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’s new in Alzheimer’s research?

Photo of real female scientists looking into a microscope, Photo taken behind the glass.June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, so I’ve gathered several new studies that you may find interesting and helpful.

You don’t only avoid holes in your teeth by keeping good oral hygiene, researchers at the University of Bergen have discovered a clear connection between gum disease and Alzheimer´s disease. The researchers have determined that gum disease (gingivitis) plays a decisive role in whether a person develops Alzheimer´s or not.

“We discovered DNA-based proof that the bacteria causing gingivitis can move from the mouth to the brain,” says researcher Piotr Mydel at Broegelmanns Research Laboratory, Department of Clinical Science, University of Bergen (UiB).

The bacteria produces a protein that destroys nerve cells in the brain, which in turn leads to loss of memory and ultimately, Alzheimer´s.

Brush your teeth for better memory

Mydel points out that the bacteria is not causing Alzheimer´s alone, but the presence of these bacteria raise the risk for developing the disease substantially and are also implicated in a more rapid progression of the disease. However, the good news is that this study shows that there are some things you can do yourself to slow down Alzheimer´s.

“Brush your teeth and use floss.” Mydel adds that it is important, if you have established gingivitis and have Alzheimer´s in your family, to go to your dentist regularly and clean your teeth properly.

A new longitudinal study has shown that a nutritional drink* designated a “food for special medical purposes” containing the multinutrient combination Fortasyn Connect® can benefit patients with the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), mild cognitive impairment, who are at risk of progressing to the dementia stage of AD, report scientists in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Reports.

Opioid analgesics were associated with a 30% increase in the risk of pneumonia in persons with Alzheimer’s disease, a recent study from the University of Eastern Finland shows. The risk was most pronounced in the first two months of use. This is the first study to investigate the association between opioids and pneumonia in this population. The results were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Various clinical trials indicate what effects can be expected from standardized intervention programs on the basis of existing evidence. Little is known about the way in which such programs can be implemented in actual care practice. However, it may be possible to use data from clinical practice to estimate the potential of drug prescriptions to delay or reduce the development of dementia. The goal of the present study was to investigate the relationship between antihypertensive drug use and dementia in elderly persons followed in general practices in Germany.

Researchers found seniors who ate more than 300 grams of cooked mushrooms a week were half as likely to have mild cognitive impairment

Singapore, Singapore – A team from the Department of Psychological Medicine and Department of Biochemistry at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore (NUS) has found that seniors who consume more than two standard portions of mushrooms weekly may have 50 per cent reduced odds of having mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

A portion was defined as three quarters of a cup of cooked mushrooms with an average weight of around 150 grams. Two portions would be equivalent to approximately half a plate. While the portion sizes act as a guideline, it was shown that even one small portion of mushrooms a week may still be beneficial to reduce chances of MCI.

Copenhagen, Denmark – A new study suggests that vital exhaustion – which can be perceived as an indicator of psychological distress – is a risk factor for future risk of dementia. Researchers from the Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen have, in collaboration with the National Research Centre for the Working Environment, and the Danish Dementia Research Centre, shown that being distressed in late midlife is associated with a higher risk of dementia in later life. The findings contribute to our understanding of psychological distress as an important risk factor that should receive more focus when considering prevention initiatives in relation to later dementia.

Psychological distress can be defined as a state of emotional suffering sometimes accompanied by somatic symptoms. Vital exhaustion is operationalized as feelings of unusual fatigue, increased irritability and demoralization and can be considered an indicator of psychological distress. Vital exhaustion is suggested to be a response to unsolvable problems in individuals’ lives, in particular when being incapable of adapting to prolonged exposure to stressors. The physiological stress response, including cardiovascular changes and excessive production of cortisol over a prolonged period, may serve as the mechanism linking psychological distress with an increased risk of dementia.

Morgantown, WV, USA – A research team led by Dr. Kim Innes, a professor in the West Virginia University School of Public Health, has found that a simple meditation or music listening program may alter certain biomarkers of cellular aging and Alzheimer’s Disease in older adults who are experiencing memory loss. Study findings, reported in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, also suggest these changes may be directly related to improvements in memory and cognition, sleep, mood, and quality of life.

Sixty older adults with subjective cognitive decline (SCD), a condition that may represent a preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease, participated in the randomized, clinical trial. While SCD has been linked to increased risk for dementia and associated with certain neuropathological changes implicated in Alzheimer’s disease development, including elevated brain levels of beta amyloid, this preclinical period may also provide a critical window for therapeutic intervention.


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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.

 

Grief and Relief: When caregiving ends

GedankenCaregiving for a person with dementia is one of the most difficult things anyone will have to do. The pain and suffering is intense, but the rewards are plenty. Even though the person you are caring for cannot express gratitude, on some level they know and appreciate your sacrifice. They are eternally indebted to you. As Lou Gehrig said in his farewell speech, “When you have a wife (caregiver) who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed exists—that’s the finest I know. So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”

Kim Mooney, the Board President of Conversations on Death, and Director of Community Education for Tru Community Care, Colorado’s first hospice, has said that as caregivers “the sacrifices you made changed the course of your life. As you once again look at finding a new course, you will over time grieve your loved one and what you let go of or stored away. You will also begin to discover the things you learned from giving so much. As you recognize and honor what you did, it will begin to shape the meaning of your life now. Whatever the challenges ahead in rebuilding, that understanding can give you the strength, commitment, and satisfaction to make your life more meaningful than ever.”

So, what’s next? Stop, take a deep breath, and think about your journey: where you came from, what you did, and how you feel. When my husband’s final health crisis was over and after I buried him, I realized that I hadn’t fully breathed for years and that my body was strangled with tension and fatigue. I had meditated, eaten fairly well (besides the times I was too tired to cook and made a dinner out of popcorn and ice cream), danced, exercised, and practiced yoga. All these things helped keep me calm, and brought me back to my “self.” But being on call for years took its toll. And after it was all over, while ensnared in the tentacles of grieving, I felt relief. Relief that I wouldn’t feel the pain of watching Morris lose yet another function. Relief that I wouldn’t have to fill another prescription or talk to a physician about my husband’s condition. Relief that I didn’t have to travel the 15 miles to visit him in the memory care home, where I’d inevitably get depressed. Relief that I could stay home and not have an obligation other than caring for myself.

And yet, the final letting go of my role as caregiver was uncomfortable and felt strangely similar to sending my children out into the world. How would I define myself if I were no longer a caregiver? How would I fill up the time I had spent caring for my husband for an entire decade, one fifth of my life? Creating a new identity takes time, practice, and patience. And we are told by grief counselors to not rush things. Do not make a major change in your life, such as moving out of the house you’ve lived in for years, or to another state. But day-by-day, it’s okay to acknowledge that we are not the same person who heard the dreaded words from our loved one’s doctor: “You have dementia, most likely of the Alzheimer’s type.”

As caregivers we take a journey through fire and ice and land on solid ground surrounded by calm waters. Then it’s time to swim to shore and get our bearings. Be patient, be kind to yourself, and set out to discover different activities, small and large, that ease you to calmer waters. Here are some ways to help you get there:

  1. Choose at least one healing modality in this book and integrate it into your life. Dance, do yoga, try journaling, find someone to walk with, etc.
  2. Clean out your closets and drawers.
  3. Wash the garage floor and then paint it.
  4. Take a cooking class.
  5. Join a health club or YMCA.
  6. Take a Zumba® fitness class.
  7. Ride your bike.
  8. Join a hiking club.
  9. Learn how to sew or knit.
  10. Serve food at a community table or sort food at a food bank.
  11. Plant a garden.
  12. Play a musical instrument.
  13. Learn a new language.
  14. Travel! Visit friends and family.
  15. Take long nature walks.
  16. Make it a habit to soak in a bath with Epsom salts.
  17. Get a puppy or kitten.
  18. Volunteer at the Humane Society.
  19. Read to elementary school children.
  20. Join a book club.

My journey to calmer waters

My husband’s illness changed the course of my family’s lives in ways that were unexpected, devastating, and empowering. I developed into a strong matriarch and quickly learned how to take charge of my husband’s care, family business, and my children, without the help of my partner. And not having a partner, with whom I would typically make important decisions with, was one of the hardest things of all about being a partner to someone with Alzheimer’s disease.

Not having a partner, with whom I would typically make important decisions, was one of the hardest things of all about being a partner to someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Deciding where and when to place Morris in a memory care home, figuring out how to finance it, and deciding when to enlist the help of hospice were the kinds of decisions I would have discussed with my husband.

I became a compassionate caregiver, not just for Morris, but for other residents of the memory care home where he lived the last two years of his life. I went through a lot—as all caregivers do—but I’ve come through. I’ve recreated my life, and have learned to look forward with hope, wonder, delight, and inspiration after giving so much of myself to the person I vowed to spend my life with.

There are days that go by without my thinking about Morris. After all, it’s been over eight years since he’s been gone. It’s still hard for me to look at family photos because our family was happy, and a link is missing. I know for my children the hardest thing is that their own children are growing up without knowing their grandfather, who would have loved to be a part of their lives. We will always miss him, but our happy memories fill in the gaps, and we honor him eery year on his yahrzeit the anniversary of a Jewish loved one’s death.

I have a new love in my life and grandchildren to enjoy and cherish. I feel good and I am happy! As my beloved teacher Swami Kaleshwar always said, “Life is short, make it sweet.” I will and I do.


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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.

Falling in love while caring for your spouse with Alzheimer’s

This is a controversial and delicate topic. Is it possible to judge someone unless we’ve walked in their shoes? Watch the video and let me know what you think.

In the meanwhile, you might want to check out my article “Sexual intimacy between care partners” at The topic of sex is often uncomfortable in the best of relationships in the best of times. The topic is especially prickly when one of the partners has Alzheimer’s disease.

 

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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.

Motivating family members to help

Until age eight, I lived in an extended family house with my parents, brother and me on the top floor, my grandparents on the middle floor, and my aunt, uncle and cousin on the bottom floor. We all took care of each other, no questions asked. It was a close, loving family.

But that was then, this is now. Times have changed. People move away, and families don’t always stick together. I was lucky that my daughter and her newly-wed husband live near me and helped care for my husband (her father) who had Alzheimer’s disease. Every Sunday afternoon they took him out to a movie or to lunch. It gave me a break and it uplifted his spirit. My son, who was in graduate school, came home when he could to take his dad to a football game. And friends took my husband out to lunch on a regular basis.

But I needed extra help so I hired two graduate psychology students. I had promised myself that I wouldn’t become a martyr to my husband’s illness. I took care of myself by pursuing my interests and meeting with friends. Because I had time for myself, I had more energy to be present for my husband. Still, caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease was a daunting task, as is caring for anyone with a chronic disease.

It really does take a village to provide care for someone with a chronic illness. If you have family that offers to help, you are lucky. Sadly, it’s often the case that one family member bears the brunt of the caregiving, which can lead to conflict and bad feelings.

What can you do to encourage family and friends to help?

  • If your loved one has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia you are well aware of the difficult task of caregiving. But if your sister or brother, son or daughter, etc. only sees the ill person once in a while they might not realize the full impact of the disease. Try to plan a respite day or weekend by having another family member care for your loved one. This is the best way to help your family realize how much care your loved one needs and what the task requires.
  • Plan a conference call and divvy up the caregiving. If your family is spread out, encourage a rotation of caregiving. In some cases, the ill person stays with a daughter or son for a few months and then moves on to stay with another family member. This eliminates guilt and bad feelings among siblings. The logistics are complicated, but it can work.
  • If it is impossible for others to share in the physical caregiving because of where they live or other circumstances, encourage family members to take on a specific responsibility such as: refilling medications, driving to and/or making doctor appointments, providing meals, researching community assistance programs that include respite care and volunteer programs, setting up automatic bill payments and/or dealing with financial issues, providing a housecleaner or cleaning the house once a month, mowing the lawn, shoveling the snow, etc.
  • Speak your truth. Do you need a night out with friends? Time to go for a walk or to the gym? Say so, and don’t be afraid of offending anyone. The worst that can happen is that your sister or brother, or son or daughter will say “no.”
  • Is it possible for you to get paid for the help you provide? Discuss the options with your financial planner and other family members.
  • Ask a family member to create an online caring community such as “Share The Care” https://sharethecare.org/getting-started/ or “Caring Bridge.”  “Share The Care” is a system that creates a support network among caregivers that lets everyone share responsibilities. “Caring Bridge” https://www.caringbridge.org/how-it-workshelps you create a site that enables you to share updates about your loved one, coordinate help, and get emotional support.
  • It’s a fact of life that you can’t force another family member to help. Even if you do get help, you might be the one who does the disproportionate amount of caregiving. Try to accept it and be grateful that you will not feel guilty for not being there for your loved one. You are appreciated and even if your loved one can no longer communicate, he or she appreciates you and loves you. Just know that you are doing the best that you can . . . and that is all you can do.. 

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 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.

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

fresh soup 1January is National Soup month, and it’s also the month when people get colds and flues. It’s especially important during these cold winter months to support your immune system, get plenty of sleep, and try to maintain an uplifted mood.

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

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

Immune boosting soups

Tomato Vegetable Soup

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

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

Minestrone

  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 medium ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 cups chopped seasonal vegetables (potatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, butternut squash, green beans or peas; whatever you have)
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 large can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, with their liquid (or 2 small 15-ounce cans)
  • 4 cups (32 ounces) vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup whole grain orecchiette, elbow or small shell pasta
  • 1 can (15 ounces) Great Northern beans, cannellini beans, or kidney beans rinsed and drained, or 1 ½ cups cooked beans
  • 2 cups baby spinach or 2 cups chopped and carefully washed spinach.
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnishing (optional)

 Heat the oil in a large pot and add the onion, carrots and celery. When the onion is translucent add the chopped seasonal vegetables, garlic, oregano and thyme and cook for about 2 minutes. Next, add the broth, water, salt, bay leaf, pepper flakes, and pepper. Bring to a boil and then lower to simmer and cook for about 15 minutes. Add the beans, cook for an additional 10 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until wilted. Ladle cooked pasta into each bowl and add the soup on top. Do not cook the pasta in the soup because it will eventually turn to mush. Garnish with Parmesan cheese.

Miso Stew

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

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

Chicken soup (Jewish penicillin)

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

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

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

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

Ward off the negative effects of stress

Mineral Broth

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

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

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

Coarsely chop:

  • a small bunch of dill weed
  • 1 clove garlic

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

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

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

Variations:

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

Alleviate joint and inflammation

Bone broth

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

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

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

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

Ayurvedic healing soup

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

Kicheree

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

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

Enjoy!


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

BarbraCohn__

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.