When surgery is recommended for a person with Alzheimer’s

Caregiver holding elderly patient’s hand in hospital bed

Surgery is scary for everyone. But when the patient has Alzheimer’s it can be traumatic. Someone with Alzheimer’s may feel frightened and confused by a new environment and by people they don’t know. They may not understand what is happening to them. Their normal routine will inevitably change, as well as their diet. The list goes on and on.

If your loved one’s doctor is recommending surgery, you’ll want to ask a lot of questions because being in a strange environment will likely cause anxiety (although some patients with dementia might enjoy the special attention). And getting general anesthesia can cause dementia to worsen.

A study published on the Fishman Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation’s website found that about half of the patients undergoing surgery at the Marques de Valdecilla-IDAL University Hospital in Spain showed declines in cognitive skills after their hospital stays. https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-alzheimers-disease/jad191229 But those who had high levels of beta-amyloid, consistent with an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease, fared the worst on measures of memory. All the patients were older than 65, and none had dementia before their surgery. https://www.alzinfo.org/articles/prevention/major-surgery-may-accelerate-the-slide-into-alzheimers-disease/

However, Duke University researchers recently found that “in over 100 patients undergoing a wide variety of major surgery types under general anesthesia, we found no correlation between post-operative changes in thinking/memory and in Alzheimer’s disease-related biomarkers in the fluid surrounding the brain and spine . . . This should be a reassuring message to anesthesiologists, surgeons, older surgical patients and their family members,” said lead author of the study Miles Berger, M.D. https://corporate.dukehealth.org/news/no-link-between-cognitive-changes-alzheimers-markers-after-major-surgery

Things to consider

  • Plan a consultation with the doctor to discuss the specifics, and have an honest discussion. Is the surgery absolutely necessary? What might happen if your loved one does not undergo surgery? Will the surgery provide a better quality of life, i.e. reduce pain and increase mobility? Prolong the person’s life? What is the worst-case scenario if they do not undergo surgery? Is there an alternative solution to the problem, i.e. complementary medicines and/or modalities such as acupuncture or biofeedback? Ask if you can record the discussion in order to review it later. Consider getting a second opinion.
  • If your family member plans to go ahead with the surgery, look for a hospital that has adopted the ACS Geriatric Surgery Verification Program. The medical community is starting to recognize that a routine surgery for an adult may be very different for an older patient, especially one who has dementia. The Geriatric Surgery Verification (GSV) Program has 32 surgical standards (two of which are optional) designed to improve surgical care and outcomes for older adults. Optimizing surgical care for older adults is critical, as patients 65 years and older account for more than 40% of all inpatient operations (and increasing).https://www.facs.org/quality-programs/accreditation-and-verification/geriatric-surgery-verification/
  • Before surgery make sure all the legal papers are signed and in order such as a DNR (do not resuscitate), POA (power of attorney), etc., and that you hand over the appropriate signed documents to the medical facility or doctor.
  • If your loved one falls and breaks a hip, or is injured in an accident, you will have to make swift decisions. Keep a copy of the important documents mentioned above in your glove compartment. Be prepared for the patient to experience “delirium” afterward. This is common among people with Alzheimer’s who need general anesthesia. Stay calm. There’s a good chance the patient will recover and revert back to their usual state. However, as mentioned above, 50% of older patients who undergo surgery show cognitive decline afterward.
  • If the surgery is pre-scheduled do everything you can to make the hospital experience as easy as possible. Bring favorite “toys”, music, clothing, foods, etc. Have someone who is comfortable with the patient, and whom the patient is comfortable with, stay overnight, if possible.

Patient delirium

Delirium after surgery is common for older people and those with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a byproduct of anesthesia and the stress of being in an unfamiliar environment where there’s a steady flow of nurses and care providers coming in and out of the room. Remind the nurses to introduce themselves when they come in to care for your loved one. This will help make the experience less stressful.

Your loved one may not remember that they had surgery. Let them know what it was for and that they’ll get better. Tell them where they are, who will visit or already visited, and how long they will be in the hospital.

Try to distract your loved one if they don’t understand what is going on, and if they try to get out of bed. If they normally watch TV, watch it together. Put on their favorite music, or read to them. Aromatherapy essential oils are wonderful for calming down someone with anxiety and agitation.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy can be a resource of comfort to you and your care partner by providing an easy, natural way to reduce stress and anxiety and uplift mood. To make sure you are buying a pure essential oil and not synthetic fragrance oil, look for the botanical name of the plant and the phrase “pure essential oil” on the label. Essential oils can be used in a wide variety of ways, but the most common methods are by inhalation or topical use, such as lotion, body oil, or in a bath. My favorite method which I used for my husband is an electric micro-mist diffuser, and available by mail order or at health food stores. These disperse essential oils into the air in a cool mist or can be gently warmed in a candle-heated aroma lamp that releases the aroma into the air. Another easy way is to add 30-40 drops of essential oils to a 4-ounce water spritz bottle. Favorite oils for reducing stress and anxiety include: lavender, Holy basil, clary sage, geranium, rose, and ylang ylang. Citrus oils uplift the mind and emotions, relieve stress and anxiety, and are useful for appetite support: bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, and orange.

Aromatherapy is also great for caregivers!

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 ways for caregivers to reduce holiday stress

Happy holidays! Thanksgiving is almost here! It’s almost inevitable that most of us feel more stressed during the holiday season. There’s always so much to do if you’re planning to get together with friends and family. And for those who are grieving or alone, the stress can be debilitating. If you’re a caregiver, you’re undoubtedly even more stressed.

The most important thing is to take care of YOU. If you get stressed and exhibit anxiety, those around you are going to feel it. It becomes a vicious cycle. You get stressed, and then the person you care for may get irritable, nervous, or anxious.

Make this your mantra: eat healthily, drink water, take a daily walk, and sleep well. It sounds easy, but how do you do that when your time is limited and you feel stretched in every which way.

Or how do you take care of yourself when you’re so depressed it’s hard to get out of bed? (This is a huge topic that I won’t address here, but you might want to read: Have you tried any of these natural ways to combat depression? https://barbracohn.2018/10/03/have-you-tried-any-of-these-natural-ways-to-combat-depression/

  1. Make a pot of soup that will last several days. Lentil, split pea, vegetable, chicken, butternut squash, and tomato soups are chockful of goodness. See below for a yummy recipe.
  2. Do you really need to drink 8 glasses of water each day? According to an article that recently appeared in the New York Times, the answer is no. It depends on a lot of things: how big you are, how active you are, and how much liquid you’re getting through foods and other drinks such as tea and coffee. I had always thought that caffeinated tea and coffee dehydrate you. But according to this article they don’t. Juicy fruits such as oranges, melons, and pears (not to mention summer fruits), contribute water to your total intake. Just make sure that you’re drinking enough so that you don’t get to the point where you feel thirsty or where your lips feel dry.
  3. Exercise is vital to overall health and stress reduction. Whether you live in a cold or hot climate, dress appropriately and find at least 15 minutes a day to get outside and walk.
  4. Show your care partner (the person you care for) a bit of extra attention if you’re able to. Take them for a drive to see holiday lights. Have an afternoon tea in a charming café. Visit your care partner’s best friend, or have them come for a visit. Buy a new CD of their favorite music and play it for them. Light candles at dinnertime. Have them help you with decorations, if possible.
  5. Plan a visit from a music therapist or animal-assisted (AAT)therapist, or find out where you might find them visiting facilities.
  6. Aromatherapy can be a resource of comfort to you and your care partner by providing an easy, natural way to reduce stress and anxiety and uplift mood. To make sure you are buying a pure essential oil and not synthetic fragrance oil, look for the botanical name of the plant and the phrase “pure essential oil” on the label. Essential oils can be used in a wide variety of ways, but the most common methods are by inhalation or topical use, such as lotion, body oil, or in a bath. My favorite method which I used for my husband is an electric micro-mist diffuser, and available by mail order or at health food stores. These disperse essential oils into the air in a cool mist or can be gently warmed in a candle-heated aroma lamp that releases the aroma into the air. Another easy way is to add 30-40 drops of essential oils to a 4-ounce water spritz bottle. Favorite oils for reducing stress and anxiety include: lavender, Holy basil, clary sage, geranium, rose, and ylang ylang. Citrus oils uplift the mind and emotions, relieve stress and anxiety, and are useful for appetite support: bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, and orange.
  7. Making art can help you regain a sense of balance. If you’re feeling out of control, and are inclined to create art, set aside a table just for art and make it sacred. Gather your materials and have them easily accessible so that the space is prepared for you to focus on the “now” without a lot of distraction. It’s amazing how making art can melt stress once you get into the creative zone. The same goes for playing an instrument. It doesn’t matter what is going on in the world or how I feel, when I sit down at the piano, everything becomes part of the past and I’m able to enjoy the moment. It actually becomes a meditation.
  8. Speaking of meditation, the buzzword these days is “mindfulness.” There are numerous apps and classes that can teach you how to stay present and act with kindness and compassion. You can also take a meditation class such as Transcendental Meditation, where you learn how to meditate twice a day for 20 minutes. TM has been proven to reduce blood pressure, and help the body recharge by reducing stress. It’s easy and anyone who can think a thought can do it.
  9. Keep it simple. You don’t have to make an elaborate feast (unless you’re a cook and love to do that) to make the holidays special. If you want to make it really easy on yourself, order a meal for the number of people at your table. Grocery stores like Whole Foods provide dinners that are yummy and healthy (and yes, a little expensive). Or make the essentials and buy a pie.
  10. This holiday season stop and smell the flavors and enjoy the little things: a walk in the woods, a new baby’s smile, a toddler’s romp, a new sweater, or a pair of socks. Get out the photo albums and reminisce. Watch funny YouTube videos of animals and children. Watch a comedy together. Borrow your neighbor’s dog to take on a walk. Walk in the snow (please wear treaded boots so you don’t fall). Enjoy the moment because time passes quickly and what’s here this year may not be here next year.

While most families are hoping to get together for the first time in a couple of years due to COVID, it’s important to keep abreast of the latest health and safety directives in your area. The number of COVID cases is on the rise again. Please wear a mask when flying, traveling by train or bus, and when you’re in crowded places such as a grocery store. Get a COVID booster and seasonal flu shot. If you feel sick, please stay home! There’s nothing like exposing your loved ones to an illness and having them get sick to make you feel guilty and everyone stressed.

One of my favorite soup recipes to enjoy throughout the winter

Pasta y Fagioli—a one-pot meal, 4 servings

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 2 stalks of celery, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 leek, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces (discard the top, tough stalk or keep to use when making vegetable broth)
  • 1 zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 yellow squash, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Herbs of your choice: basil or thyme
  • 1 28-ounce can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 quart of stock –vegetable or chicken. Add water if needed to cover the veggies
  • 2 cans of white beans (navy, butter, or cannellini)
  • 8 oz of pasta of your choice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Grated parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a soup pot on medium. Add the onion and cook for about 5 mins., occasionally stirring. Add the other vegetables, until they begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the broth and tomatoes and their juice.

Separately, cook the amount of pasta you want to put in the soup. Keep the pasta separate or it will turn to mush. Add a serving of pasta to the soup and top with grated cheese. Serve with bread and salad. Delicious!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

Is your care partner driving you nuts?

Stressed caregiver

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

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

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

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

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

15 Ways to Instantly Diffuse Anger

Young woman doing upward dog stretch, yoga.

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

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

Are you resentful?

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

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

Are you frustrated?

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

Are you exhausted?

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

Do you feel guilty?

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

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

  • Take a deep breath. Breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, and release for 4 counts. Repeat twice more.
  • Make sure your loved one is safe and take a brief walk outside. If the weather is bad, walk up and down the stairs. If you can go outside, engage your loved one in an activity or have them watch television. Or just walk away from the situation and go into another room.
  • Put on some uplifting music. “Happy” by Pharrell Williams will definitely make you happy, I guarantee!
  • Call your best friend to vent.
  • Keep a book of inspirational quotes on your night table. Grab it and read a page. Sit there a moment and breathe.
  • Do jumping jacks or a few yoga postures. Corpse pose, legs up the wall, down dog. It doesn’t matter. Choose a few and do them.
  • Don’t lash out at your care partner. Rather than regret hurtful words, respond with an “I” statement or divert his/her attention. “I know you’re upset. I feel frustrated, too, etc.”
  • Use humor. Make a joke, put on a funny YouTube video.
  • Take yourself, your care partner, and your dog (if you have one) for a walk.
  • The British custom of making a cup of tea really works. Make a cup of green tea for added relaxation.
  • Use lavender oil to calm you down. Either put it in a wall plug-in diffuser or spritz your collar or a tissue that you can put inside a shirt pocket.  For more information about the use of aromatherapy to reduce stress, improve immunity, reduce agitation, and to promote relaxation read chapter 18 “Aromatherapy” in “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia” by Barbra Cohn.
  • Break open a dark chocolate bar and share it with your care partner. It reduces cortisol, the stress hormone that causes anxiety symptoms. Just a couple of pieces should do the trick.
  • Go into a quiet room and meditate.
  • Light a candle and put on some relaxing music.
  • Drink a tall glass of water, make an energy-boosting smoothie, or hot cocoa.

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

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

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

20 Natural Remedies for Depressed Caregivers (and everyone else)

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

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

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

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

Here are 20+ ways to combat depression

Natural supplements for depression

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

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

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

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

2. Vitamin B complex optimizes cognitive activity and brain function, has a positive effect on memory, learning capacity and attention span, and supports a healthy nervous system and a stable mood. Vitamins B6 and B12, in particular, play a role in the synthesis of serotonin, the neurotransmitter linked to improving memory, lifting mood and regulating sleep.

3. Nervines

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

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

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

Recommended nervines:

  • Passion flower- is beneficial for anxiety, insomnia, tension headaches, muscle aches and spasms, pain, hyperactivity, epilepsy, and to alleviate anger and help lower blood pressure.
  • Skullcap – is antispasmodic and relaxing and is recommended to relieve headaches, mood swings, insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, and nervous tension and exhaustion.
  • Blue Vervain – is a nervine herb that may help when you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed, and just want to relax. It promotes relaxation and calmness.
  • Hops – the female flower from the top of the humulus lupulus creeping vine, does a lot more than make your beer taste good! It may reduce occasional stress, nervousness and restlessness.
  • Valerian – is the most researched herb for sleep. Interestingly, the word valerian is derived from the Latin verb valere, which means to be strong or healthy. It may provide relief of occasional sleeplessness and promote relaxation.
  • Catnip is a milder nervine that may soothe and promote a calming feeling and reduce irritability.

4. Support serotonin levels. Omega 3 fatty acids are rich in DHA, the major unsaturated fat in the brain. Your brain is 60% fat and depends on the fat you ingest from food. Healthy fats found in cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and in olive oil, walnuts, flax and avocado will improve your mood. It is important to cook with a healthy fat such as olive oil, walnut or avocado in order to feed your brain! Canola oil, peanut oil, and safflower are not able to provide you with the fat your brain needs.

As a nutrition educator, I also like to recommend foods that increase the “happy” neurotransmitter serotonin. Whole grains, sweet potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, support your brain’s ability to process more serotonin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. Use aromatherapy oils to immediately diffuse feelings of sadness, depression, anxiety, etc. Lavender oil is the most frequently used fragrance. You can also try bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, orange, clary sage, geranium, rose, and ylang ylang, frankincense, and myrrh. Put the oil in a diffuser or spray bottle to mist your collar or pillow. Check online for ways to order aromatherapy oils. For more information about the use of aromatherapy to reduce stress, improve immunity, reduce agitation, and to promote relaxation read chapter 18 “Aromatherapy” in “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia” by Barbra Cohn.

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

14. If you’re lucky to have a caring partner, give each other a massage. It’s a wonderful way to tune out the world and relax. Or do a self massage with warm oil. Olive or coconut works perfectly.

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

16. Avoid listening to the news before bed. When the coronavirus outbreak first occurred, I found myself glued to the news and I suffered the price. My sleep was restless and I had nightmares. Limit yourself to tuning in 2 or 3 times a day at most, for a limited period of time. Don’t keep the TV or radio on all day, and certainly not while you’re eating or before bed.

17. Limit your social media time, too. There are a lot of scary things on Facebook, etc. While it’s important to stay informed, too much information can overwhelm us and make us even more frightened.

18. Stay in close contact with family and friends. Reach out to those you haven’t been in touch with for a while. Laugh about old times.

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

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

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


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

16 ways to help you get through the anxiety and fear of the pandemic

Empire of the sunWe’re all experiencing some level of anxiety during this crazy time. And if you’re a caregiver, you’re dealing with your own stress and the anxiety of the person you are caring for. Watch for a blog next week about calming the person that you care for. Or, search through the archives on this site.

Here are some practical things that really work to help create order and calm.

  1. First thing in the morning when you wake up say an affirmation or prayer. “This will be a beautiful day,” “I will do the best I can,” I am strong and healthy,” ” I can get through this.” “I am strong and confident.”
  2. Create a schedule and try to stick to it. For example:
  • Shower
  • Make breakfast
  • Do an online yoga or cardio class
  • Wash clothes, clean house
  • Clean your office
  • Work on a creative project, i.e. write, knit, paint, etc.
  • Have lunch
  • Walk outside, if the weather permits
  • Etc.

It seems very simplistic, but it helps. And when you check each item off the list it adds to a sense of accomplishment.

3. Include a self-care ritual in your day. Take a bath, call a friend, do a manicure. Wash and style your hair. Whatever makes you feel good.

4. When the negative thoughts start flowing, stop them in their tracks. I heard about this technique recently from a friend, who got it from her therapist. Change the mental dialogue in your head by replacing the worst case scenario you imagine with a best case scenario. Instead of dwelling on doom and gloom, think hopeful thoughts. Of course, this technique only goes so far. If the person you are caring for has mid- to late -stage Alzheimer’s, for instance, hoping for a total recovery isn’t very likely. But you can still think positive thoughts that focus on what you cherish about the person instead of  what you dislike about his or her behavior. Or when you start to panic about what will happen to your loved one if you get sick, replace that thought with a visualization of being strong and healthy.

5. Watch a funny movie or YouTube video. There are tons of movies online, and as of today, March 20, Hulu is currently offering a free 30-day trial. The Metropolitan Opera is offering Free Live Audio Streams. Vocal artists are offering online concerts while you’re stuck at home.

6. You can work out in your living room thanks to fitness studios that are live-streaming workout classes for yoga, meditation, cardio, etc. free during the coronavirus outbreak.

7. Create a ritual of lighting a candle and playing classical music at dinnertime.

8. Use aromatherapy to calm the nerves and uplift the mood. 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. Check online for ways to order aromatherapy oils. For more information about the use of aromatherapy to reduce stress, improve immunity, reduce agitation, and to promote relaxation read chapter 18 “Aromatherapy” in “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia” by Barbra Cohn.

9. Support serotonin levels. Omega 3 fatty acids are rich in DHA, the major unsaturated fat in the brain. Your brain is 60% fat and depends on the fat you ingest from food. Healthy fats found in cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and in olive oil, walnuts, flax and avocado will improve your mood. It is important to cook with a healthy fat such as olive oil, walnut or avocado in order to feed your brain! Canola oil, peanut oil, and safflower are not able to provide you with the fat your brain needs.

As a nutrition educator, I also like to recommend foods that increase the “happy” neurotransmitter serotonin. Whole grains, sweet potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, support your brain’s ability to process more serotonin.

10. If you’re lucky to have a caring partner, give each other a massage. It’s a wonderful way to tune out the world and relax. Or do a self massage with warm oil. Olive or coconut works perfectly.

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

12. Avoid listening to the news before bed. When the coronavirus outbreak first occurred, I found myself glued to the news and I suffered the price. My sleep was restless and I had nightmares. Limit yourself to tuning in 2 or 3 times a day at most, for a limited period of time. Don’t keep the TV or radio on all day, and certainly not while you’re eating or before bed.

13. Limit your social media time, too. There are a lot of scary things on Facebook, etc. While it’s important to stay informed, too much information can overwhelm us and make us even more frightened.

14. Stay in close contact with family and friends. Reach out to those you haven’t been in touch with for a while. Laugh about old times.

15. Do some volunteer work, unless you are a caregiver. Your spiritual/religious community has things you can do to help others like calling congregants to check-in and see if they need anything. Or donate money to a food bank or emergency assistance organization. It’ll make you feel good.

16. It’s officially spring! Get outside and do some yard work. Plant some seeds for a spring garden and watch as the seeds sprout into nature’s gift of flowers and greens.

Stay positive and healthy. We will get through this together.


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.

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10 New Year Resolutions for Caregivers

2020 New year concept. Goals list in stationery, blank clipboard, smartphone, pot plant on pink pastel color with copy spaceYou’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.

  1. Say a positive affirmation before you get out of bed. “This day is going to be a good one.” “I am grateful for my friends and family.” “I am healthy and full of energy.” “I am strong and competent.” Say something positive to set the tone of the day.
  2. Before you reach for a cup of coffee, drink a glass of hot water with lemon. It hydrates your body and brain, the lemon helps to alkalize the system (yes, it’s counter intuitive), which is usually too acidic, and it helps with regularity.
  3. Ask for help! You don’t have to do it all by yourself. No one is going to think badly of you if you take some time for yourself. If your loved one resents your going out, it’s okay. Don’t become a slave to their wishes and rants. If you can’t leave your loved one alone, please ask a neighbor, friend or home care professional to help at least a couple hours a week. Some social service programs provide free respite care.
  4. Many cities throughout the U.S. offer volunteer snowbusters (volunteers who will shovel your walk and driveway), fix-it volunteers who will help with easy home repairs, and yard maintenance volunteers.
  5. Meet a friend for a chat over coffee. Having a good chat and/or laugh, either via telephone or in person does wonders.
  6. Find a walking partner in your neighborhood and try to walk at least once a week (preferably 3 times a week).
  7. Put on a CD, vinyl record or the radio and listen to your favorite music. If your care partner is mobile, ask him/her to dance. There is nothing like music or dance to uplift the spirit.
  8. 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.
  9. Take a multi-vitamin mineral supplement to support your overall health, well-being, and immunity.
  10. It’s important to get at least 6 hours (preferably 7 or 8) of sleep every night. Of course, this isn’t always possible if you are caring for someone and need to get up at night, or are worried about paying the bills, taking care of the car, getting a new stove, etc. If you can’t get in the hours at night, put your feet up for 10 minutes during the day when your care partner naps. Or take a power nap. It really helps.

Wishing you and your loved ones a healthy, happy New Year! And remember that “this too shall pass.”

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

10 Great Gifts for Caregivers

New Year's box with gifts and bows, fir cones, snowflakes and Christmas toy on old boardsIf you’re a caregiver, you have little time for yourself and you’re probably stressed out. You don’t need another pair of pajamas, and you don’t need another coffee mug.

What you desperately need is some time for yourself to relax and rejuvenate, and ways to make your life easier.

When friends and family ask you,” How can I help?” Or, “What do you need?” send them this list. They will appreciate it, and you will definitely appreciate the rewards.

  1. You know how wonderful it feels to have a sparkling clean house. And you probably haven’t had time to do a deep cleaning in a while. Ask your friends and neighbors for recommendations for a good house cleaner or cleaning service. Merry Maids is a national company available in most parts of the U.S. They also have gift cards online to make it convenient for your gift givers.
  2. Wouldn’t it be heavenly to get away for a few hours? It’s important to maintain friends throughout our lives, and even more important when we need to vent or just need a friendly chat or someone to tell you that you’re doing the best that you can. Gift cards to a neighborhood coffee shop or restaurant can help provide an excuse to connect to a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Make a date.
  3. But in order to make a date, you might need a companion to stay with your loved one. Providing TIME to you may be the greatest gift of all. Ask for a time donation, possibly in blocks of time. Two hours a week for a month? Four hours a month? Spread your wishes around. You’re bound to get several “yeses.”
  4. Do you like to sing? Whether you sing in the shower or in a chorus, it’s been well documented that singing reduces stress levels and depression. Group singing boosts oxytocin levels, and creates a feeling of “togetherness.” (Oxytocin is called the “love  hormone” because it is released when mothers breastfeed and when people snuggle up or bond socially. Request a favorite music CD that you like to sing to. Try to include the person you are caring for. Invite neighbors over for a singalong, and make it intergenerational. It’s amazing that people who even have advanced dementia can often remember the words to songs they sang decades ago.
  5. What about dance? You might have two left-feet, but you can dance away your blues without anyone watching in your living room. I always say that dance is what kept me off anti-depressant medication during the 10 years I cared for my husband. I did folk dance, salsa, and contra on a weekly basis. It was well worth the expense of hiring someone to keep my husband company on those evenings. Dance supports the release of endorphins from the brain into the bloodstream. I experienced firsthand a rush of happiness for hours, and sometimes days, after dancing for just a couple hours. Not only does dancing uplift your spirit, it can help you think more clearly. A 21-year-long Einstein Aging Study that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2003 found that dancing is the best form of exercise to help prevent dementia when compared to 11 other activities including swimming, bicycling, and team sports. The study also found that dancing can help slow down cognitive decline. Dancing to music that carries special significance can be a wonderful way to connect with your care partner. Why not ask for a CD of your favorite music and dance in your living room, alone or with your care partner? Or, learn a new dance. Request a DVD to teach you the steps. Or, try a Zumba class. Fitness is a Latin-inspired cardio-dance workout that uses music and choreographed steps to form a fitness party atmosphere. While many of the types of dance and music featured in the program are Latin American inspired, classes can also contain everything from jazz to African beats to country to hip-hop and pop. Attend a Zumba class at your local recreation center or YMCA. They are also available on YouTube videos. And ask for a gift of companion-sitting for your loved one.
  6. House maintenance is often neglected when you have a million caregiving tasks. When is the last time you raked your lawn, pulled weeds, fixed a leaky sink, or had your carpets cleaned? The offer of someone volunteering their time to provide these services or the gift of a handyman service is always appreciated.
  7. Would you like to try a yoga class, either online or at a studio? Ask for a yoga mat, yoga blocks and a yoga strap. That’s all you need to help you release stress, build up endurance, relax muscles, and reduce risk of osteoporosis. Yoga videos are sold on Gaim, and are offered on their website for $11.99 per month after doing a free 2-week trial at https://www.gaia.com/yoga?utm_source=google+paid&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=gaiam%20yoga&utm_campaign=1-USA-ENGLISH-BRAND-EXCT&utm_content=gaia&ch=br&gclid=Cj0KCQiA5dPuBRCrARIsAJL7oejWgk-kRRzIVjk_nt7xXY3-I5F_cYeHbltpDj4H7vba2QBjnQPwwiMaAqLVEALw_wcB
  8. Everyone loves a home-cooked meal. A personal chef who prepares meals in your home or theirs is an extravagant service. But put the idea out there. You never know . . . . A more affordable option is home-delivered meal kits. Home Chef, Blue Apron, and Green Chef are a few of the meal kit companies that allow you to choose meals that arrive with fresh, pre-measured and prepped ingredients, and instructions on how to create a fast meal.
  9. Massage is a wonderful way to relax and tune out the world. I highly recommend asking for a gift certificate to a spa that offers massage with hot stone and aromatherapy. You will emerge like a new person.
  10. One of the best gifts you could receive is respite care.  Do you have a relative or friend who could stay with your loved one a night or two so you can get away and totally tune out the world? If not, maybe one of they would generously provide you with a professional care service. Just imagine getting away from it all without any responsibilities for 24 or 48 hours.

You deserve gifts that will help you, the caregiver. So don’t be shy. When people ask how they might help or what you need or want, send them this list.

Have a happy, restful and peaceful Thanksgiving!


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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 Barnes & NobleBoulder Book Store, Tattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and online at Target and Walmart, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

A UTI, fall or a cold can lead to cognitive decline and even death in a person with Alzheimer’s disease

Dementia disease and a loss of brain function and memories

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month 

People with Alzheimer’s who get even a mild respiratory or gastrointestinal infection, or a bump or bruise are at risk for having a significant, permanent memory loss, according to a report that was published in the September 8, 2009 issue of the journal Neurology. These patients can have high levels of tumor necrosis factor—alpha (TNF-a)—a protein that is linked to inflammation and is associated with memory loss and cognitive decline.

In the study, which was done at the Clinical Neurosciences Research Division at the University of Southampton, United Kingdom, 222 Alzheimer’s patients were followed for six months. Of those, 110 people had an infection or injury that resulted in inflammation. These individuals had twice the memory loss during that period of time as the individuals who did not have an illness or injury. Researchers attribute the memory loss to inflammation. In patients whose TNF-a levels were high to begin with, an infection increased their memory loss to 10 times more than those who had low TNF-a levels.

Clive Holmes, PhD, lead researcher, said that this population should be vaccinated against the flu, and infections and injuries should be treated as soon as possible.

It is not uncommon for an elderly person to die from a urinary tract infection, especially someone who has dementia. Even a mild cold can develop into a serious pneumonia and lead to death in an elderly person. My husband developed a kidney stone, and died six weeks later. He progressed from a person in mid- to late-stage Alzheimer’s to someone in the final stage of Alzheimer’s, unable to walk or talk.

Tips for keeping you and your loved one healthy and safe

  • Inoculate against flu, pneumonia and shingles
  • Boost immunity with zinc, vitamin D and vitamin C
  • Prevent falls and accidents (recommended: Complete Guide to Alzheimer’s Proofing Your Home by Mark L. Warner
  • Reduce systemic inflammation with a curcumin (turmeric extract) supplement
  • Use a humidifier to moisturize nasal passages and mucous membranes to help keep them healthy
  • Engage in gentle exercise to reduce inflammation
  • Keep hydrated by drinking at least 6-8 glasses of water each day
  • Reduce risk of urinary tract infections with D-Mannose powder and cranberry extract 
  • 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
  • Eat yogurt. 70% of your immune system lies in your gut. Probiotics are live bacterial microorganisms that populate the human gastrointestinal tract. They combat the daily bombardment of toxins and pathogens (bacteria, fungus, parasites, and viruses) that enter our digestive system every day through contaminated food and other toxins. Recent studies show that the bacteria in your gut can also affect your mental health, mood and stress levels. Fermented foods such as kombucha, Greek yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, cottage cheese are probiotics. Probiotic bacteria colonize the digestive tract with good bacteria. Prebiotics are the food and nutrients that feed probiotics. Prebiotic fiber is found in fruits and vegetables such as artichokes, jicama, wild yams, onions and garlic, asparagus, beans, oats, chicory root and Jerusalem artichokes. Prebiotics support mineral absorption, vitamin utilization, and healthy blood sugar levels. Your gut needs both pro- and prebiotics in order to stay healthy and keep you healthy.
  • Drink mineral broth. It helps alkalinize 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. Use your vegetables scraps or chop 2 cups yams, 1 medium potato, 1 cup zucchini, 1 cup cabbage, 1 cup green beans, 2 cups celery, 1 cup onions. Add herbs, garlic, parsley–anything you like. Place in a large pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and cover for 3-5 hours. For more information read chapter  31 “Nutrition” in “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia” by Barbra Cohn

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How lack of sleep can lead to osteoporosis . . . and what to do about it.

Radiography

May is Osteoporosis Awareness Month, and just when we thought we didn’t need one more thing to worry about, The Endocrine Society has published a new study linking prolonged sleep disturbance with bone loss in men.

The study researchers found that healthy men had reduced levels of a marker of bone formation in their blood after just three weeks of restricted sleep and circadian disruption similar to that seen in jet lag or night shift work. A biological marker of bone resorption, or breakdown, was unchanged.

“This altered bone balance creates a potential bone loss window that could lead to osteoporosis and bone fractures,” said lead investigator Christine Swanson, M.D., an assistant professor at the University of Colorado in Aurora, Colorado.

“If chronic sleep disturbance is identified as a new risk factor for osteoporosis, it could help explain why there is no clear cause for osteoporosis in the approximately 50 percent of the estimated 54 million Americans with low bone mass or osteoporosis,” Swanson said.

Inadequate sleep is also prevalent, affecting more than 25 percent of the U.S. population occasionally and 10 percent frequently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

The 10 men in this study were part of a larger study that some of Swanson’s co-authors conducted in 2012 at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass. That study evaluated health consequences of sleep restriction combined with circadian disruption. Swanson defined circadian disruption as “a mismatch between your internal body clock and the environment caused by living on a shorter or longer day than 24 hours.”

Study subjects stayed in a lab, where for three weeks they went to sleep each day four hours later than the prior day, resulting in a 28-hour “day.” Swanson likened this change to “flying four time zones west every day for three weeks.” The men were allowed to sleep only 5.6 hours per 24-hour period, since short sleep is also common for night and shift workers. While awake, the men ate the same amounts of calories and nutrients throughout the study. Blood samples were obtained at baseline and again after the three weeks of sleep manipulation for measurement of bone biomarkers. Six of the men were ages 20 to 27, and the other four were ages 55 to 65. Limited funding prevented the examination of serum from the women in this study initially, but the group plans to investigate sex differences in the sleep-bone relationship in subsequent studies.

After three weeks, all men had significantly reduced levels of a bone formation marker called P1NP compared with baseline, the researchers reported. This decline was greater for the younger men than the older men: a 27 percent versus 18 percent decrease. She added that levels of the bone resorption marker CTX remained unchanged, an indication that old bone could break down without new bone being formed.

“These data suggest that sleep disruption may be most detrimental to bone metabolism earlier in life, when bone growth and accrual are crucial for long-term skeletal health,” she said. “Further studies are needed to confirm these findings and to explore if there are differences in women.”

What to do about it?

The first line of defense is to improve sleep hygiene. Find more ways to get a good night’s sleep in my book “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia,” (Blue River Press) available wherever books are sold.cropped-front-cover-42316.jpg

  1. Exercise early, not in the last two hours before going to bed. Regular exercise has been shown to help people fall asleep faster and benefit from deeper and more restful sleep.
  2. Alleviate the stress and fatigue of the day with safe, proven herbs such as passion flower, magnolia, and valerian, and amino acids taurine, theanine and GABA, and melatonin which have been scientifically shown to produce a gentle calming effect on the whole physiology.
  3. Get thyself outside! Researchers found that bright light in the early morning and avoidance of light in the evening promotes a healthy circadian rhythm, whereas bright light in the evening disrupts the sleep cycle. And make sure you sleep with the lights off in you room.
  4. People with stressful lives often take their stress into bed with them and are unable to turn off the mental chatter. Eat dinner earlier, and don’t watch an exciting or scary movie before bed (that goes for reading matter as well), and certainly do not smoke, or drink alcohol or caffeine in the evening.
  5. Go to bed earlier. Research shows that the hours of sleep before 2 a.m. are more rejuvenating than all the hours after.
  6. Take a warm bath with soothing lavender oil to help you unwind.
  7. Establish a regular bedtime, but don’t go to bed if you feel wide awake.
  8. Once in bed, use creative imagery and relaxation techniques to pacify your mind.
  9. Avoid staying in bed for long periods of time while awake, or going to bed because of boredom.
  10. Take your TV or computer out of your bedroom. If not, your brain becomes used to the stimulation and starts to expect it when you are there. This makes it harder for you to fall asleep.
  11. A snack before bedtime helps many people. Foods such as warm milk, turkey, tuna, nuts, banana, grapefruit, dates and figs are high in the amino acid L-tryptophan, which promotes the production of serotonin, a natural relaxant. Avoid eating heavy meals at least two hours prior to going to sleep.
  12. Sex can be a natural sleep inducer for some people.
  13. Avoid emotional upset or stressful situations prior to bedtime.
  14. Relax with an inspirational book, soft music, and a cup of herbal tea.
  15. Talk with your health care provider if you’ve tried the above and are still having difficulty falling asleep, awaken several times throughout the night, have early morning awakenings or have marked difficulty getting out to bed in the morning.
  16. Good night, sleep tight.