow is diverted from non-critical areas such as the gastrointestinal tract to the critical areas such as the heart, skeletal muscles and liver.
  • Liver releases glucose and fatty acids into the bloodstream. Glucose is for immediate energy; fat is needed when the fight-or-flight response lasts longer than expected.
  • Bronchial tubes dilate to maximize the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Cortisol bolsters us in long-lasting stress situations. But when the body is dealing with chronic stress, the adrenals get “stuck” in the on position and the whole system goes into chronic “fight or flight.”

  • Glucose that is dumped into your bloodstream goes unused, so your body has to produce an enormous amount of insulin to handle it. Eventually, this may result in hypoglycemia or diabetes.
  • Fat that is dumped into your blood also goes unused, so it clogs your arteries, leading to cardiovascular disease.
  • If you drink caffeine, the stress hormone cortisol becomes elevated, which can set you up for countless health problems including: poor quality of sleep, impaired immunity and age-related deterioration.

Adrenal exhaustion–The adrenal glands produce or contribute to the production of about 150 hormones. When they are stressed, they become exhausted. Once the adrenal buffer is gone, you become a prime candidate for asthma, allergy, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmune disorders, hypoglycemia

Alcohol, caffeine, sugar and salt put added stress on the adrenals.

Stimulate, such as caffeine increase the effects of your body’s own stimulating neurotransmitters: norepinephrine and dopamine, which are similar to adrenaline in their effects. Caffeine and these natural stimulants provide short-term energy, focus and even a lifted mood. But in the long-term, caffeine depletes your stores of norepinephrine and dopamine, leaving you more tired, sluggish and down than you were before the caffeine habit.

Psychological stress can impact cardiovascular function and lead to cardiovascular disease, and possible stroke/heart attack.

Stress and sleep

Adequate sleep repairs your body, sharpens your mind and stabilizes emotions. Lack of sleep triggers the body to increase production of cortisol, which makes it harder to fall asleep and stay in a deep sleep because on some level your body and brain think they need to stay alert for danger.

  • Loss of sleep as a result of caring for a loved one can lead to serious depression.
  • As little as five nights of poor sleep can significantly stress the heart.

Weight gain and insulin resistance

  • Increased cortisol production leads to weight gain. The adrenals increase gluconeogenesis, which provides the body with glucose from protein, rather than carbohydrates. This decreases serotonin and melatonin, which results in poor sleep and leads to food cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods in order to uplift mood, which releases more serotonin and insulin. This leads to more stress and insulin production to regulate glucose, which may lead to fat storage, weight gain and insulin resistance. It becomes a vicious cycle.
  • Insufficient sleep is also associated with lower levels of leptin, a hormone that alerts the brain that it has enough food, as well as higher levels of ghrelin, a biochemical that stimulates appetite. Consequently, poor sleep may result in food cravings.

Exercise

  1. Insufficient sleep may leave us too tired to burn off extra calories with exercise.
  2. When your body is stressed and prepared to fight or run it’s full of stress hormones. If you’re sedentary, those hormones will continue to circulate and cause damage to your body. Vigorous exercise, however, burns off those hormones. Exercise also releases the neurotransmitter serotonin and endorphins, the body’s natural pain relievers.
  3. Doctors from Nottingham Trent University suggest the chemical phenylethylamine is released during exercise and could play a part in uplifting mood as a result of exercise. Phenylethylamine is a naturally produced chemical that has been linked to the regulation of physical energy, mood and attention.

Impact of food on mood and physiology

Hazards of caffeine

  1. Caffeine stresses the adrenal glands and can contribute to anxiety, insomnia, depression, irritability, anxiousness—not good for caregivers. In fact, studies show that those who drink the most coffee often suffer from chronic depression. It depletes the body of B1, biotin, inositol, vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and zinc. It increases thirst because it is dehydrating, over stimulates and weakens the kidneys, pancreas, liver, stomach, intestines, heart, and nervous system.
  2. Can increase production of cortisol, leading to stronger cravings for fat and carbohydrates. This increases blood glucose, release of insulin and fat stored in the abdomen.
  3. Increases dopamine levels, making you feel good until it wears off
  4. May interfere with restful sleep
  5. Try not to drink coffee after 2pm
  6. Simple carbohydrates increase insulin production.

People who are stressed often crave and overeat sugar and simple carbohydrates, like chips, cookies and white bread or pasta, because those foods provide a fast release of the feel-good chemical serotonin. But eating this way causes a blood-sugar crash a couple of hours later, leaving you tired and moody. The more of these foods that you eat the more you crave. Although these foods are high in calories, they contribute few nutrients and deplete the body of essential vitamins and minerals, raise triglycerides, and contribute to inflammation and excess weight.

  1. Lack of water/fiber can rob the body of nutrients because of problems with digestion and assimilation
  • HFCS and other artificial sweeteners can interfere with your natural production of neurotransmitters. Aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal) competes with tryptophan by blocking its conversion into serotonin. Artificial sweeteners contribute to numerous adverse symptoms, as compiled by the Food and Drug Administration and include everything from menstrual changes, weight gain, and headaches to severe depression, insomnia and anxiety attacks.

High fructose corn syrup (glucose and fructose) can lead to a decrease in leptin production leading your body into thinking it’s hungry so you eat more, especially processed foods. HFCS can lead to insulin resistance and higher levels of triglycerides, as well as obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Bad habits, i.e. forgetting to eat, eating on the run, not eating breakfast all contribute to unstable blood sugar and adrenal exhaustion, which makes you grab foods that aren’t good for you, so you end up feeling irritable, moody, and even more stressed.


You get the picture? It’s important to take care of yourself, especially when you are taking care of someone else. I don’t want to overwhelm you with information or preach to you. Here’s a short checklist to help you stay healthy and balanced.

  • Eat a serving of high-quality protein with every meal and snack
  • Focus on complex carbohydrates (whole grains, veggies and fruits), and eliminate junk foods (refined carbs).
  • Enjoy unlimited amounts of fresh veggies.
  • Eat a good breakfast!
  • Eat 3 balanced meals and 1-2 snacks/day.
  • Magnesium, B complex, fish-oil, walnuts, flax seeds, dark leafy greens, and high quality all help reduce stress and uplift mood.
  • Meditate or find some quiet time for yourself
  • Exercise! At least take a short walk everyday.
  • Put on a funny YouTube video and laugh.
  • Use aromatherapy.
  • Do the best you can.

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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.

Calmer Waters: Spring 2019 book signings and events

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Especially for folks in the Denver-metro area: You are warmly invited! Please drop by at a book signing to say hello, or attend the caregiver symposium or conference (or both!) for lots of great information, networking and support. Respite care is available for both events. Click on the links to find out more.

What does end-stage Alzheimer’s and dementia look like?

Brain disease with memory loss due to Dementia and Alzheimer’s illness

Nine years after my husband Morris was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease he developed a kidney stone. At that point he was still walking, but shuffling and sometimes losing his balance. He was speaking, although he often didn’t make any sense. He was laughing–sometimes. And he usually knew his family and friends. It was difficult for him to eat and he often didn’t know what he was eating. But mostly he fed himself.

The day he went to the emergency for severe pain from a kidney stone, Morris was propelled on a downward spiral into end-stage Alzheimer’s. He died six weeks later. In just a matter of days my husband lost his ability to walk, toilet, speak and eat by himself. He needed to be lifted out of bed into a wheel chair and spoon fed. The memory care home he had lived in for two years wouldn’t accept him back because he was no longer ambulatory.

Morris was released from the hospital on a Friday afternoon to a rehabilitation center for physical therapy, which attempted to help he walk–which he never did again. At the rehab center he didn’t sleep at night. The floor attendant kept him in a wheel chair in the hall so he wouldn’t get out of bed and fall. They ended up putting his mattress on the floor because he did fall out and required stitches on his forehead. He’d go days without sleep and my son-in-law predicted that the lack of sleep would get him in the end.

I moved Morris back to his original memory care home on the condition that I had to hire outside help. The rehab facility was understaffed and the food provided little nutrition. The first night I left him there I felt as though I was leaving him to the “wolves.”

When I first placed him in the memory care home two years previous to this time, I was promised that my husband could stay there throughout the course of his illness. So if you are planning to place a loved one in a home, read the contract very carefully.  After he was back at the home for a couple weeks I had to move him again because it was costing way too much at this point to pay the monthly bill of $6,000 dollars plus an additional hourly fee for the outside care agency. Morris lived only two more weeks in an end-stage hospice facility. The staff was top notch and compassionate and I’m grateful that I moved him there.

End-stage Alzheimer’s is not pretty.

It includes:

  • incontinence
  • difficulty eating and swallowing
  • loss of speech
  • inability to walk and get out of bed
  • total assistance with personal care
  • not recognizing family members—but not all the time
  • secondary illnesses
  • sleep issues or sleeping most of the time

What can you do?

  1. Make sure you have all your loved one’s legal and financial papers in place well before this stage. (durable power of attorney, will, trust, advance directives, DNR-do not resuscitate, etc., final arrangements-cremation or burial, memorial service, etc.)
  2. Ask family and friends for support, and be specific. Do you need help with yard maintenance or with walking your dog?
  3. Do you need someone to shovel the driveway or sidewalk if you are spending a lot of time with your loved one?
  4. Ask someone at your place of worship to set up a meal-train or to set up a CaringBridge account to keep friends and family abreast of the current situation.
  5. AFA–Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s licensed social workers are available Monday through Friday, from 9am to 9 pm EST, and Saturdays from 9am to 1pm EST, via AFA’s National Toll-free helpline–866-232-8484. They are also available by e-mail, chat and Skype.
  6. The Alzheimer’s Association Helpline is open 24/7-800-272-3900.
  7. Hospital chaplains console families and help in times of grief and the difficult period of waiting for a loved one to recover or pass.
  8. Hospice offers support to the patient by providing personal services that include bathing, and palliative care. Hospice also offers grief counseling to families.
  9. It is important that as a caregiver you take care of yourself. On days that I was too exhausted to make dinner, I would heat a pan with a bit of olive oil, saute pre-washed spinach, and pour over a couple of eggs for a healthy, quick meal. Protein is important and so are greens that contain the stress-reducing nutrients vitamin B and magnesium. If you have difficulty eating because of nerves and emotions or time limitations, make yourself a protein shake with berries and/or a banana, a scoop of protein powder and liquid of your choice.
  10. Aromatherapy is a miracle cure for stress and anxiety. Use a wall plug-in to diffuse the aroma of lavender oil to uplift mood, or place a few drops on a handkerchief and tuck it into a shirt pocket or on a pillow. Other oils to try: vetiver, frankincense, myrrh, orange, lemon, bergamot, and grapefruit.

Blessings to you, your family and your loved one.

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

10 New year requirements for all caregivers

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

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

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

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Meet a friend for a chat over coffee. Having a good chat and/or laugh, either via telephone or in person does wonders.
  • Find a walking partner in your neighborhood and try to walk at least once a week (preferably 3 times a week).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Take a multi-vitamin mineral supplement to support your overall health, well-being, and immunity.
  • 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.”

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 energy and stress fixes to use now!

The holidays are stressful for everyone, but especially for caregivers. Here’s a list of some of my favorite stress relievers and energy boosters.

Soak in an Epsom salt bath and put in a few drops of lavender oil.
Soak in an Epsom salt bath and sprinkle in a few drops of lavender oil.
  1. Start the day with an affirmation. Before you get out of bed say something such as: “I am happy for the beautiful day.” I am grateful for my family and friends.” “I am cherished.” Make it yours, make it sincere. It’s amazing how it can set a positive tone of the day.
  2. Breathe! When we are stressed we tend to hold our breath. Take a 5-minute break and sit down in a comfortable chair. Close your eyes and take a deep breath, in and out. Then focus on your breath and watch how your mind quiets down and your muscles relax. Then remember to breathe throughout the day. Whenever you feel yourself getting anxious or tight, take a deep breath and let it go.
  3. Drink water. We’ve heard it a million times but it’s always good to be reminded. Forget about sodas and limit the wine and alcohol. Staying hydrated, especially at this time of year, is vital to supporting the immune system and reducing inflammation. It’s also important to support healthy cognitive function and memory.
  4. Make lists, including a meal plan for the week. It helps eliminate the last hour panic of “what am I going to make for dinner?” and unhealthy last-minute food decisions like ordering pizza.
  5. “Me time” is important! Get respite care if your loved one needs full-time attention. Ask a neighbor, relative or friend to come over for an hour or two so you can take a walk, go to the gym, or meet a friend for lunch or coffee.
  6. Eat walnuts. A daily dose of about 9 whole walnuts or 1 Tbs. walnut oil helps your blood pressure from spiking during stress. Walnuts contain L-arginine, an amino acid that helps relax blood vessels, which in turn helps reduce hypertension.
  7. Drink green tea. L-Theanine is the main chemical constituent in green tea. It is an ideal nutritional aid for stress because it produces alpha-wave activity that leads to deep relaxation and mental alertness. This is especially important because in order to mitigate stressful situations, it’s important to remain calm and alert. Theanine also stimulates the release of the neurotransmitters GABA, serotonin and dopamine, which help us feel happy, motivated and calm. Green tea extract is available as a nutritional supplement, which might be easier and quicker to take, and it’ll save you a lot of trips to the bathroom.
  8. While we’re on the topic of “green,” be sure to eat green leafy vegetables for vitamin B and magnesium, both of which help your body cope with stress.
  9. Two handfuls of cashews (make that a small handful, please; one ounce of cashews contains 157 calories.) provide a mood-boosting effect because they are one of the highest natural sources of tryptophan, the precursor for serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter.
  10. Did someone mention dark chocolate? It reduces cortisol, the stress hormone that causes anxiety symptoms. Just a couple of pieces should do the trick.
  11. Stretch! It’s important for everyone, not just runners and athletes. Stretching keeps your muscles flexible, strong and healthy. Without it, muscles tighten and weaken, which puts you at risk for joint pain and strain.
  12. Walk around the block. Just getting out into fresh air will instantly relieve stress, and moving your body gets your blood pumping and will clear your mind.
  13. Light candles and play relaxing music while you eat. It will change the mood instantly.
  14. Aromatherapy is a miracle cure for stress and anxiety. Use a wall plug-in to diffuse the aroma of lavender oil to uplift mood, or place a few drops on a handkerchief and tuck it into a shirt pocket or on a pillow. Other oils to try: vetiver, frankincense, myrrh, orange, lemon, bergamot, and grapefruit.
  15. Sit down, close the door and meditate. If you don’t have a mantra use the word OM. Repeat it silently and when you realize you are not saying it, then gently come back to it. Do it for 10 to 20 minutes every day and yoyu will notice that you are much more relaxed.
  16. Music is the universal language, and it is also the universal stress reliever. Whether it’s jazz, classical, or hard rock that makes you feel better, by all means, play it loud, play it soft, dance to it, drive to it, go to sleep to it. It will definitely help.
  17. Take a multi-vitamin mineral supplement to help with stress, energy and immune support.
  18. Warm up with warming herbs and spices such as ginger, turmeric, cumin, oregano, cayenne, black pepper, cardamon, garlic.
  19. Take an Epsom salt bath and put in a few drops of lavender oil. Light some candles, turn down the lights, put on some music, and relax!
  20. Getting the proper rest is vital to staying healthy and reducing stress. Prepare yourself for a deep night’s sleep by unplugging from electronics at least an hour before bed, taking an Epsom salt bath (put several drops of lavender oil in the water for added relaxation), and making sure the room temperature isn’t too warm.  Good night, sleep tight!

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

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

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 self-care strategies to reduce holiday stress

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

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

Recommended adaptogens:

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

Nervines

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

Recommended nervines:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Use essential oils (lemon, peppermint, lavender, frankincense, bergamot, thyme, sandalwood, vetiver, myrrh) to boost immunity. For more information about the use of aromatherapy to reduce stress, improve immunity, reduce agitation, and to promote relaxation read chapter 18 “Aromatherapy” in “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia” by Barbra Cohn

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

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

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


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

 

Caring for yourself and others with good nutrition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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