Can depression be a sign of dementia?

Depressed Senior Woman Sitting OutsideDepression can affect our memory, and it can result from not being able to do the things that were once easy for us, as in the case of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Depression can result from a number of factors and it often appears differently in different people

Some people are able to hide the fact that they are terribly depressed. I did. I tried to put on a happy face during my husband’s illness, but inside I often felt as though I was dying. Following the recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, we have to remind ourselves that we usually don’t know what is happening inside someone else’s head.

Before my husband was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease he was withdrawn and depressed. I didn’t know what exactly what was going on, and he was unable to articulate how he felt. I eventually realized that he was depressed because the things that were once effortless for him to do, such as driving around town or figuring out how much tip to leave in a restaurant, had become difficult.

Alzheimer’s and depression often occur simultaneously, which often makes it difficult for physicians to make a diagnosis without further testing. According to James M. Ellison, MD of the Swank Memory Care Center, Christiana Care Health System, approximately half of individuals affected by Alzheimer’s disease will experience clinically significant depressive symptoms at some point.  Depression can occur during any phase of the illness.

Symptoms common to Alzheimer’s and depression

  • Loss of interest in things that were once enjoyable
  • Memory issues
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Impaired concentration
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Crying, feelings of hopelessness, despair
  • Unmotivated
  • Lack of energy, lethargy, apathy
  • Irritability
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

A case of the chicken or the egg: which came first, Alzheimer’s or depression?

Some health professionals think that depression can put one at greater risk for Alzheimer’s. There is also a belief that depression is a symptom of Alzheimer’s. In any case, physicians feel that a person with dementia who is depressed can experience a quicker cognitive decline and need to rely more on caregivers.

What to do?

8 natural ways to combat depression.

Antidepressants may not work as well with people who have Alzheimer’s and are depressed. Before resorting to antidepressants and other drugs,  try these options:

  1. Provide a safe and calm environment. Light candles at dinner, play classical music, have a vase of fresh flowers on the table.
  2. Get some physical exercise every day; even just a 20 minute walk helps tremendously.
  3. 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
  4.  I gave my husband Ginkgo biloba for depression (and also took it myself). It helped right up until he was in late stage Alzheimer’s. One word of advice, not all brands are efficacious, so pick one carefully. Also note that it takes about 6 weeks to notice an effect. This is a typical difference of taking a pharmaceutical versus a natural remedy.
  5. 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.
  6. Omega-3 fatty acids are rich in DHA, the major unsaturated fat in the brain. This long-chain fatty acid provides the necessary fluid quality to the membranes of the nerve cells so that electrical nerve impulses can flow easily along the circuits of the brain. One study found that Alzheimer’s patients given an omega-3-rich supplement experienced a significant improvement in their quality of life.
  7. 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.
  8. 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. Studies have indicated that sleep deprivation can increase risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. 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.

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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” 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.

Love doesn’t conquer all: caregiver resentment and frustration

Senior Couple QuarrellingI recently participated in a caregiver symposium. I spoke to dozens of caregivers who expressed fatigue, frustration, and exasperation. Everyone was stressed and stretched to the limit. I detected little joy. Instead, people appeared resentful. “I didn’t sign up for this,” one man said. Another confided, “I read your book and am taking your advice. I will not let my wife’s illness ruin my life.”

Caregiving only goes one way: it gets harder. And when we don’t really like the person we are caring for or if we feel trapped, it is even more challenging. I was only 48 years old when my beloved husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I knew our lives would never be the same again. . . and they weren’t.

Yes, we had joy. Our young adult children graduated from college and got married. We went on a few trips. We had some funny moments that elicited belly laughs. But the emotions I remember most are the heaviness of grief, despair, depression, guilt, and fear. I didn’t feel resentment, I think, because I have a philosophical outlook that we reap what we sow (as in the law of karma), and that somewhere, somehow in a past life beyond the ethers I had signed up for my caregiving duty. I tried to put on a happy face. But I told my closest friends that I was exhausted and stressed.

I felt shame that after decades of practicing Transcendental Meditation and following a healthy vegetarian lifestyle our lives had come to this. Wasn’t life supposed to be blissful and free of stress? I soon realized that no one gets out of here without going through at least one huge, transformative challenge. Mine was caregiving for my life partner, who was unable to hep me make the big decisions such as finding a smaller house because ours had become unmanageable, or finding a memory care home for him when I wasn’t able to continue physically caring for him.

Guilt? Yes, I still feel guilt even though my therapist often said to me “If a friend told you what you just told me, what would you say to her?”

“I would tell her ‘you are doing the best that you can.'” And I did do the best I could for my husband. I took him to healers and doctors and gave him nutritional supplements that been shown to help support cognition and memory.

But I still feel guilt about running away every chance I got to dance or have lunch with a friend, even though I know I needed the relief time in order to stay healthy and strong so I could carry out my caregiving duties.

When all is said and done, if you are not exactly thrilled about giving countless hours to someone you love or to someone you are obligated to care for because there is no one else, you might as well learn how to be the best caregiver possible. Because when your caregiving is over, you will have another chance to live the life you chose for yourself. So give it your best shot. Here are some ways to ease the burden and to help you feel good about yourself and the person you are caring for.

Lighten the load of caregiving

  • Take care of yourself first. Carve out time every day to go for a walk, do yoga, dance, sing, whatever it takes to help you feel better.
  • Join a support group. I don’t know how I would have maintained my sanity if I hadn’t joined the younger-onset Alzheimer’s support group offered by the Alzheimer’s Association.
  • See a therapist. Mine was a god-send who listened with compassion and gave excellent advice.
  • Sign up for community services such as day programs, senior centers, Meals on Wheels, hotlines, etc.
  • Hire someone to take your “care partner” (the person you care for) out for lunch, to the movies, for a visit to a museum, etc.
  • Ask your friends and neighbors for help mowing the lawn, retrieving the mail, sitting with your “care partner “so you can do errands, etc.
  • Talk to family members and make a plan to share the responsibilities. (more on this in another blog post)
  • Make an appointment with an elder attorney to draw up a contract for you to receive wages, find out how to get social security withheld, etc.
  • Breathe! After I buried my husband I realized that I hadn’t fully breathed in years. I was tight, my lungs were tight and I was holding my breath waiting for the next next emergency to occur.

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Here’s an excerpt from my book  Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia about breath work, including a simple exercise. Follow the directions for breathing in order to release stress and feel more energized.

by Reverend Shanthi Behl (excerpted from Calmer Waters)

Breath work is the first and easiest to start with. We can deliberately extend, shorten, retain, and otherwise direct the air we breathe in a variety of ways in order to guide the prana. Second, is the mechanism of directed attention, also known as our intention. Where our thoughts go, our prana goes. An integrated pranayama practice utilizes both the breath and our focused attention.

When we say we are tired and have no energy, what we are really saying is that our energy is blocked. We need to breathe to live, and how we breathe can profoundly affect our degree of physical well-being; it can regulate our emotions, and it can deplete, sustain, or increase our experience of aliveness. Prana is constantly fluctuating and moving throughout the universe. According to yoga philosophy, it flows throughout the living body in exquisitely determined whirlpools and currents. The wonderment of the yogic system is asana and pranayama practice which allows our innate energy currents to flow as nature intended.

The following instructions are for sitting, but you can practice this exercise while standing in mountain pose.

• Sit up tall, lengthen the spine, and place the feet flat on the floor. Press the feet into the ground, even as you press the top of the head toward the ceiling.

Relax the hands lightly on the lap and release the shoulders down away from the ears.

• Soften the belly muscles. As you breathe in through the nose, lengthen through the crown of the head.

• As you breathe out through the nose, release the shoulders and press your feet into the floor.

• Continue this practice and turn your awareness to sensations along the spinal column. Feel the upward flow as you breathe in and the downward flow as you breathe out. It is perfectly fine if you feel the opposite movement. The important aspect is to tune into a sense of any movement along the spine. You may not initially feel the movement of your energy. However, by first imagining it, you will later actually feel the upward and downward flows of energy along sushumna, the central core of energy.

 

The Truth about Caregiver Guilt

Concept of accusation guilty unhappy businesswoman personCaregivers can often feel guilty when taking care of a terminally ill family member. Am I doing enough? Did I make the right decision? What if… what if…? Here are ways to recognize your feelings, tips for accepting them, and ways to forgive yourself.


For dozens of tools and techniques to help caregivers feel happier, healthier, more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and find inner peace read “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia”

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Some philosophers and psychologists believe guilt is mental and emotional anguish that is culturally imposed on us. Tibetans and Native Americans don’t even have a word for guilt, which might mean that it isn’t a basic human emotion. Yet, Jews and Christians are very adept at feeling guilty over trivial mistakes, as well as serious blunders.

The first time I felt guilt was when my brother was born. I’m two years older than he, and in 1954 the hospital rules didn’t allow siblings to visit newborns. My Uncle Irv placed me on his shoulders so I could see my mother, who waved to me from the window of her hospital room. I was angry with her for leaving me and I refused to look at her. She waved like the beautiful lady in the fancy red car that passed me by in the Memorial Day parade. But I wouldn’t look at her. The memory is a black and white movie that has replayed itself throughout my life, with the film always breaking at the point when I sullenly turn my head away.

For years afterwards, I would awaken in the night feeling guilty that I didn’t look at her. When I was four years old, I fell out of bed onto the wooden floor of the bedroom I shared with my brother because I was having a bad dream. I don’t recall the dream, but I  remember the ache inside my chest that has always been associated with not doing what my mother wanted me, or expected me, to do.

Over the years, up until my early fifties, I’d have a physical sensation that felt like sand paper or grains of sand inside the skin of my hands that would migrate to the skin and muscles of my arms and torso. Sometimes it felt like my arms and hands were paralyzed or had grown in size. It was hard to move, and the uneasiness of guilt was always associated with the sensation. I recently realized that I haven’t felt those sensations in a very long time.

Maybe I lost those sensations because the guilt of my childhood was replaced by the guilt I felt over placing my husband in a memory care home. I could have taken care of him until the end of his life, but I was drowning in misery and I promised myself I wouldn’t sacrifice everything for this illness. I prayed for his release and my relief, and knew that if I had taken care of him until the end, my own health would have suffered.

I tried to help my husband fight Alzheimer’s by bringing him to healers, holy people, and complementary medicine practitioners. I fed him an organic, whole-foods diet and gave him nutritional supplements, in addition to the prescribed pharmaceutical drugs. I ordered Memantine from Europe before it was FDA approved and prescribed as part of the Alzheimer’s drug protocol by U.S. physicians.

I did all this until I finally realized that my husband needed to take the solitary journey of being a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. Some call it fate and others call it karma. Whatever we name it, no matter how much we are loved and in close communion with family and friends, we have to travel the delicate path of life on our own. When we succumb to illness and disease, it becomes especially painful for others to helplessly stand by and watch, after doing everything humanly possible to assist.

There was always one more “magic bullet” for my husband Morris to try, and yet when I felt the possibility of divine intervention weaken, I began to give up hope and let destiny take its course. The first couple of years after Morris’s passing, the guilt—and grief—would unexpectedly grab me, wrapping its tentacles around my chest. It would twist the insides of my stomach, making it impossible to eat. It would swell into a lump in my throat or tighten a band  around my head, destroying my serenity for an hour or two —or an entire day.

Guilt came in layers, piled up like the blankets I tossed from my bed one by one during a cold winter’s night. The blankets came off as my temperature rose and drops of sweat pooled between my breasts. I shook off the feelings of guilt in a similar way when I heard my therapist’s words in the back of my mind reminding me that I did more than I could do; when I remembered that I’m a mere mortal who breaks and cries when I can’t move one more inch beyond the confines of this physical body; when my heart had expanded to the point where it can’t expand anymore, so it has to contract in order to plow through the walls of pain and deal with the guilt.

Why do I still feel guilt? I feel guilt about not being the perfect wife before Morris got sick. This man adored me and I didn’t reciprocate with a passion that matched his. I feel guilt because I’m alive and he’s not. (Survivor’s guilt is commonly felt by those who share in a tragic event in which the cherished partner dies, leaving the other one to live and put back the pieces of the life they once shared.) I feel guilt about the times I could have spent with Morris watching television or taking a walk instead of running out to be with friends or to dance. Feeling guilt for doing anything to get away from his asking me the same question over and over again, or so I wouldn’t have to watch the man who once stood tall and proud, stoop and stumble like a man way beyond his years.

I hear the therapist’s voice in my head asking, “What would you say to someone who just told you all this?” I’d say, “But you did the absolute best that you could do.” And then I feel better. It’s okay. I’m okay. I really did the best I knew how, and Morris lived longer than his prognosis because of it.

Now, almost eight years after his passing, the guilt appears much less frequently. It hovers momentarily like a hummingbird poking its beak into honeysuckle and hollyhock. The guilt is diluted and flavorless like cream that’s been frozen without added fruit or chocolate chips. It’s a color without pigment, a touch without pressure, a sound without notes. The guilt I feel now is background noise; not noticed until I turn off the other sounds in my world or mindlessly drive my car on a dark, damp day, which is unusual in sunny Colorado. The guilt now appears in various shades of dirty white and brown. It doesn’t reach inside my heart with its claw like it used to. The battle is over, and almost, but not quite, won.

Why do you feel guilty?

  • Do you feel that you aren’t doing enough for your care recipient? Make a list of everything you do for the person you care for. Preparing a meal, shopping for groceries, driving to appointments, making a bed, doing laundry, making a phone call, sitting next to the person, even just giving a hug: the list adds up! You are doing a lot more than you think you are!
  • Are you guilty about your negative feelings? Resentment, anger, grief are all normal. They are just feelings and they aren’t wrong. Feelings are complicated and you are entitled to them. You probably love the person you are caring for but the time you spend is precious and you might rather be outside gardening or hiking or traveling.
  • Do you feel badly about taking time for yourself? Don’t! If you don’t stay well, including eating and sleeping well, there’s a good chance you will get sick. And that is not going to help anyone! Please take some time for yourself. If you are a full-time caregiver, at least take a 15 minute walk every day. Get some respite care. Your local  county social services department can most likely provide you with some options for help.
  • Are you feeling inadequate at a caregiver? The Alzheimer’s Association offers free classes on caregiving. “The Savvy Caregiver” is an excellent five-session class for family caregivers. It helps caregivers better understand the changes their loved ones are experience, and how to best provide individualized care for their loved ones throughout the progression of Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Tips for easing guilt

  • Ask yourself what is bothering you. Talk with a close friend who will not judge you, or with a professional therapist, clergy person, spiritual teacher, or intuitive guide. Talk about your guilt until you feel your body release the tension that is stored in your muscles and cells.
  • Remember that you are human and not perfect. No one expects you to perform with absolute clarity and grace all the time.
  • You cannot control everything all the time. You are doing the best that you can with the information, strength, and inner resources that you have.
  • Have an “empty chair” dialogue by speaking out loud and pretending that your care partner is in the chair next to you. Express your feelings openly and wholeheartedly. Ask for forgiveness if you feel that you wronged your loved one in any way.
  • Write down your thoughts and feelings. Journaling is a wonderful, inexpensive way to release your concerns and worries on paper. It’s available when your therapist and best friend are not, and you can do it anywhere at your leisure.
  • Strong feelings of guilt, remorse, and grief will diminish over time.  If they continue to haunt you, seek professional help.

 

10 signs you need help with stress

Businessman sinking in heap of documentsStress is a part of life, and it can be a motivator or it can be a deadly menace. If you are stressed about an exam or need to be at church on time to get married, it can be a good thing. But if you’re a caregiver and have been stressed for years, it can be terrible for your health.

First described by Walter Cannon in the 1920s, the fight-or-flight response, also called the acute stress response, kicks in when we are presented with danger or an emergency. Our brains react quickly to keep us safe by preparing the body for action. Hunters who were responsible for killing game to provide food for their tribe and the animals being hunted experienced the fight-or-flight response on a regular basis. Today, because of the stressful world we live in, the fight-or- flight response is more commonly triggered by psychological threats than physical ones, such as an argument with a spouse, demanding bosses, out-of-control drivers, road rage, etc.

In the physiological response to stress, pupils dilate to sharpen vision, and heart rate and blood pressure increase to accelerate the delivery of oxygen to fuel muscles and critical organs. Blood flow is diverted from non-critical areas, such as the gastrointestinal tract, to the critical areas, such as the heart, skeletal muscles, and liver.

The liver releases glucose and fatty acids into the bloodstream. Glucose is for immediate energy; fat is needed when the fight-or-flight response lasts longer than expected. Bronchial tubes dilate to maximize the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

When the body is in a constant state of “emergency alert” due to chronic stress such as caregiving, the adrenal glands—the small walnut shaped glands that sit on top of your kidneys—get “stuck” in the on position. When this happens, the whole system goes into chronic fight-or-flight. Glucose that is dumped into your blood stream goes unused, so your body has to produce an enormous amount of insulin to handle it. Eventually, this can result in hypoglycemia or diabetes. Fat that is dumped into your blood also goes unused, so it clogs your arteries, leading to cardiovascular disease. If you drink three or more cups of coffee every day, the stress hormone cortisol becomes elevated, which can set you up for countless health problems, including poor quality of sleep, impaired immunity, and age-related deterioration.

The key is to be alert to stress triggers, recognize that you are stressed, and discover ways that help keep you on an even keel.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, it’s time for you to take charge of your stress before you succumb to a serious illness or disease.

  1. Fatigue and sluggishness
  2. Difficulty falling asleep and or staying asleep
  3. Chronic colds or other health issues
  4. Depression
  5. Suicidal thoughts
  6. Dependence on drugs, both recreational and pharmaceutical
  7. Too much alcohol and/or tobacco consumption
  8. Irritability, anger and/or anxiety
  9. Weight control issues including abdominal fat or weight loss
  10. Heart palpitations
  11. High blood pressure
  12. Mental fog or forgetfulness
  13. Headaches or back pain
  14. Jaw and/or tooth pain could indicate that you are clenching your jaw at night
  15. Unexplained hair loss
  16. Stomach pain or chronic diarrhea
  17. Twitching in a facial muscle
  18. Holding your breath, or taking sudden deep breaths because you have forgotten to breathe
  19. Painful adrenal band across the kidney region
  20. Skin irritations

If you want to learn more about stress and how you can prevent it, deal with it and conquer it, read 12 quick energy and stress fixes to use throughout the holiday season. . . and all year long.

For a resource guide containing 20 modalities for feeling less stressed, happier and healthier read: Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia.   Available on Amazon and at all bookstores that sell quality books.

BarbraCohn__

 

7 “mistakes” you’re making as a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s and what to do about it.

Helping hands, care for the elderly concept

If you’re like most caregivers you are tired, stressed, and some days just can’t wait to crawl into bed. Are you taking care of yourself? Are you getting enough rest? Do you have the support you need? Are you listening carefully to the person you lovingly care for? Here’s a quick check-list for assessing how well you are caring for yourself and your loved one.

  1. Are you eating a poor breakfast or skipping breakfast? It is so important to begin the day with a nourishing meal. This is true for everyone, but especially important for caregivers. It’s recommended that we eat within one hour after waking to stabilize our blood sugar—which has dropped during sleep—so that your mood stays even and you can perform at your best.  If not, you’ll be more apt to reach for a bagel or doughnut or another cup of coffee. After loading up on carbs and empty calories, it’s typical to feel hungry again within a couple of hours. And every time our blood sugar crashes, it’s a signal to the body to store calories. The same goes for a hungry body. If you don’t eat breakfast, your blood sugar will be low, and this too is a signal to the body to store calories, which adds fat around your middle. And, of course, the same applies to the person you care for.

Breakfasts of Champions

Instead of eating a bowl of corn flakes with a banana and low-fat milk, have a 2-egg omelet, slice of whole grain toast, a cup of fresh fruit and a cup of steamed greens such as kale. Then notice the difference in how you feel. You’ll have more stamina, less anxiety and depression, and will able to get through the whole day more easily.

Other ideas

  • Whole-grain mini-quiche with 1/2 cup berries
  • Oatmeal with prunes or raisins, walnuts or almonds, and cinnamon, whole milk
  • Multigrain hot cereal, Greek yoghurt and fresh fruit, almonds
  • Eggs with beans, salsa, and a side of greens
  • Bagel with hummus, tomato and goat cheese
  • Smoothie with greens, fruit, protein and flax

2. Do you say “Remember when . . . .or, I told you already . . .”

People with dementia typically do not remember what they said a few minutes ago. If your loved one repeats the same question over and over again, try not to get annoyed. Instead of reminding the person that they forgot what you told them a second ago rephrase it, breaking it down into a simple sentence . . . or completely change the subject.

If you reminisce about something instead of saying, “Remember when we were kids and we’d ride around the neighborhood on our bikes, etc.” tell the story: “You had a red bike and I had a blue bike and we loved to ride through the woods on the bike path, etc.”

If he or she asks about a spouse or parent who has passed away, change the subject to something like this: “Mom and Dad met in New York City at a dance, etc.” If the person keeps asking when he or she can go “home” ask the person to tell you about “home.” You might have to distract your loved one by taking a walk, listening to music, looking at pictures in a book or magazine. Saying “You are already home,” probably will not work.

3. Unusual irritability or anger can be the sign of a UTI or other physical ailment that requires attention. Acting out or acting differently than what is the person’s usual behavior can be a cry for help, especially if the person is non-verbal. Make an appointment to see a doctor to rule out anything suspicious.

4. How well are you sleeping? There are plenty of studies linking poor sleep to a host of physical and psychological ailments: poor immunity, elevated levels of cortisol and insulin, weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even Alzheimer’s disease. And irritability, foggy thinking and anxiety, depression and low energy can directly impact your ability to care for another person, do household chores and get in the way of your interpersonal relationships. Good sleep hygiene is the first step to improving your sleep. Click here to read a list of things to try when you are stressed, your mind is on overload, or when you’ve just had too much stimulation and can’t fall asleep or stay asleep.

5. Are you and/or your loved one lonely? Caregiving can isolate us from our friends and family.  You may feel that your social network has disappeared or that your friends have “jumped ship.” This may also be true for the person you care for. Set up times for family and friends to visit or take your loved one on an outing. And don’t be afraid to ask your own friends for support. Find respite care and set up a lunch date with a friend. It’s vital to have social interaction for your mental, physical and emotional health.

6. Is there adequate lighting in the home where your loved one lives? People with dementia can become fearful because they don’t see things spatially the same way we do. Their sense of space is distorted and their vision gets skewed, not because there is something physically wrong with their eyes. But rather, the brain interprets what the eyes see, and when the brain doesn’t work right our perception gets distorted. Two things you can do to help are to put extra lights in dark areas of the living quarters and remove throw rugs in order to reduce falls.

7. Are you and your loved adequately hydrated? Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water each day to keep your body hydrated and to flush out toxins. The brain is 70% water when fully hydrated. When it is dehydrated, neurotransmission—which is heavily dependent on water—is impaired, resulting in poor memory, concentration and impaired abstract thinking. The same goes for your loved one. Memory is much improved when the brain is hydrated. Seniors often lose the signal that they are thirsty and dehydration can be a serious problem for the frail and elderly. If your loved one lives in a memory care home or nursing home, make sure water is provided throughout the day–not just that it is available but that it is offered.


Caregiving is probably the hardest thing you will ever do. You are doing the best that you can, but please remember to take care of yourself.

For more information on how you can reduce stress and boost your happiness and health, read Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

 

12 quick energy and stress fixes to use throughout the holiday season . . . and all year long

Young ambitious executive enjoying his business success as he stThe holidays are stressful for everyone, but especially for caregivers. Here’s a list of some of my favorite stress relievers and energy boosters.

  1. Breathe! When we are stressed, we tend to hold our breath. Take a 5-minute break and sit down in a comfortable chair. Close your eyes and take a deep breath, in and out. Then focus on your breath and watch how your mind quiets down and your muscles relax. Then remember to breathe throughout the day. Whenever you feel yourself getting anxious or tight, take a deep breath and let it go.
  2. Drink water. We’ve heard it a million times but it’s always good to be reminded. Forget about sodas and limit the wine and alcohol. Staying hydrated, especially at this time of year, is vital to supporting the immune system and reducing inflammation. It’s also important to support healthy cognitive function and memory.
  3. Eat walnuts. A daily dose of about 9 whole walnuts or 1 Tbs. walnut oil helps your blood pressure from spiking during stress. Walnuts contain L-arginine, an amino acid that helps relax blood vessels, which in turn helps reduce hypertension.
  4. Drink green tea. L-Theanine is the main chemical constituent in green tea. It is an ideal nutritional aid for stress because it produces alpha-wave activity that leads to deep relaxation and mental alertness. This is especially important because in order to mitigate stressful situations, it’s important to remain calm and alert. Theanine also stimulates the release of the neurotransmitters GABA, serotonin and dopamine, which help us feel happy, motivated and calm. Green tea extract is available as a nutritional supplement, which might be easier and quicker to take, and it’ll save you a lot of trips to the bathroom.
  5. While we’re on the topic of “green,” be sure to eat green leafy vegetables for vitamin B and magnesium, both of which help your body cope with stress.
  6. Two handfuls of cashews (make that a small handful, please; one ounce of cashews contains 157 calories.) provide the equivalent mood-boosting effect as a therapeutic dose of Prozac because they are one of the highest natural sources of tryptophan, the precursor for serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter.
  7. Did someone mention dark chocolate? It reduces cortisol, the stress hormone that causes anxiety symptoms. Just a couple of pieces should do the trick.
  8. Walk around the block. Just getting out into fresh air will instantly relieve stress, and moving your body gets your blood pumping and will clear your mind.
  9. Light candles and play relaxing music while you eat. It will change the mood instantly.
  10. Aromatherapy is a miracle cure for stress and anxiety. Use a wall plug-in to diffuse the aroma of lavender oil to uplift mood, or place a few drops on a handkerchief and tuck it into a shirt pocket or on a pillow. Other oils to try: vetiver, frankincense, myrrh, orange, lemon, bergamot, and grapefruit.
  11. Music is the universal language, and it is also the universal stress reliever. Whether it’s jazz, classical, or hard rock that makes you feel better, by all means, play it loud, play it soft, dance to it, drive to it, go to sleep to it. It will definitely help.
  12. Getting the proper rest is vital to staying healthy and reducing stress. Prepare yourself for a deep night’s sleep by unplugging from electronics at least an hour before bed, taking an Epsom salt bath (put several drops of lavender oil in the water for added relaxation), and making sure the room temperature isn’t too warm.  Good night, sleep tight!

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

For dozens more tools and techniques for reducing stress, uplifting mood, supporting your immune system, and finding ways to connect on a spiritual and emotional level with the person you care for, read Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

BarbraCohn__

The 10 best ways to observe National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

Ribbons of awarenessIt’s November, which means it’s time to enjoy your Thanksgiving with family and friends.

  1. It’s also time to do your brain a favor and take advantage of the free cognitive exam as part of Medicare’s Yearly Wellness Exam. Despite clear signs that their memory and thinking abilities have gone downhill, researchers have found that more than half of seniors with these symptoms haven’t seen a doctor about them. University of Michigan researchers and their colleagues say their findings suggest that as many as 1.8 million Americans over the age of 70 with dementia are not evaluated for cognitive symptoms by a medical provider, which in some patients can lead to a failure to uncover modifiable causes of thinking or memory impairment.

The study, published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, documents a clear lack of clinical testing for seniors with signs of cognitive problems.“Early evaluation and identification of people with dementia may help them receive care earlier,” says study author Vikas Kotagal, M.D., M.S., who sees patients at the University of Michigan Health System and is an assistant professor in the U-M Medical School’s Department of Neurology. “It can help families make plans for care, help with day-to-day tasks including observed medication administration, and watch for future problems that can occur. In some instances, these interventions could substantially improve the person’s quality of life.”

For instance, knowing that a stroke or vascular issues in the brain caused dementia means patients can work to control risk factors like blood pressure that might otherwise cause it to keep worsening. If your physician suspects Alzheimer’s disease, there are drugs that can help delay the onset of full-blown dementia, and the possibility of placement in a memory care facility, which can help offset the catastrophic cost of the disease.

If you’ve had Part B for longer than 12 months, you can get the free Medicare Annual Wellness Exam to develop or update a personalized plan to prevent disease and disability based on your current health and risk factors. The exam includes:
• A review of your medical and family history
• Developing or updating a list of current providers and prescriptions
• Height, weight, blood pressure, and other routine measurements
• Detection of any cognitive impairment
• Personalized health advice
• A list of risk factors and treatment options for you
• A screening schedule (like a checklist) for appropriate preventive services. Get details about coverage for screenings, shots, and other preventive services.
This visit is covered once every 12 months (11 full months must have passed since the last visit).

2. Combat stress by playing relaxing music, dancing, using an aromatherapy diffuser, taking an Epsom salt bath, turning off electronics at least an hour before bed, etc. Health professionals agree that stress can lead to chronic illness. And in the case of caregiving, it can actually take years off your life.

3. Become a savvy caregiver. The Alzheimer’s Association has chapters throughout the U.S. and offer free classes ranging from how to make financial plans to learning about the latest research in dementia care. Check out their Education and Resource Center.

4. Maintain healthy weight. Women with a thick waistline are at increased risk for dementia. As if you don’t have enough to worry about. A 32-year-long study by Swedish researchers, which was recently published in the scientific journal Neurology, found that women who gain weight around their middle and live to at least 70 years old are at twice the risk for developing dementia.

Medical research has already established a link between fat around your middle and a higher risk of dying prematurely from heart attack or stroke. But this new research provides even more incentive for reducing calories obtained from refined carbohydrates such as breads, pastries, cookies, candy, ice cream and pasta.

The research included almost 1,500 women between the ages of 38 and 60 and was started at the end of the 1960s. Thirty-two years later a follow-up found that 161 women with the average age of 75, had developed dementia. This study shows that women who had a pear-shape figure, broader around the waist than hips, had more than twice the risk of developing dementia when they got old.

What is Metabolic Syndrome?

Also called Syndrome X, it’s caused by a diet filled with refined carbohydrates. The cycle goes like this: you eat a bagel with some orange juice and coffee for breakfast. Have an apple mid-morning. A salad with a piece of French bread for lunch. A handful of M & Ms mid-afternoon, pasta and salad for dinner, and some popcorn later while you’re watching TV. Doesn’t sound too terrible. But the thing is, these foods are mostly simple carbohydrates, which means your digestive system converts them into glucose, which causes your blood sugar to rise quickly. Your pancreas responds by pumping out insulin to convert the glucose into quick energy.

The problem is, the more carbohydrates you eat, the more your body pumps out insulin to deal with all the extra blood sugar. Eventually your body becomes overwhelmed by the amount of insulin and sluggish in response to it. Before you know it, you’ve developed insulin resistance, meaning your cells have lost their sensitivity to the hormone and require even more of it to maintain normal glucose levels. When blood sugar and insulin levels go up, Metabolic Syndrome (Syndrome X) and weight gain result.

What can you do about it?

If you tend to grow love handles around your middle, do something now to protect your heart and brain.

  • Limit the amount of carbohydrates you eat
  • Include a high-quality protein with every meal, such as salmon or chicken
  • Exercise regularly
  • Add whole foods to your diet instead of highly processed foods, including brown rice, quinoa, and whole oats, 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables, cottage cheese, eggs
  • Take nutritional supplements proven to support healthy glucose levels: Bitter melon Momordica charantia), cinnamon, green tea extract, Salacia reticulata, Banaba leaf, chromium

5. Get regular dental check-ups. It’s hard to determine which comes first, Alzheimer’s disease or inflamed gums, but they seem to go hand in hand. A recent study done at the College of Dentistry, NYU, New York, NY proposes that chronic periodontitis might contribute to the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease

And in the famous Nun Study, one of the first documented studies of Alzheimer’s in a specific population, the researchers found that the participants with the fewest teeth had a higher incidence of dementia. In fact, the researchers concluded that having very few teeth -one to nine-might be a predictor of dementia late in life

How to prevent gum disease

Frequent dental visits may become necessary to ensure a thorough cleaning of the teeth, roots and gums.

Supplementation with vitamin C is important in order to try to maintain healthy gum tissue.

Lycopene may be effective in treating and preventing gingivitis. Lycopene is the carotenoid which makes tomatoes red. It is a popular supplement for supporting prostate and cardiovascular health, and helps prevent macular degeneration and other types of cancer. A recent study compared just taking lycopene as a supplement to a combination treatment of taking lycopene and root scaling and planing in patients with gingivitis. The groups that were treated demonstrated significant reductions in gingivitis, but the group that received both lycopene and prophylaxis showed a statistically significant reduction in symptoms.The results presented in this study suggest that lycopene shows great promise as a treatment for gingivitis.

Gingivitis vs. Periodontitis

Gingivitis (gum inflammation) usually precedes periodontitis (gum disease). The gums can become swollen and red, and they may bleed while brushing your teeth. Although the gums may be irritated, the teeth are still firmly planted in their sockets, and at this stage, no bone or other tissue damage has occurred.

When gingivitis is left untreated, it can advance to periodontitis, which is an infection caused by bacteria under the gum tissue. The gums can pull away from the tooth, bone can be lost, and the teeth may loosen or even fall out.

Warning signs of periodontal disease

  • Bad breath or bad taste that won’t go away
  • Red or swollen gums
  • Tender or bleeding gums
  • Painful chewing
  • Loose teeth
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Gums that have pulled away from your teeth
  • Any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • Any change in the fit of partial dentures

6. Buy a new pair of walking shoes and a comfortable workout outfit. You deserve it! You also owe it to yourself to move your body. For years, health professionals have been preaching about the importance of exercise to cardiovascular and overall health. “Whatever is good for the heart is good for the brain.” The latest study of older adults at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease is the first evidence that physical activity may protect against cognitive decline and the onset of dementia symptoms in people who carry the genetic marker for Alzheimer’s.

The hippocampus, the brain region responsible for memory and spatial orientation, normally loses some volume as we age. But overtime, people with an increased genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease experience greater atrophy in that area of the brain, which means they experience greater memory loss and cognitive dysfunction.

The good news is that Dr. J. Carson Smith, a kinesiology researcher in the University of Maryland School of Public Health, and his colleagues found clear evidence that being physically active has the potential to help protect the hippocampus in people at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. This is especially significant because if you know that exercise can help delay the onset of the disease and if you engage in an exercise regimen it could extend your longevity and ability to take care of yourself. This, in turn, would reduce the financial burden of needing a caregiver and other medical intervention.

Dr. Smith and colleagues tracked four groups of healthy older adults ages 65-89, who had normal cognitive abilities, over an 18-month period and measured the volume of their hippocampus (using structural magnetic resonance imaging or MRI) at the beginning and end of that time period. The groups were classified both for low or high Alzheimer’s risk (based on the absence or presence of the apolipoprotein E epsilon 4 allele) and for low or high physical activity levels.

Of all four groups studied, only those at high genetic risk for Alzheimer’s who did not exercise experienced a decrease in hippocampal volume (3%) over the 18-month period. All other groups, including those at high risk for Alzheimer’s but who were physically active, maintained the volume of their hippocampus.

Whether you are at high risk for Alzheimer’s or not, it’s never too late or too early to start a daily exercise regimen. If you are sedentary start walking 30 minutes three days a walk, and go from there. Park your car at the opposite end of the parking lot, from where you need to go. Get a walking buddy, or get a dog. Whatever you do, be serious about being physically active. It could have a huge impact on your life and the lives of your loved ones.

7. Sleep more soundly. There are plenty of studies linking poor sleep to a host of physical and psychological ailments: poor immunity, elevated levels of cortisol and insulin, weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even Alzheimer’s disease. And irritability, foggy thinking and anxiety, depression and low energy can directly impact your ability to care for another person, do household chores and get in the way of your interpersonal relationships. Discover ways why Good sleep hygiene is the first step to improving your sleep.

8. Include turmeric in your diet. Turmeric is what gives curry its yellow hue and tang. But it does a lot more than flavor the most popular Indian dish. Turmeric has numerous health benefits. Several studies have found a protective effect of curcumin in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and it’s no surprise. The senior population in rural Indian has one of the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s disease in the world, and scientists believe it is due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric, and its ability to inhibit the build up of amyloid plaque.

A study done by researchers from the University of Melbourne indicated that curcumin might prevent or improve age-related cognitive decline, dementia and mood disorders. The study included 60 adults between 60 and 85 years old. An hour after taking a curcumin supplement (400 mg) the participants experienced a higher attention span and better memory when compared to the participants who took a placebo. After four weeks of taking the supplement, the curcumin group showed improvement in mood, memory, alertness and feelings of well-being.

How much to take? You can find dietary supplements in tablet and capsule form at health food stores with curcumin extracts in dosages of 400 to 600 mg. The general advice is to take one dose three times daily or as directed on the product.

How to get more turmeric into your diet?

One way is to drink turmeric tea, which is popular among Okinawans, who are known for their longevity.
• Bring four cups of water to a boil.
• Add one teaspoon of ground turmeric and reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.
• Strain the tea through a fine sieve into a cup, add honey and/or lemon to taste

Sprinkle it on your food—turmeric is especially good added to braised greens. Saute onion in olive oil, add greens of your choice (kale, spinach, Swiss chard), and add 1 tsp of turmeric and a sprinkle of salt.
Add turmeric to eggs, soups, potato pancakes, casseroles. You can’t go wrong, and you can’t overdose on turmeric.

Use as a cold, flu and congestion remedy
Turmeric has been used as a natural remedy for centuries to help prevent and cure respiratory illnesses. The next time you get a cold, try adding it to hot water with grated ginger and a teaspoon of honey. It will perk you up and possibly reduce the length of time you are sick. You might also discover that it helps your memory.

9. Is it time to move your loved one to a memory care home? If your loved one has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia and it is getting difficult to provide a safe environment for him/her, please take the time NOW, before a crisis arises, is the time to investigate the memory care homes in your area. A good place to start is by calling the county’s senior social services office, or by speaking with an ombudsman who is knowledgeable about the pros and cons of the local memory care homes. Signs that it’s time to make the big move.

10. Evaluate your driving. Play it safe. If you or a loved one has dementia, please park you car for good. Don’t take a risk of getting lost or worse, injuring yourself or someone else.

November is the perfect time to incorporate a new health regimen into your daily routine. Start today and get a head start at the beginning of the holiday season to maintain healthy weight, strengthen your immunity to flues and colds, and protect your mental health and memory.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!!

 

For more information on how you can reduce stress and boost your happiness and health, read Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

BarbraCohn__

Is it forgetfulness, dementia or Alzheimer’s?

Senior Woman Comforting Depressed Husband Sitting On Bench

At one time or another, most of us have forgotten where we put our keys, our phone, glasses, or even parked our car. Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten why you went in? Sure. Run into an acquaintance and forgotten the person’s name? Yes, and it’s embarrassing.

It doesn’t mean you have dementia or Alzheimer’s. I call memory blips “brain farts.” They become more common as we age because our brains form fewer connections so the memory is not as strong as it once was. Also, the speed at which our brain processes stored facts, figures and names becomes slower. Recall becomes slower. (One trick I have for bringing up a person’s forgotten name is to go through the alphabet. It almost always works.)

Forgetfulness can be a normal part of the aging process, or it could be triggered by these physical conditions:

  • insomnia, or lack of sleep (for help in this area read 16 ways to sleep better)
  • thyroid condition
  • drug interactions
  • too much caffeine and/or alcohol
  • stress (Read 16 Stress busters)
  • vitamin B12 deficiency
  • UTIs –urinary tract infections
  • dehydration (please remember to drink at least 6 glasses of water every day)
  • depression and/or mood disorders

The best way to rule out memory problems is to have a full physical exam including a blood panel. Please make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your concerns. Sometimes a memory issue can be cleared up by just getting more sleep or by taking a vitamin B complex supplement.

But if you find yourself putting your keys or your phone in strange places like the refrigerator, getting lost in the city you’ve lived in for decades, or forgetting how to scramble your eggs, this could be indicative of a more serious problem.

Dementia or Alzheimer’s? 

Dementia is the name for an umbrella of  brain disorders with the primary symptoms being memory loss, inability to think clearly or to express oneself, difficulty making decisions and solving problems, and trouble controlling emotions. The term dementia usually refers to degenerative conditions of the brain that result from trauma, as in the brain injuries found in athletes, but more commonly it is used to refer to conditions related to a disease.

Dementia is a major symptom of these diseases:

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurocognitive disorder and affects almost 6 million Americans. The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to nearly triple over the next generation. In the early stage of the disease, people with the disease will find it difficult to remember recent events such as what they had for dinner the night before, or even just a few hours ago. They will most likely be depressed because they can’t manage things as well as they used to. An active person might lose interest in things that used to excite them. And the person might forget names of people near and dear. As the disease progresses, emotional behavior will change, the ability to communicate will be impaired and confusion will take over. Everyday tasks such as bathing will become a challenge. Later, physical changes will occur such as the inability to walk or talk and eventually swallow, which often leads to death.

Frontotemporal dementia often emerges around the age of 60 years, but it can appear in people who are in their 20s. It involves a loss of nerve cells and affects behavior, language and movement.

Dementia with Lewy bodies can resemble those of Alzheimer’s disease, but there may also be sleep disturbances, visual hallucinations, and an unsteady walking pattern. Lewy bodies are collections of protein that develop inside nerve cells and prevent them from functioning properly.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease represents a number of brain diseases that cause problems throughout the body. They are thought to be triggered by prion proteins. A prion is neither a virus nor a bacterium, but it can cause a disease. Types of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) include bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or “mad cow disease.” Symptoms include rapid memory, behavior, and movement changes. It is a rare and fatal condition.

CTE–Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a progressive degenerative disease which afflicts the brain of people who have suffered repeated concussions and traumatic brain injuries, such as athletes in contact sports such as football. s

Huntington’s disease is a genetic disorder that results from a defect on chromosome 4. It can lead to mood changes, abnormal movements, and depression. The person may experience an ongoing decline in thinking and reasoning skills. There could be slurred speech and problems with coordination. It tends to appear between the ages of 30 and 50 years.

Parkinson’s disease is a motor system disorder. The hallmark signs include trembling, especially tremor in the hands. It can also involve depression and behavioral changes. In the later stages, the individual may have difficulty speaking and sleep disturbances.

Vascular dementia, also known as post-stroke dementia, can appear after a stroke, when there is bleeding or vessel blockage in the brain. It affects a person’s thinking and physical movements. Early symptoms may include an inability to organize, plan, or make decisions.

Preventing dementia

Although there is no cure yet, there are measures you can take NOW to stave off brain and mental decline. Click here to read 8 Ways to Train Your Brain.

Additionally, here is my list of 10 recommendations for maintaining cognitive function and boosting brain power

  1. Drink at least 8-10 glasses of water to keep your body hydrated and to flush out toxins. The brain is 70% water when fully hydrated. When it is dehydrated, neurotransmission—which is heavily dependent on water—is impaired, resulting in poor memory, concentration and impaired abstract thinking.
  2. Ginkgo biloba has been proven in hundreds of studies to help blood circulation to the brain, sharpening mental performance, increasing concentration and short-term memory. A well-known study in The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that supplementation with 40 mg of ginkgo three times a day for one year had a positive effect on patients with Alzheimer’s disease. A placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trail of an extract of Ginkgo biloba for dementia.
  3. 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.
  4. Omega-3 fatty acids are rich in DHA, the major unsaturated fat in the brain. This long-chain fatty acid provides the necessary fluid quality to the membranes of the nerve cells so that electrical nerve impulses can flow easily along the circuits of the brain. One study found that Alzheimer’s patients given an omega-3-rich supplement experienced a significant improvement in their quality of life.
  5. Eat more blueberries! Their active antioxidants have been shown to protect and restore brain function. One recent study revealed that feeding blueberry extracts to mature mice partially reversed some signs of brain aging.
  6. Avoid alcohol. People who drink too much alcohol often show shrinkage or atrophy of the cerebral cortex, the seat of memory, learning, reasoning, intelligence, and emotions. Reduced cortical thickness in abstinent alcoholics and association with alcoholic behavior
  7. Avoid smoking. Smoking constricts blood vessels, making less blood, oxygen, and nutrients available to the brain. It also replaces oxygen with carbon monoxide, a chemical that damages brain cells.
  8. Incorporate a regular exercise program into your daily routine. An easy way to start is by walking 30 minutes a day at least five times a week. Yoga is wonderful for staving off arthritis pain, maintaining flexibility and for relaxation.
  9. 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.
  10. 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. Studies have indicated that sleep deprivation can increase risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. 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.

For more information on how you can reduce stress and boost your happiness and health, read Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia.

BarbraCohn__

 

16 ways to sleep better . . . so you can be a better caregiver

Woman sleeping on a comfortable bed in the clouds

We’ve all had those sleepless nights in which we toss and turn, look at the clock and feel stressed that we aren’t going to get enough sleep. When you are caring for someone else–whether it’s a toddler, sick relative or someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s even more important to get a good night’s sleep.

There are plenty of studies linking poor sleep to a host of physical and psychological ailments: poor immunity, elevated levels of cortisol and insulin, weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even Alzheimer’s disease. And irritability, foggy thinking and anxiety, depression and low energy can directly impact your ability to care for another person, do household chores and get in the way of your interpersonal relationships.

Here is a list of things to try when you are stressed, your mind is on overload, or when you’ve just had too much stimulation and can’t fall asleep or stay asleep.

Good sleep hygiene is the first step to improving your sleep.

  1. Refrain from drinking caffeine after 1:00 pm.
  2. If you need to visit the bathroom during the night, limit your fluid intake after dinner.
  3. Do not resort to alcohol to help you sleep. It usually impairs sleep, and you might wake up with a headache.
  4. Try valerian, passion-flower or skullcap herbal tea at least a couple of hours before bedtime.
  5. A cup of warm milk with a small pinch of cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric and cumin, and an 1/8 of a tsp of ghee is a tasty and relaxing bedtime drink. The calcium in the milk is a muscle relaxant and the Indian spices help induce relaxation. Experiment to see which spices you like.
  6. Turn off all electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime. This is difficult for most people so it will take some effort. Instead, listen to soothing music or read a relaxing book.
  7. Do not watch the news or listen to the radio with current news before bed. World and political events can be upsetting and unsettling.
  8. Make your bed as comfortable as possible. Cotton sheets are usually more comfortable than synthetic. Is it time to replace your mattress? When is the last time you turned it over?
  9. A cool bedroom is usually more conducive to sleep than an overheated room. On the other hand, feeling cold will not help you sleep, either. If you feel cold at bedtime, warm up some neck wraps in the microwave and place them in your bed so it’s toasty when you get in. Then when you feel warm and are starting to fall asleep you can throw them on the floor. Or, warm up your bed with a heating pad. One of my favorite thing to do is to put on pajamas that have been heated in the clothes dryer for 5 minutes.
  10. Get black out curtains. It’s easier to sleep when there is no light coming through the windows.
  11. Eat a banana. Bananas contain potassium and magnesium that help reduce risk of muscle cramps. These two minerals also support heart health and cognitive function.
  12. A drop in blood sugar during the night can cause us to wake up. Although it’s better to not go to sleep on a full stomach, a small protein snack such as a slice of cheese or smear of peanut butter on a cracker can help maintain balanced blood sugar.
  13. Exercise during the day to get your heart pumping and to maintain overall health. Just don’t do it too close to bedtime because you will get energized.
  14. Go to sleep when you get sleepy but make sure it’s before 11:00. According to Ayurveda, the ancient Indian healthcare system, it’s best to be in bed by 10:00.
  15. Melatonin supplements help some people, but you might have to experiment with the dosage. I like Natural Vitality’s Natural Calm, a powdered calcium supplement that you put in water or juice. I also like the homeopathic remedy Hyland’s Calms Forte.
  16. Use ear plugs if it’s noisy in your neighborhood. Again, you might need to experiment in order to find the product you find is most comfortable.

As a caregiver you probably think of yourself last. But it’s crucial that you take care of yourself because if you don’t, it will be able to take care of your loved one(s). So take the time to experiment. Promise yourself that you will put an emphasis on trying to improve your sleep. You will notice a difference right away, and so will everyone in your life.

Good night, sleep tight!


“Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia” by Barbra Cohn contains a treasure trove of information on how to stay connected with your loved one, keep calm, improve immunity, reduce stress and feel happier and healthier. Plus, it includes 20 healing modalities that the caregiver can do alone or with their loved one. Available wherever fine books are sold and on Amazon.

BarbraCohn__

 

 

10 Things to Remember if You Love a Person with Dementia

Assisting and helping elderly peopleToday is World Alzheimer’s Awareness Day. It’s a good day to repost this important article and to remind people about the book I wrote after caring for my husband who passsed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease seven years ago. The book has helped so many people, which is what my intention was in writing it. “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia” contains a treasure trove of information on how to stay connected with your loved one, keep calm, improve immunity, reduce stress and feel happier and healthier. Plus, it includes 20 healing modalities that the caregiver can do alone or with their loved one. Available wherever fine books are sold and on Amazon.

It’s sometimes hard to love a family member who has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. People with dementia can be quarrelsome, uncooperative, negative, whiney, belligerent or combative. They might get their nights and days mixed up, pace the floor for hours, wring their hands non-stop, or cry like a baby. They might ask you the same question twenty times in a row, refuse to budge when you need to get them to an appointment, or refuse to eat what you’ve made for dinner.

When the going gets tough, it helps to remember that you love the person who resides inside that body that is tight and tense and inflamed from amyloid plaque that has strangled the neurons and disrupted the neurotransmitters that allow thoughts to flow and emotions to stay even. He or she is the same person you married, the same loving parent who nurtured and guided you, the same sibling you shared holidays and outings with, or the same friend who offered a should to cry on or who helping you move to a new home.

When you’re about to lose it, walk out, or hide in the closet, stop for a moment and remember at least one of these 10 things about the person you lovingly take care of.

People with dementia and Alzheimer’s often feel:

  1. Embarrassed when you say, “ I just told you . . ..” Instead of reminding them that they forgot what you told them a second ago rephrase it, breaking it down into a simple sentence . . . or completely change the subject.
  2. Fearful because they don’t see things spatially the same way we do. Their sense of space is distorted and their vision gets skewed, not because there is something physically wrong with their eyes. But rather, the brain interprets what the eyes see, and when the brain doesn’t work right our perception gets distorted. Two things you can do to help are to put extra lights in dark areas of the living quarters and remove throw rugs in order to reduce falls.
  3. Lonely because they can’t communicate well, or some of their friends have “jumped ship.” Set up times for family or friends to visit or take your loved one on an outing.
  4. Confused because they don’t understand why they can’t drive anymore, or why they can’t go for a walk alone, or why they can’t remember where they live or what their son’s or daughter’s name is.
  5. Angry because the keys to the car have been taken away, or because they get frustrated when they can’t express their feelings or thoughts.
  6. Sad because they can’t read a book or newspaper, or can’t manage to engage in their favorite hobby or sport.
  7. Anxious because they can’t move as fast or get dressed by themselves or put on their shoes easily. Or, because they hear sounds that are disturbing or are bothered by someone else’s behavior.
  8. Nervous because they have lost their sense of balance and feel unsteady on their feet. Or because they don’t like the feel of water on their skin and don’t want to bathe and don’t want to be forced.
  9. Frustrated because they can’t write a check, figure out how much tip to leave, or remember how to use the TV remote control.
  10. Paranoid because they think someone is stealing their money or prized possessions.

When all else fails, take a deep breath and put on some music. It almost always uplifts the spirit—for both the caregiver and the person being cared for.

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