Significant study points to MIND diet for improving brain health and preventing Alzheimer’s disease

Brain Nutrition

MIND diet includes salmon, beans, greens, nuts, berries

Have you heard of the MIND diet? It’s the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet slightly remade and combined to form the MIND diet. (MIND is an acronym that stands for the Mediterranean-DASH intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.)

In a study published in September 2015 in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, the nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris and her colleagues at Rush University Medical Center borrowed concepts from the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. The result is the MIND diet.

The study followed 923 participantsages 58 to 98 years, for an average 4.5 years, and found the MIND diet lowered Alzheimer’s risk by about 35 percent for people who followed it moderately well and up to 53 percent for those who adhered to it rigorously. While more study is needed to better understand the long-term impact of the diet, Morris’s team’s second paper on the MIND diet notes that it’s superior to the DASH and Mediterranean diets for preventing cognitive decline. But it should be noted that high adherence to all three diets may reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Food to eat on the MIND Diet

  • Green leafy vegetables: a minimum of 6 servings a week (kale, Swiss chard, spinach, collard, etc.)
  • Nuts: a minimum of 5 servings a week (walnuts, pistachios, almonds, cashews, etc)
  • Berries: a minimum of 2 servings a week
  • Beans: a minimum of 3 servings a week (garbanzo, red, black, kidney, white, pinto, etc.)
  • Whole grains: a minimum of 3 servings a day (millet, oats, brown rice, quinoa, wheat berries, etc.)
  • Fish: at least 1 serving a week
  • Poultry (like chicken or turkey): at least twice a week
  • Olive oil as the primary oil used
  • Wine: no more than 1 glass a day

Foods to limit or avoid

  • Red meat: no more than 4 servings a week
  • Butter and margarine: no more than 1 tablespoon (tbsp) daily
  • Cheese: no more than 1 serving a week
  • Sweets: no more than 5 servings a week
  • Fried or fast food: no more than 1 serving a week

To summarize the MIND DIET—

On a daily basis you eat at least three servings of whole grains, a salad and another vegetable, along with drinking a glass of wine. The jury is still out on whether a little alcohol consumption is better for the brain than none at all. I just heard a panel of researchers and neuroscientist address this issue. If you don’t consumer alcohol, there is certainly no reason for you to start now. But if you do, limit your consumption to one glass of wine a day.)

It’s advised that on most days you should snack on nuts, and every other day eat half a cup of beans. At least twice a week eat poultry and a half-cup serving of berries (blueberries are best), and eat fish at least weekly. Olive oil is the preferred cooking oil.

What is the DASH diet?

The healthy DASH diet plan was developed to lower blood pressure without medication in research sponsored by the US National Institutes of Health, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The first DASH diet research showed that it could lower blood pressure as well as the first line blood pressure medications, even with a sodium intake of 3300 mg/day!  Since then, numerous studies have shown that the DASH diet reduces the risk of many diseases, including some kinds of cancer, stroke, heart disease, heart failure, kidney stones, and diabetes. It has been proven to be an effective way to lose weight and become healthier at the same time.

The DASH diet eating plan is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat or non-fat dairy. It also includes mostly whole grains; lean meats, fish and poultry; nuts and beans. It is high fiber and low to moderate in fat. It is a plan that follows US guidelines for sodium content, along with vitamins and minerals. In addition to lowering blood pressure, the DASH eating plan lowers cholesterol and makes it easy to lose weight. It is a healthy way of eating, designed to be flexible enough to meet the lifestyle and food preferences of most people.

How is it different from the Mediterranean diet? It can be considered to be an Americanized version of the Mediterranean diet, and to be easier to follow, since it has more specific guidelines. But if you love tabouli, hummus, and olives, you might prefer the Mediterranean diet.

Although there are similarities among all three diets, the MIND diet is the only one that encourages the consumption of foods that have been found to promote cognitive health.

There is a saying that “what’s good for your heart is good for your brain.” So please start switching over to the MIND diet while eliminating foods high in calories and low in nutrients. You will feel better and your brain will stay healthier longer.


image

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

Caring for yourself and others with good nutrition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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


 

image

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.

Do you have any of these risk factors for Alzheimers?

Woman with hypertension treating by a nurse

  1. Dizziness when standing up
  2. Reduced levels of plasmalogens
  3. High blood pressure
  4. Obesity
  5. Alcohol
  6. Head trauma
  7. Family history
  8. Smoking
  9. Age
  10. Social Isolation (see Loneliness vs. Aloneness: Why one is dangerous to your health

Most people know that old age is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, after age 65 the risk of Alzheimer’s doubles every five years. And after age 85 one out of three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia. You’ve probably also heard that obesity, alcohol consumption, head trauma, family history, smoking, and social isolation put you at increase risk.

But here are a few risk factors that you may not have heard about.

Dizziness when standing up

A new risk factor, and a concern for me personally, is orthostatic hypotension (OH), a fancy name for feeling  dizzy when you stand up. According to a new study, middle-aged people who experience orthostatic hypotension may have a higher risk of developing dementia later in life. The study analyzed data from 11,709 participants without a history of coronary heart disease or stroke. It concluded that individuals who experience a drop in systolic blood pressure (the bottom number) of at least 20 mm Hg or a drop in diastolic blood pressure (the top number) of at least 10 mm Hg on standing are said to have orthostatic hypotension.

Over a 25-year period, 1,068 participants developed dementia and 842 had an ischemic stroke. Compared to persons without OH at baseline, those with OH had a higher risk of dementia and ischemic stroke. Persons with OH had greater, although insignificant, cognitive decline over 20 years. But since the study doesn’t take any other risk factors into consideration, I’m not going to lose sleep over this.

2. We’ve heard how omega 3 fatty acids are necessary for a healthy cardiovascular system. But if your liver doesn’t process these key lipids properly it can spell trouble in your brain.

Reduced levels of plasmalogens — a class of lipids created in the liver that are integral to cell membranes in the brain — are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, according to new research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2018 by Mitchel A. Kling, MD, an associate professor of Psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. A reduced level is also implicated in Down’s Syndrome and Parkinson’s disease.

In 2012, scientists found a 40% reduction in plasmalogen content of white matter in the brain in individuals with early stage Alzheimer’s.

Plasmalogens are created in the liver and are dispersed through the blood stream in the form of lipoproteins, which also transport cholesterol and other lipids to and from cells and tissues throughout the body, including the brain. The researchers measured several plasmalogens including those containing omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), as well as an omega-6 fatty acid and closely-related non-plasmalogen lipids, in blood-based fluids collected from two groups. The first group included 1,547 subjects that have Alzheimer’s disease, MCI or significant memory concerns (SMC), and subjects who were cognitively normal (CN) and who are enrolled in the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. The second group included 112 subjects from the Penn Memory Center, including those with Alzheimer’s, MCI, and CN.

“Our findings provide renewed hope for the creation of new treatment and prevention approaches for Alzheimer’s disease,” Kling said. “Moving forward, we’re examining the connections between plasmalogens, other lipids, and cognition, in addition to gene expression in the liver and the brain. While we’re in the early stages of discovering how the liver, lipids, and diet are related to Alzheimer’s disease and neurodegeneration, it’s been promising.”



You would think that taking omega 3s would help, right? Well, according to the study, they don’t. However, plasmalogens from mussels are being sold in Japan and Singapore as a health supplement for Alzheimer’s disease. See Scallop-derived PLASMALOGEN. There is also a Singapore product for sale in the U.S. that supposedly helps your body increase the level of plasmalogens. It’s called NeuroREGAIN. You can read about it here: NeuroREGAIN

According to the first study cited, these products don’t help because of the pH in the
digestive system and the ability to utilize the ingredients.
But it’s up to you. I tried lots of things with my husband, and if he were still alive I’d probably try this product, too.


3. Recently, researchers from the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL, set up a study funded by the National Institutes of Health to look for links between blood pressure and physical markers of brain health in older adults. The findings are published in the July 11, 2018, online issue of Neurology. Study co-author Dr. Zoe Arvanitakis explains the types of pathology they were searching for.

“We researched whether blood pressure in later life was associated with signs of brain aging that include plaques and tangles linked to Alzheimer’s disease, and brain lesions called infarcts, areas of dead tissue caused by a blockage of the blood supply, which can increase with age, often go undetected and can lead to stroke, said Arvanitakis.”

Healthy blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). The higher number is called systolic blood pressure, the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart beats. The lower number is called diastolic blood pressure, the pressure when the heart is at rest.

For the study, 1,288 older people were followed until they died, which was an average of eight years later. The average age at death was 89 years. Blood pressure was documented yearly for each participant and autopsies were conducted on their brains after death. The average systolic blood pressure for those enrolled in the study was 134 mmHg and the average diastolic blood pressure was 71 mmHg. Two-thirds of the participants had a history of high blood pressure, and 87 percent were taking high blood pressure medication. A total of 48 percent of the participants had one or more brain infarct lesions.

Researchers found that the risk of brain lesions was higher in people with higher average systolic blood pressure across the years. For a person with one standard deviation above the average systolic blood pressure, for example 147 mmHg versus 134 mmHg, there was a 46 percent increased risk of having one or more brain lesions, specifically infarcts. For comparison, the effect of an increase by one standard deviation on the risk of having one or more brain infarcts was the equivalent of nine years of brain aging.

Those with one standard deviation above the average systolic blood pressure also had a 46 percent greater chance of having large lesions and a 36 percent greater risk of very small lesions. Arvanitakis noted that an important additional result of the study was that people with a declining systolic blood pressure also had an increased risk of one or more brain lesions, so it was not just the level but also the declining blood pressure which was associated with brain lesions.

Separately, higher average diastolic blood pressure was also related to brain infarct lesions. People who had an increase of one standard deviation from an average diastolic blood pressure, for example from 71 mmHg to 79 mmHg, had a 28 percent greater risk of one or more brain lesions.

The results did not change when researchers controlled for other factors that could affect the risk of brain lesions, such as whether they used high blood pressure drugs.

When looking for signs of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain at autopsy, researchers found a link between higher average late-life systolic blood pressure across the years before death and a higher number of tangles, but not plaques. Arvanitakis said this link is difficult to interpret and will need more research.

 The bottom line is be aware of your blood pressure and how to maintain healthy levels.

Natural remedies to support healthy blood pressure and circulation:

  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Vitamin B complex
  • Vitamin C
  • CoQ10
  • Resveratrol
  • Astaxanthin
  • Nattokinase
  • Pomegranate
  • Acetyl-L-carnitine

A healthy heart supports a healthy brain. Here are 12 ways to support both.

12 ways to support a healthy heart

  1. Eat a nutritious, high-fiber, low-fat heart healthy diet.
  2. Include foods high in phytonutrients (the nutrients found in plants)
  3. Get plenty of foods containing omega-3 fatty acids (found in cold water fish). Vegetarians should take flax-seed oil or ground flax seed.
  4. Take nutritional supplements proven to support a healthy heart
  5. Practice a stress reduction technique such as yoga or meditation
  6. Exercise
  7. Stop smoking!
  8. Reduce and/or avoid alcohol
  9. Get an annual physical exam to rule out other health factor risks
  10. Protect yourself from environmental toxins
  11. Drink 6 to 8 glasses of purified, filtered water every day
  12. Get plenty of restful sleep!

 

image

 

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-Helpin 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.

Are you putting yourself at risk for dementia with OTC medications and prescription drugs?

Reading Instructions from PharmacyA new study links the increased risk of dementia with certain medications. (Anticholinergic drugs and risk of dementia: case-control study) The focus of the study was on drugs that have anticholinergic effects. Acetylcholine is vital to memory and learning. There are lower levels of this neurotransmitter in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, animal studies have shown that anticholinergic drugs may contribute to brain inflammation, another risk factor for dementia.

It’s estimated that approximately 50% of adults in the U.S. take one or more medications with an anticholinergic effect. Some of the most common are:

  • amitriptyline (Endep, Elavil), paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva), and bupropion (Aplenzin, Wellbutin). These drugs are commonly taken for depression)
  • oxybutynin and tolterodine, taken for an overactive bladder, found in Ditropan, Oxytrol.
  • diphenhydramine, a common antihistamine found in: Advil PM, Aleve PM, Bayer PM, Benadryl, Excedrin PM, Nytol, Simply Sleep, Sominex, Tylenol PM, Unisom, etc.
  • Chlorpheniramine, found in Actifed, Allergy & Congestion RElief, Chlor-Trimeton, Codeprex, Efidac-24 Chlorpheniramine, etc.

According to Shelly Gray, professor pharmacy at the University of Washington, and author of  Cumulative Use of Strong Anticholinergics and Incident Dementia” (March 2015, JAMA Internal Med.), the longer people took the drugs and the higher the dose, the higher the risk of dementia, although it’s important to note that short-term use was not linked to higher risks.

Gray suggested that people, especially seniors, who have trouble sleeping find a non-drug therapy for insomnia Celexa and Prozac for depression and Claritin for allergies.  She emphasized that it is important to speak with one’s doctor before stopping a medication that you have been taking.

Natural alternatives

Help for depression

  1. Get some physical exercise every day; even just a 20 minute walk helps tremendously.
  2. 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
  3.  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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Natural sleep aids

  1. Try valerian, passion-flower or skullcap herbal tea at least a couple of hours before bedtime.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Spritz lavender oil on your pillow or put a sachet of lavender flowers under your pillow.

Natural antihistamines

  1. Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that is naturally found in plant foods such as apples, cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli or cauliflower), onions/shallots, green tea and citrus fruits. It stabilizes the release of histamines and helps to naturally control allergy symptoms.
  2. Apple cider vinegar is my new “go to” remedy for almost everything. I take 1 Tablespoon everyday by pinching my nose and drinking water to flush it down. It helps alkalize the body and supports immune function.
  3. Butterbur is a natural herb that is sold as an extract. A study published in August 2005 in Phytotherapy Research found that when compared to an antihistamine, the butterbur extract worked just as well, without the side effect of drowsiness.
  4. Remember that Claritin does not contain diphenhydramine, so use it by all means if these other remedies do not do the trick.

image

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.

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.

image

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.

Men: Are you taking care of yourself?

仲の良い父と娘Happy Father’s Day to all men who play a caring role in the life of a child, and kudos for  all that you do. But let me ask you this: Do you take care of yourself? Typically, most men take better care of their cars than themselves. Most men wait until a symptom pops up, and by then the illness or disease has progressed.

I’m not going to give you a lecture about how you should make an appointment tomorrow to get a routine preventative check-up, but hopefully after going through the following list, you’ll see my point.

Take this quiz to see how much you really know about men’s health. 

1) As a man gets older, it’s almost inevitable that he:

  1. loses interest in sex
  2. has a difficult time maintaining an erection
  3. doesn’t need to exercise as much
  4. develops an enlarged prostate

2) To detect prostate cancer early, a man should:

  1. have a colonoscopy
  2. practice a monthly self prostate examination
  3. have a digital rectal exam and PSA blood test
  4. have a sonogram of his prostate every year

3) Impotence can result from:

  1. drinking too much alcohol
  2. recreational drug use (smoking marijuana)
  3. high blood pressure
  4. diabetes
  5. all of the above

4) 75% of prostate cancer occurs in:

  1. Hispanic men
  2. men over 65
  3. men who eat a low-fat diet
  4. men with low testosterone levels

5) The most common cancer among men is:

  1. prostate cancer
  2. lung cancer
  3. skin cancer
  4. colon cancer

6) Which racial/ethnic group is most likely to develop prostate cancer?

  1. Caucasian
  2. Asian
  3. Hispanic
  4. African-American

7) A common risk factor for developing prostate cancer is:

  1. lack of exercise
  2. high fat diet
  3. high testosterone levels
  4. growing older
  5. all of the above

8) What beverage has been found to support prostate health?

  1. beer
  2. green tea
  3. orange juice
  4. red wine

9) What common food has been found to support prostate health?

  1. oranges
  2. tomatoes
  3. beef
  4. cheese

10) Which disease is considered the number one cause of death among American males?

  1. diabetes
  2. prostate cancer
  3. obesity
  4. cardiovascular disease

11) Cardiovascular disease kills far more men and women than cancer.

  1. True
  2. False

12) Eating a diet that includes plenty of pasta, potatoes and white rice can reduce your risk of heart disease.

  1. True
  2. False

13) The heart muscle is totally responsible for maintaining normal blood pressure levels.

  1. True
  2. False

14) Cardiovascular disease is hereditary and cannot be prevented.

  1. True
  2. False

15) CVD starts in the teenage years.

  1. True
  2. False

16) An aspirin a day is the best way to thin the blood, in order to reduce the chance of stroke and heart attack.

  1. True
  2. False

17) High blood cholesterol is the best overall indicator of cardiovascular disease.

  1. True
  2. False

18) Statistics show that the stress of caregiving can result in chronic disease for the caregiver and take as many as ten years off one’s life.


Answers:

1) d

2) g

3) e- all of the above. Not smoking, eating a healthy diet, not overdoing it when it comes to drinking, regular exercise, getting enough sleep, will all help support normal blood flow. Also, Ginkgo biloba extract helps support normal blood flow to the penis

4) b. Simply growing older increases a man’s risk. Seventy-five percent of prostate cancer occurs in men over 65 with only 7% diagnosed in men under 60 years of age.

5) c. Skin cancer is the number one form of cancer in the US. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men next to skin cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in men after lung cancer.

6) d. African-American males have the highest incidence of prostate cancer, a third higher than white males, and African-American males are also twice as likely to die from it.

7) e. Also, men who have higher testosterone levels, or who eat a high fat diet have been shown to have an increased risk of developing prostate cancer.

8) b. Green tea is chock full of antioxidants that have been shown to reduce cancer. Red wine, on the other hand, is a natural preventative against cardiovascular disease.

9) b. Tomatoes contain lycopene, especially potent in the fight against prostate cancer.

10) d. Among major disease groups, heart disease is the leading cause of death within the elderly population.

11) True. Although cancer fears are more common, cardiovascular disease is the chief cause of death and disability in the United States today. It affects close to 60 million Americans and every year more than a million people suffer from new or recurrent heart attacks. In fact,every 20 seconds a person in the United States has a heart attack, and one-third of these attacks leads to death. The American Heart Association calls CVD “the silent epidemic.”

12) False. For years we were told that a heart-healthy diet included foods low in fat and high in carbohydrates, such as fruits, veggies, legumes, grains and other starches. But now experts are saying that overloading on carbohydrates (especially the wrong kind) can make you fat and increase your risk of heart disease. Eating foods with a high glycemic index—such as cookies, cake, candy, bagels, pasta, white rice, refined bread and grains, potatoes and potato chips—raises blood sugar and insulin levels, which in turn stimulates the production of triglycerides (blood fats that raise heart disease risk).

13) False. Your kidneys, blood vessels and heart all control blood pressure. In order to maintain healthy blood pressure and keep blood moving, the walls of your arteries, capillaries and veins need to be flexible and strong. Research has shown that nutrients such as Co-Q10, hawthorne, red wine polyphenols, notoginseng (a cousin of ginseng), and astragalus help strengthen blood flow throughout the entire body, maintaining healthy blood pressure. In addition, EDTA (the main ingredient in Health Freedom Nutrition’s Cardio Clear) removes heavy metals and toxins that interfere with the production of nitric oxide, a major factor in controlling blood pressure.

14) False. Even if there’s heart disease in your family, and even if you have high cholesterol, combining an regular exercise program with and a Mediterranean based diet and healthy lifestyle (no smoking, reduced alcohol consumption) can dramatically reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.

15) True. Dr. Scoot Calig, M.D., a pediatrician at West Hills Medical Center and an assistant clinical professor at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, says, “It’s important to keep in mind that the development of cardiovascular disease begins in the teenage years. Studies have shown that by that time, arterial plaque formation is well under way.”  Just another reason to exercise, eat a healthy diet, and take nutritional supplements such as oral EDTA to strengthen the heart and arteries and clear out toxic metals that inhibit the production of nitric oxide.

16) False. For years, aspirin has been prescribed after a heart attack, in order to avoid a subsequent heart attack. And now, a panel of experts is recommending aspirin as a precaution against heart disease for all at-risk, healthy adults over 40. But Alfred Berg, M.D., of the University of Washington, head of the panel says, “Do not assume that an aspirin a day is without risk.” Aspirin can cause intestinal bleeding and hemorrhagic stroke. Herbs such as hawthorne, nattokinase, garlic and Ginkgo biloba have the ability to thin the blood like aspirin, without damaging the esophageal and intestinal linings, or exacerbating ulcers.

17) False. Homocysteine—a by-product of the amino acid methionine— is a more sensitive indicator of cardiovascular health than cholesterol. Too much of it increases injury to arterial walls, as well as accelerates oxidation and accumulation of cholesterol in blood vessel. The good news is that folic acid, and vitamins B6 and B12 help keep homocysteine levels low!

18) True—for men and women! Click here to read 16 Stress-busters to nourish your body, mind and soul

Have a happy Father’s Day, and please take care of your health so you can continue to enjoy life and be a support and friend to everyone who loves you.


For dozens of general health tips and caregiving help read Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia  by Barbra Cohn.image

Easy ways to calm down crazy full moon behaviors

ヨガThe human body is 55 to 78% water (depending on sex and age) so it makes sense that the gravitational pull of the moon would affect us, right?  Many scientists point out that the biological tide theory doesn’t hold. On The Skeptics Dictionary website Robert Todd Carroll says, “Given the minute and bounded mass of fluid contained within the human body, compared to the enormous and free-flowing mass of ocean water, and given the enormous distance to the moon, the lunar pull on the human body is negligible.”

Theories about the moon’s influence on animal behavior are more widely accepted. Although the topic of whether or not the moon affects human behavior is controversial, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence and some scientific evidence indicating that it does.

I, for one, have a difficult time sleeping around the full moon. And my husband, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, exhibited more agitated behavior when the moon was full.

Studies have shown that the lunar cycle has an impact on fertility, menstruation, and birth rate.  Admittance to hospitals and emergency units due to cardiovascular and acute coronary events, arterial hemorrhages in the stomach and esophagus, diarrhea, and urinary retention correlate with moon phases. Other events linked to human behavior, such as traffic accidents, crimes, and suicides, seem to be influenced by the lunar cycle.

In the 1600’s Sr. William Hale, a distinguished British physician and medical biographer, wrote, “The moon has a great influence in all diseases of the brain, especially dementia.” The British Lunacy Act of 1842, which dismissed crazy behavior as being caused by the full moon, built on his theory.  In fact, as recently as 1940 a British soldier who was charged with murder pleaded “moon madness.”

Alan M. Beck of Purdue University conducted a longitudinal study to objectively examine the lunar influence on the frequency, duration, and intensity of behaviors in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.

He examined wandering, anxiety, physical aggression, and verbal confrontation. His study concluded that individuals with Alzheimer’s disease did, in fact, exhibit significantly more erratic behaviors during periods of the full moon, and that these behaviors were of greater duration during that time. The objective analysis that a lunar influence on behavior in Alzheimer’s individuals exists validates a long-standing belief held by many healthcare providers.

If you’re a caregiver for someone with dementia, you’ve probably seen some odd behavior in your loved one around the full moon. And if you have trouble sleeping or feel restless or anxious during the full-moon, you’ve personally noticed the effects.

Here are some ways to calm the nerves and odd behaviors during the full moon or anytime.

From Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia--“Aromatherapy” chapter 18 by Laraine Kyle Pounds, RN, MSN, BSN, CMT.

Aromatherapy can be a resource of comfort to you and your care partner by providing an easy, natural way to reduce stress and anxiety and uplift mood. The following oils can be used in a diffuser, or put in a bath or fragrance free moisturizer. They can also be sprayed on a pillow or handkerchief.

Citrus oils are generally refreshing and uplifting for the mind and emotions, relieve stress and anxiety, and are useful for odor management and appetite support. Consider: bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, and orange.

Floral oils are often used as a personal fragrance and are useful to relieve anxiety, depression, and irritability. These oils are useful as an inhaler, in a body lotion, and for the bath. Consider: clary sage, geranium, lavender, rose, and ylang ylang.

Tree oils are revitalizing with immune boosting properties, ease respiratory congestion, and are supportive to breathing ease. They are useful for pain relief, skin infections, and odor management, and can relieve nervous exhaustion and depression. Consider: eucalyptus (Eucalytpus citriodora or globulus), pine needle, sandalwood, or Tea Tree.


Herbal remedies (from chapter 31, Nutritional Support for Caregivers, in “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”

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

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

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

Recommended nervines:

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

The next time you’re feeling nervous, agitated, restless or hyped up, calm your nerves with a nervine herb or aromatherapy. If your loved one has Alzheimer’s or dementia and is on medication, please check with the physician to make sure they do not interact with the nervine herbs.  Use pure essential aromatherapy oils to lower risk of allergy.

If all else fails, you can always go outside and howl at the moon.

 

Studies showing we are affected by the full moon

1. More babies are born around the full moon. A study in Kyoto, Japan looked at 1007 natural births and found there was significant increase in births when the moon was closest to the earth. Results of this study suggest that the gravitational pull of the Moon has an  influence on the frequency of births.

2. Do you have trouble sleeping around the full moon? Sleep researcher Christian Cajochen at the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel in Switzerland conducted a four-year lab study to see if he could show that it is physiologically true that many people have difficulty sleeping during the full moon.  His researchers monitored the brain activity, eye movements and hormone secretions of 33 volunteers in the lab while the participants slept. All the participants were healthy, good sleepers, and did not take any drugs or medication.Unexpectedly, the scientists found “the lunar cycle seems to influence human sleep, even when one does not see the moon and is not aware of the actual moon phase,” Cajochen said. After reviewing their data, the scientists found during the time of the full moon, brain activity related to deep sleep dropped by 30 percent. People also took five minutes longer on average to fall asleep, and they slept for 20 minutes less overall on full-moon nights. The volunteers felt as though their sleep was poorer when the moon was full, and they showed diminished levels of melatonin, a hormone known to regulate sleep and wake cycles. “It took me more than four years until I decided to publish the results, because I did not believe it myself,” Cajochen told LiveScience. “I was really skeptical about the finding, and I would love to see a replication.”


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.

image

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”

image

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.