30 Tips for Coping with Holiday Grief

candle lightThe holidays can bring up all sorts of emotions: joy, anxiety, depression and grief, especially if you’re missing a loved one, or if a loved one is a shadow of their former self.

You are entitled to feel any and all emotions as they arise. If you’re at a holiday party and the tears well up, simply excuse yourself until you’re ready to rejoin the group. If you’re overcome with fatigue and grief and simply can’t make it to a party, it’s okay. Make yourself a bowl of popcorn and watch a movie or read a book. But keep in mind that socializing might do you a world of good. The most important thing is that you do what’s best for YOU. So whatever you need to do in order to get through the holiday season, do it in a healthy way. Please don’t rely on alcohol or drugs to numb your feelings.

Here are some suggestions for feeling your emotions and feeling your best, while remembering your loved ones during the holidays and beyond.

  1. Be honest with yourself and with others. Tell them what you’d like to do and what you’d prefer not to do.
  2. Create a new tradition in honor of your loved one, i.e. if you typically hosted a dinner, set a place setting and serve your loved one’s favorite dish.
  3. Decide where you want to spend the holidays. Maybe go to a new place or take a trip with another widow or widower whom you met in a support group.
  4. If you’ve had a hard time discarding your loved one’s clothes, think about donating them to a homeless shelter, etc.
  5. Start journaling. It’s a wonderful way to express your feelings and get things off your chest.
  6. Write a letter to your loved one and express your love, your sadness, grief, guilt, etc.
  7. Place two chairs facing one another. Sit in one and speak out loud the words you would like to express to your loved one. Tell him or her how much you miss them, or express your anger and guilt, etc.
  8. Watch what you eat. You should definitely enjoy your favorite foods, but don’t use grief as an excuse to overindulge in foods that aren’t good for you.
  9. Splurge on a gift for yourself!
  10. Help out at a shelter or food bank, or make a donation in honor of your loved one.
  11. Don’t overcommit. You don’t need to make the holiday meal, if you’re not up to it.
  12. It’s okay to be happy. It’s the holidays! Don’t feel guilty for enjoying yourself. It won’t diminish the love you have in your heart for your loved one.
  13. Read a book that will help identify your feelings and cope more easily with grief. I recommend these two: The Empty Chair: Handling Grief on Holidays and Special Occasions by Ed.D Zonnebelt-Smeenge, Susan J. R.N. and Robert C. De Vries | Sep 1, 2001. The Secret Life of Grief: A Memoir by Tanja Pajevic, 2016, 2016
  14. Get a massage.
  15. Use aromatherapy. Citrus oils are generally refreshing and uplifting for the mind and emotions, relieve stress and anxiety.  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.
  16. Get the sleep that you need.
  17. Make an appointment with a professional therapist if you need help.
  18. Eat a serving of high-quality protein with every meal and snack
  19. Focus on complex carbohydrates (whole grains, veggies and fruits), and eliminate junk foods (refined carbs).
  20. Enjoy unlimited amounts of fresh veggies.
  21. Eat a good breakfast!
  22. Eat 3 balanced meals and 1-2 snacks/day.
  23. Magnesium, B complex, fish-oil, walnuts, flax seeds, dark leafy greens, and high quality all help reduce stress and uplift mood.
  24. Meditate, light a candle, or find some quiet time for yourself.
  25. Take a multi-vitamin mineral supplement to support your overall health, well-being, and immunity.
  26. Exercise! At least take a short walk every day.
  27. Put on a CD, vinyl record or the radio and listen to your favorite music. Dancing as though no one is watching. There is nothing like music or dance to uplift the spirit.
  28. Put on a funny YouTube video and laugh.
  29. Meet a friend for a chat over coffee. Having a good chat and/or laugh, either via telephone or in person does wonders.
  30. Do the best you can. Try to relax and enjoy your family and friends.

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

Five surprising causes of memory loss

Mind concept graphic for memory loss or alzheimer's diseaseAfter my husband had a surgical procedure that required anesthesia, not only did he wake up groggy, but his early stage Alzheimer’s disease worsened. He got lost driving in our home town and had more difficulty with everyday activities. Years later, it was a kidney stone that sent him over the edge into a downward spiral. It’s not a surprise that anesthesia can cause memory loss, temporary or permanent. But it came as a surprise when something as common as a kidney stone had a severe impact on my husband’s mental condition and overall health.

There is a link between common infections such as UTIs (urinary tract infections), the flu, colds, and stomach viruses and their effect on memory in the elderly and dementia populations. A significant study found that people with Alzheimer’s, who get even a mild respiratory or gastrointestinal infection, or a bump or bruise are at risk for having a significant, permanent memory loss, according to a report that was published in the September 8, 2009 issue of the journal Neurology. These patients can have high levels of tumor necrosis factor—alpha (TNF-a)—a protein that is linked to inflammation and is associated with memory loss and cognitive decline.

In the study done at the Clinical Neurosciences Research Division at the University of Southampton, United Kingdom, 222 Alzheimer’s patients were followed for six months. Of those, 110 people had an infection or injury that resulted in inflammation. These individuals had twice the memory loss during that period of time as the individuals who did not have an illness or injury. Researchers attribute the memory loss to inflammation. In patients whose TNF-a levels were high to begin with, an infection increased their memory loss to 10 times more than those who had low TNF-a levels. Clive Holmes, PhD, lead researcher, said that this population should be vaccinated against the flu, and infections and injuries should be treated as soon as possible.

Other surprising causes of memory loss

  1. UTIs–Urinary tract infections are notorious for causing delirium and delusional behavior in the elderly. When younger people get a urinary tract infection, they typically experience painful urination, an urgent need to urinate, lower abdominal pain, back pain on one side, and fever and chills. However, an older adult might not experience those symptoms. As we get older our immune system changes and it responds differently to infection. Instead of pain symptoms, seniors with a UTI may show increased signs of confusion, agitation or withdrawal. In older adults with dementia, these behavioral changes may come across as part of that condition or signs of advanced aging. If the underlying UTI goes unrecognized and untreated for too long, it can spread to the bloodstream and become life-threatening. In fact, I have a dear friend who recently died from a UTI that quickly became septic.
  2. Vitamin B12 is essential for normal nerve function. A deficiency can lead to confusion and dementia. It is vital to get 2.4 micrograms of B12 in your diet every day from sources such as dairy products, meat and fish, or from foods fortified with vitamin B12. Vegans must take a B12 supplement since the vitamin is found in animal foods.
  3. Sleep apnea causes one to stop breathing during the night. It can be very brief and very frequent, but it is treatable. Unfortunately, sleep apnea islinked to memory loss and dementia, according to Constantine Lyketsos, MD, director of the Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center at Johns Hopkins Medicine and professor and chair of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Bayview. You might have sleep apnea if you wake up with a headache and have daytime fatigue — or if your partner complains of loud snoring. A study published in The Journal of Neuroscience found that untreated sleep apnea affects spatial navigational memory. This type of memory includes being able to remember directions or where you put things like your keys. The research suggests that deep sleep, also known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, plays an important role in memory. Dr. Lyketsos explains that for people with sleep apnea, oxygen delivery to the brain is interrupted several hundred times during the night . He says, The brain is stressed, so people wake up, and the injury sleep apnea causes can show up as a variety of memory loss symptoms. If you or someone you know has sleep apnea, please make an appointment with your health practitioner.
  4. Some medications such as statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs), sleeping pills, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and some painkillers have been found to increase the risk for reversible cognitive side effects, including memory loss and confusion. A commonly prescribed type 2 diabetes drug, metformin, has also been associated with memory problems. A study published in Diabetes Care found that people with diabetes who took the drug had worse cognitive performance than those who did not take it.
  5. Thyroid disease can cause poor memory, especially in seniors. Hypothyroidism is very common in people over 60 and it steadily increases with age. It is believed that up to one in four individuals in nursing homes may have undiagnosed hypothyroidism. Memory loss or declining cognitive functioning which is frequently attributed to old age, might be the only symptom of hypothyroidism in an elderly person. If there is a family history of thyroid disease, past treatment for hyperthyroidism or a history of surgery and/or radiotherapy to the neck, a physician might be able to better establish a link leading to a diagnosis. Thyroid disease is a lifelong disorder that can be treated with medication, but the patient must be closely monitored to make sure the correct dosage is prescribed.

Tips for protecting your memory and keeping you and your loved one healthy and safe

  • Inoculate against flu, pneumonia and shingles
    Boost immunity with zinc, vitamin D and vitamin C
  • Take a complete B-vitamin supplement to make sure you are getting a balanced amount of B vitamins.
  • Prevent falls and accidents (recommended: Complete Guide to Alzheimer’s Proofing Your Home by Mark Warner http://store.nexternal.com/shared/StoreFront/default.asp?CS=ageless&StoreType=BtoC&Count1=668834865&Count2=585975289&CategoryID=3&Target=products.asp
  • Reduce systemic inflammation with a curcumin (turmeric extract) supplement
  • Use a humidifier to moisturize nasal passages and mucous membranes to help keep them healthy
  • Engage in gentle exercise to reduce inflammation
  • Keep hydrated by drinking at least 6-8 glasses of water each day
  • Encourage seniors to use the bathroom several times a day, approximately every two to three hours.
  • Make sure the senior is maintaining good hygiene, with showers at least several times a week.
  • If the person is incontinent, make sure he or she changes undergarments frequently.

There are other articles on my blog that discuss how to support your memory and cognition. Please subscribe today, and feel free to send me your questions.

To your health.

Sincerely,

Barbra Cohn