The best gifts for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia

Christmas gift or New Year with blue ribbon and greeting card on wood table on bokeh background. Tiny and Handmade gift box concept.Instead of worrying about what to give a friend or loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia consider this. What that person really wants more than anything is to just be with you. So here’s a list of things you can do together.

  1. People with dementia love ice cream. Share a pint of his or her favorite. Bring the toppings and arrange them on a table in little bowls—sprinkles, chocolate chips, chopped fruit, whipped cream, butterscotch or chocolate sauce, etc.
  2. Watch a comedy together. It doesn’t matter if your loved one can follow the plot or not. If you laugh, he or she will probably join in the merriment. Laughter triggers the production of endorphins; the brain chemicals that reduce the sensation of pain and make you feel good.
  3. Bring a dog to visit your loved one. If you don’t have one, borrow one. There’s nothing like a friendly pup to cheer someone up and add some excitement. Listen to music together.
  4. Put on a CD and sing together. Big Band Music is usually a hit with most 70, 80 and 90 year olds. If your loved one is younger, you can try classic rock.
  5. Get out the paint brush, paper and water colors. You don’t have to be an artist or art teacher to have fun with your loved one. Painting and drawing is a great way to share time together, and to even express feelings of frustration, irritation and fear—on paper.
  6. Dance to the music. If your loved one is still mobile help him or her get up and move. The exercise will enhance memories, even if temporarily. A short surge of condensed exercise boosts the compression of memories in both elders in good mental shape as well as those with slight cognitive impairment, according to new research by a team of scientists from UC Irvine’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory.http://www.cnlm.uci.edu/
  7. Go for a drive and get some fresh air. Just getting out of the house or memory care home does a body good.
  8. Hold hands, give a foot massage. Use aromatherapy oils (see chapter 18 “Aromatherapy” in The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia
  9. Create a book of photos that depict your loved one’s life and share memories without saying “remember when. . .”
  10. Just breathe together and be still in the silence. It’s the greatest gift of all.

Treat yourself to the perfect gift for all caregivers to help you feel healthier and happier, less stressed, sleep better, deal with feelings of guilt and grief and find inner peace. The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia

BarbraCohn__

Caring for yourself and others with good nutrition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Have you tried any of these natural ways to combat depression?

St. John's Wort capsulesOctober 11 is National Depression Screening Day. If you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed or have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning because you don’t want to face the world it’s time to evaluate your emotional health. You can take an anonymous screening online here: Select a state to find a screening.

If you are suicidal please 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.


If you have mild to moderate depression, there are a number of proven natural supplements and modalities that can help.

While I cared for my husband who had younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease, I lived behind a persona of forced cheerfulness because I didn’t want anyone to know that my private world was being deconstructed bit by bit. I went through bouts of depression and grieving periods. I took the supplement St. John’s wort, danced and meditated. I met with girlfriends and did yoga. I also used essential oils and tried to eat well. It all helped.

I gave St John’s wort to my husband, too, until he was in late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. By then he needed a pharmaceutical anti-depressant. But the St. John’s wort worked well for mild to moderate depression.

  1. Here’s what we know about St. John’s wort
  • 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

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. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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. 

Other natural ways to combat depression

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

8. Get some physical exercise every day; even just a 20 minute walk helps tremendously.

9. Use 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

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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.

10 Ways caregivers can reduce stress and feel instant relief

Spa still-life.

June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, and in celebration of the anniversary of the release of my book “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia” this month I will be posting ways that caregivers can relieve stress, feel better and more energetic, and forge a stronger connection to the person they lovingly care for.

  1. Before you get out of bed in the morning, breathe deeply and for a minute or two repeat an affirmation such as: “Today will be a good day.” “I am a loving, patient person.” “I’m feeling strong and healthy today.” “I am grateful for my family and friends.” “I am a kind, compassionate caregiver.”
  2. Eat a good breakfast. Your blood sugar is low when you awake after fasting for 6-8 hours. Support healthy blood glucose levels by eating protein, a complex carbohydrate, and colorful fruits or veggies for vitamins and antioxidants. A bowl of cereal with low or no-fat milk doesn’t cut it. As a caregiver you need the energy to get you through the morning. My favorite energy-boosting, neurotransmitter supporting breakfast is eggs (anyway you like them), sautéed kale or spinach with onions, a side of beans and melon or strawberries to finish it off. Yes, it sounds like a lot, and it is. But the portions can be small and you can use your left-over veggies from dinner the night before. Of if you want a lighter breakfast during summer, have a protein smoothie with yogurt, protein powder and fruit. Just make sure that whatever you eat includes high-quality protein.
  3. Go for a walk. If your care partner is ambulatory, take him or her with you. Research published in the March 2017 issue of “Cell Metabolism” found that a brisk walk could help slow the aging process. In “Calmer Waters,” researcher Monika Fleshner, PhD writes “Based on the research that my colleagues and I have done in the past thirteen years, we know that regular physical activity promotes stress robustness (resistance to stress) and changes the way the brain and body respond to stressors. . . If you are highly conditioned from a regular exercise routine, then you can respond better psychologically and physically.” (pg. 174, “Calmer Waters”)
  4. Sing in the shower, sing with your care partner, sing in a spiritual setting. “Music engagement can help you connect with your loved ones and care partner. Oxytocin, the chemical in our brain that is released during intimate interactions such as breastfeeding and intercourse, helps us to form trust and bonds with other humans. It is fascinating that this chemical is also emitted when people sing and make music together,” says neurologic music therapist Rebekah Stewart, MA. (pg. 224 “Calmer Waters”)
  5. Stay present. Learning how to stay present enhances how you relate to the person you are caring for, allowing you to create community with that person. The simple act of breathing with someone—of matching your breath to his or hers—enables you to create a spiritual connection with that person.
  6. Create a soothing space. Light a candle, enjoy a vase of fresh flowers, light incense, listen to uplifting music.
  7. Use aromatherapy oils to uplift the spirit and calm you down. Explore the variety of essential oils which can be used in a diffuser, spritzed on a pillow case, shirt collar or handkerchief or tissue that you can tuck in your shirt pocket.
  8. Dance as though no one is watching you. Dance alone in your living room to your favorite music, or with your care partner. It is an easy way to get the blood flowing, loosen up stiff muscles, and a fast and easy way to uplift your mood.
  9. Get a dog (if you don’t have one). “Animal Assisted Therapy is recognized by the National Institute of Mental Health as a type of psychotherapy for treating depression and other mood disorders. Spending time with an animal seems to promote a sense of emotional connectedness and well-being. Touching and playing with animals is a wonderful way for families coping with Alzheimer’s disease to experience joy, fun, and laughter,” says Diana McQuarrie, Founder and Executive Director Emeritus of Denver Pet Partners. (pg. 107 “Calmer Waters)
  10. Laugh. Charlie Chaplin once said that “A day without humor is a day wasted.” No matter how hard things seem, even if you are a caregiver to someone who has been ill for many years, try to find the humor in everyday things. My husband had Alzheimer’s disease and toward the end of his life he had trouble eating a sandwich. Once he asked, “What is this?” after I handed him a chicken salad sandwich. When I told him what it was he responded by throwing the sandwich across the table and exclaiming, “This chicken is dead!” I burst out laughing and because laughter is contagious so did he. Watch YouTube funny videos of animals, children, etc. when you’re feeling down. You will soon be laughing and the endorphins will flow and uplift your mood.

8 Ways to Train Your Brain

Intelligence of the human brain

Intelligence of the human brain

National Train Your Brain Day is observed annually on October 13. The observance was created to encourage all of us to exercise our brain and improve our cognitive skills. Doing word puzzles and number games, playing Bridge and reading are every-day activities that are good for the brain. But there are many other things you can do.

  1. Dance as though no one is watching. My book “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia” includes a 21-year-long study that was summarized in an article that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2003. The study found that when compared to 11 other activities including team sports, swimming and bicycling, dancing is the best activity for supporting cognition and staving off mental decline. In fact, the more complex the dance, the better it is for enhancing problem-solving skills and memory. You don’t have to be a great dancer. Just put on your favorite dance music and let loose in your living room. Or, find a dance partner and learn how to salsa, tango, or swing.
  2. Play an instrument. Numerous studies have indicated that listening to music and playing an instrument can reduce anxiety and depression and support cognitive functioning. Playing an instrument sharpens your concentration, boosts listening skills, and supports your time management and organizational skills. The efficacy of music therapy A Study done at the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and led by Nina Kraus, shows that musicians suffer less from aging-related memory and hearing losses than non-musicians. It is believed to be the first study to provide biological evidence that lifelong musical experience has a good impact on the aging process. Kraus says the research shows that playing an instrument helps hearing and memory, which is among the most common complaints from normal aging.
  3. Exercise! Dr. Monika Fleshner, researcher/professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and contributor to “Calmer Waters,” has spent her career showing that exercise is vital to reducing stress and supporting healthy mental function. “Physically active individuals are stress robust,” says Fleshner. “They demonstrate both stress resistance and stress resilience.” Exercise seems to buffer many of the deleterious consequences of stress, including poor memory. Scientists have also found that exercise encourages the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus, the area that is crucial to memory and learning.
  4. Say it out loud. When I meet someone for the first time, I inevitably look in the person’s eyes and don’t even listen to their spoken name. As a result, I rarely remember the person’s name. Next time, I will heed the expert advice of repeating the person’s name. This is considered the easiest way to remember everything from where you put your keys to your grocery list. Say it out loud to yourself, or mouth the words, in order to remember quickly.
  5. Get a good night’s sleep. According to a study published in the journal Neuroscience (June 30, 2005) sound sleep triggers changes in the brain that help to improve memory. New memories are formed within the brain when a person engages with information to be learned (for example, memorizing a list of words or mastering a piano concerto). However, these memories are initially fragile. In order to “stick” they must be solidified and improved. This process of “memory consolidation” occurs when connections between brain cells as well as between different brain regions are strengthened, and for many years was believed to develop merely as a passage of time. More recently, however, it has been demonstrated that time spent asleep also plays a key role in preserving memory. So, do your best to work on sleep hygiene. Unplug at least an hour before bed, soak in tub filled with Epsom salts, play soothing music, make sure the room is not too warm, etc. And, never go to bed mad.
  6. Doodle. In memory tests, doodlers performed 29% better than non-doodlers when asked to recall names and places, Experts say doodling doesn’t tax the mind and allows us to concentrate on the task at hand. It stops us daydreaming, too, which is distracting. The same theory holds for coloring in the beautiful new adult coloring books that have become popular the past several years.
  7. Learn something before bed. If you want to consolidate a memory go through the information right before you fall asleep. You’ll have few, if any, interfering memories so you’ll remember it the next day.
  8. Feed your neurotransmitters. These are the chemicals that allow your neurons to talk to one another. They are vital to memory, focus, learning, energy and happiness. Acetylcholine is the primary carrier of thought and memory, and if you don’t have enough of this important neurotransmitter, you will probably have memory and cognitive problems. For healthy acetylcholine production, make sure you’re getting the nutrients that it is made from. Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa, author of Brain Longevity (Warner Books, Inc. 1997) and the president and medical director of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation in Tucson, Arizona, suggests supplementing with choline, which is present in high amounts in lecithin. Lecithin is available in capsule, granule, liquid, tablet and powder form. The recommended therapeutic dose is 2500 to 3000 mg. four times a day, for a total daily dose of 10,000 to 12,000 mg. In addition, it’s important to take 1000 mg. vitamin C, three times a day, along with 100 mg. of B5, which are needed to transform lecithin into acetylcholine. It’s also advisable to take B6 and zinc, which help in the synthesis of acetylcholine. The nutrient DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol) helps build acetylcholine levels. It is present in your brain in small quantities, and is also found in seafoods, including sardines. Since it is stimulating to the central nervous system, Dr. Khalsa suggests starting out with a low dose of about 40 mg. twice a day, and building up to 200 mg. daily, if you don’t feel overstimulated.