The best gifts for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia

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

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

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

BarbraCohn__

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.

Why you should throw away that antipsychotic drug prescribed for your loved one

Elderly woman taking a medicineAccording to Human Rights Watch in an average week, nursing facilities in the United States administer antipsychotic drugs to over 179,000 people who do not have diagnoses for which the drugs are approved. Often, these drugs are dispensed like candy, without free and informed consent. . . without a family member or someone who holds durable power of attorney for the health care resident, to make a decision based on the benefits and risks of taking the medication.

Like my late husband, most of the patients who are given these drugs have some form of dementia or Alzheimer’s.  My husband was in a memory care home for two years. Towards the end of his illness, he was given an antipsychotic drug because his behavior became “difficult.” He was not combative, and he was mostly non-ambulatory. Once, though, while sitting, he swung out his arm and hit a woman who was bothering him. Since I wasn’t there, I don’t know the details. But in general, he was a sweet man up until the end. He did get annoyed, however, by other residents’ behavior. And so he was given a drug to pacify him. After visiting him over a period of a few weeks and noticing the deterioration in his overall wellbeing, including his inability to hold his head up, sit upright, or staying awake most of the day, I demanded that he be taken off a number of drugs. The improvement was dramatic and astounding.

According to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) analysis, facilities often use antipsychotic drugs to control common symptoms of Alzheimer’s. These drugs are associated with clinically significant adverse effects, including death. Then why are they being prescribed to an extremely vulnerable, frail and “at risk” population? Because disruptive behaviors such as crying out “help me, help me” over a long period of time, or yelling out profanities, or exhibiting aggressive behavior can become a nuisance that caregivers –professional and family–are either not skilled in addressing or are too busy taking care of other patients to be bothered with.

What are the alternatives?

First:

  • Eliminate noise and disruption.
  • Make sure the patient does not have a urinary tract infection.
  • Evaluate physical needs. Is s/he thirsty, hungry, constipated, etc?
  • Encourage the patient to verbalize feelings and needs, if possible.
  • Limit or reduce caffeine.
  • Reduce external stimuli (loud TV or radio, etc.).
  • Dim the lighting.
  • Avoid confrontation and use a soft, sweet speaking voice.
  • Provide companionship.
  • Identify events or issues that trigger behaviors.

Once you know the patient is safe and free from pain due to an infection, create a calm and beautiful environment.

Creating a beautiful space

  • Maintain a clean environment without clutter.
  • Enjoy a vase of fresh flowers.
  • Burn incense to clear and purify the air, unless the smoke or odor is irritating.
  • Paint the walls a color that rejuvenates the spirit. For instance, green is healing and relaxing, red restores vitality in people who are depressed, and purple is powerful for those who need spiritual and emotional healing.
  • Gather gemstones. They exert healing effects. Lithium quartz is said to ease tension and stress, and keep nightmares at bay. Pink Calcite promotes compassion, healing, and universal love. Amethyst is for protection, purification, and spiritual/divine connection.
  • Listening to calming sounds can relax a tense body within minutes. Consider a wind chime, water fountain, or a CD of singing birds, ocean waves, or falling rain.]
  • Use essential oils or aromatherapy to have a specific effect on the body, mind, and spirit. (See Aromatherapy, Chapter 18 in “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia.”)
  • Create an outdoor sacred space with river rocks, a koi or lily pond, a flowering tree or shrub, pampas grass, colored sand—the possibilities are endless.
  • Include religious symbols, chakra symbols, animal totems, prayer flags, angel statues, rainbow banners, and lamps with colored bulbs.

Herbal remedies

  • 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 your loved one is  feeling nervous, agitated, restless or hyped up, try calming him/her with a nervine herb or aromatherapy. If your loved one is on medication, please check with the physician to make sure the drugs do not interact with the nervine herbs.

Other ways to help a person with dementia relax and feel calm without the use of antipsychotic drugs.

  • Aromatherapy
  • Music
  • Pet therapy
  • Horticulture therapy
  • Color therapy

For detailed information on all of the above, read  “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia”

image

12 tips to encourage your Alzheimer’s patient to eat

Seniorin mit BetreuerinIt seems that ice cream is the favorite food of most Alzheimer’s patients. It was certainly my husband’s. Sometimes it was the only thing that he found appealing. It’s no wonder: ice cream is cold, slippery and delicious! However, there are lots of healthy frozen desserts available that are low in fat and calories that contain little or no cholesterol. Try Rice Dream®, Coconut Bliss, Soy Dream, or Halo Top. If you have a food processor, puree frozen strawberries or bananas. You won’t even miss the sugar and cream.

Getting adequate nutrition and even the sheer act of eating can be a challenge for both patients and caregivers. Here’s a list of ways to create a tranquil setting, and some easy-to-eat foods to uplift mood and support immunity for everyone.

  1. Play classical or another type of relaxing music. My husband loved to listen to Nina Simone’s jazzy voice while he ate. Whatever the preference is, play the music softly to create an inviting atmosphere. If your loved one lives in a memory care home, the other residents will probably appreciate the music, as well.
  2. Light a candle. Set the table with a table cloth and vase of flowers. Beauty, color and light always create a magical, calming effect.
  3. Aromatherapy oils including peppermint and spearmint are energizing and might stimulate appetite.
  4. Make the chair as comfortable as possible, especially if the person has a bad back. Place a cushion on the seat and back, if necessary.
  5. Use soft lighting. Replace glaring light bulbs with a warmer color light bulb, or install a dimmer.
  6. It might be hard for the person to differentiate foods on a plate, especially if they are the same color. Use contrasting colors. For example, serve beets and carrots on white instead of white mashed potatoes on a white plate.
  7. If your patient has trouble using a fork and knife, serve finger foods. Sandwiches cut in quarters or even eighths, pieces of fruit rather than whole fruits, baked potatoes cut into chunks, etc. are easier to manage.
  8. Use herbs and spices to flavor foods instead of salt. Herbs and spices have healing benefits. For instance, basil can relieve gas and soothe stomach upsets. Cinnamon has a tranquilizing effect that helps reduce anxiety and stress. It also helps regulate blood sugar. Dill soothes the digestive tract and reduces heartburn. Mint promotes digestion and boosts mental alertness.
  9. Puree soups such as split pea, potato/leek. cauliflower, and vegetable, and serve with a wide straw, if necessary. This relieves the chore of chewing and helps hydrate as well as nourish the patient.

One of my all-time favorite recipes is for Indian kicheree, also called a “meal in a pot.”

This traditional soup is wonderful during times of stress, stomach upset, and any time the appetite is diminished due to sickness or stress.

Kicheree

4 Tbs organic Basmati rice

4 Tbs mung dal or red lentils

4 1/2 cups water (more or less, depending on whether you like it soupy or thick)

2 tsp grated fresh ginger

2 Tbs fresh lemon juice

1 cup assorted veggies cut bite-sized (zucchini, yam, carrot, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.)

1 tsp ground coriander seed

1 tsp ground cumin seed

1/4 tsp turmeric

salt and pepper to taste

Combine the rice, dal ginger, veggies and water in pot. Add the spices. Bring to a boil over medium heat; then lower to a simmer for 45-50 minutes. Add water if it gets too thick. Remove from the stove. Add the lemon juice, salt and pepper.

10. Protein shakes are nutritious, filling, and nourishing. Use ingredients of your choice without relying on the sugary nutrition drinks that are generously handed out in institutions. Bananas, strawberries, blueberries, kale, spinach, peanut butter, coconut milk, almond milk, hemp milk, soy milk, and cow’s milk are some of the popular ingredients to try. Protein powders are concentrated sources of protein from animal or plant foods, such as dairy, eggs, rice or peas. The most popular include whey, casein, egg, pea, hemp, brown rice, and mixed plant proteins.

11. Offer healthy snacks throughout the day such as cheese and apple slices, nut butter on apples slices, fresh fruit, humus and carrot sticks.

12. Eggs are my favorite “go to” food for protein. They are easy to eat, can be made in a variety of ways and contain 13 essential vitamins and minerals! Vitamin D for bone health and immune function, lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants important for reducing the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, vitamins B 12 and B6, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, choline, vitamin E, vitamin A, iron, zinc and more. Add pureed veggies for extra vitamins and minerals. Devil eggs are always a hit as a delicious and highly nutritious snack.

For hundreds of other caregiving tips, read “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia”

 

image.png

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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__

12 ways to ensure end of life peace for our loved ones and ourselves

White Bird in Clouds

A couple of years ago, Mom and I talked about facing the end of her life. I asked her if she had a good life and she said, “yes.” I asked her if she had regrets and she said, “yes.” But she didn’t want to talk about that. I told her I would do my best to be with her at the time of her passing. I was, and I am thankful that I fulfilled my mother’s wish and my promise to her.

Just two weeks ago my beloved mother passed away from pneumonia. Pneumonia has traditionally been called “the old man’s friend” because a frail elderly person typically loses consciousness and passes fairly easily in sleep. Although it was not easy watching my mother drown in her own fluid, she appeared to not be in pain. Her breathing was labored for hours, and then she sank into a state of peaceful acceptance as her last breaths came in whispers until the last tiniest breath sealed the finality of her life. 

I’m relieved that I had made the funeral arrangements with my brother a year ago. At least I didn’t have to deal with that on the day that the earth stopped spinning and I forgot to drink water as I faced a new reality of living in a world without a mother. I am also relieved that I made arrangements with Chevre Kadisha, the Jewish Sacred Burial Society. Many religions have complex codes of conduct for survivors and very specific rituals and customs that have been carried out for centuries. Harvey Lutske writes in The Book of Jewish Customs that the practices and customs rabbis established for survivors to observe following the death of a loved one help the survivors “cope with their loss, continue with their lives, recover emotionally, pay respect to the dead, and perpetuate the memories of those who have gone before us.”

Final gift of love

My mother’s body was lovingly washed by a group of women in a ritual called Taharah. This cleansing requires several people because the entire body must be washed and moved from side to side in a specific way according to Jewish law. Afterwards, a huge amount of water is poured over the body and passages are read from the Song of Songs. The people performing the Taharah ask for forgiveness in case they performed some indignity. The body is then dressed in a cotton or linen shroud and put into an unadorned, pine coffin. Typically, someone sits with the body or “met” until internment. This is called sitting Shimira, and it is often done in two-hour shifts around the clock. The person reads psalms or prayers silently or out loud, or meditates while a candle burns continuously at the head of the coffin.

Buddhists also incorporate a cleansing of the body and a vigil into their mourning ritual. Families are often invited to wash the body of their deceased loved one. Washing a corpse enables you to become intimate with death in a way no other thing does. It’s hard work, but it’s an important way to honor the dead, said one Buddhist minister.

Death is the great equalizer

To the question, “What is the value of death?” the Jewish rabbis answered, “If nothing ever died, we, the human race, would not learn how to value time. Life’s finiteness is earmarked, and ended, by death. And learning to face death may be life’s greatest challenge.”

As hard as it is, we can take control and manage the death and dying of our loved ones. We can do things that make sense to us and provide us with comfort. Kim Mooney, the Board President of Conversations on Death, and Director of Community Education for Tru Community Care, Colorado’s first hospice, says, “The more you’re involved in the death and grieving process, the more we’re able to be in touch with that innate place in ourselves that tells us how to live. It’s the fear of death that makes us live. And it’s the terror of death that makes us run from the experiences that will teach us.”

As painful as it is,’ says Mooney, grief work and dealing with the death of a loved one guides how you’re going to live your own life. “We’ve skewed our relationship to death in this society,” she says, “but we can’t walk away from it. If you don’t do the work around it, you will somehow diminish the quality of your life. Grieving is a life-long process. Our lives are a series of gains and losses. Learning how to grieve, and incorporating a loss and moving on is critical to being able to become a mature, spiritual person because it implies an acceptance of what life is.”

I am an expert at grieving because of my significant losses. But this time will be different because I lost my mother, my primary connection to the world. This time is especially profound because no one can replace a mother. It will take time before I don’t have the thought to call her, to check in with her, to make sure she is okay. And even though I have children and grandchildren, I will always ponder the profoundly unique love that binds a mother and child in remembering my own sacred relationship with my mother.

In listening to the sweet words and stories that so many people told me after learning of my mother’s passing, I am reminded that it is how we make people feel—not what we accomplished—that is what we remember about a person. Death once again serves as a teacher to remind me that we are here temporarily, and that as my teacher loved to say, “Do not trust the time. Life is short, make it sweet.”

These personalized rituals can provide comfort and ease the intense pain that accompanies death, dying and grieving:

  1. Have a heart-to-heart talk with your loved ones before they get too ill. The Five Wishes is an easy-to-read end-of-life document that helps makes the difficult discussion about what you would like your end of life to look like.
  2. Hospice is a free palliative service offered by Medicare/Medicaid that supports the dying patient as well as the family
  3. Play music that the dying person loves, sing hymns, chant, etc.
  4. Dress and wash the deceased and dress the body in a white linen shroud
  5. Muslims typically share their prayers with the person who is dying before encouraging the dying person, if possible, to say or listen to the words, “I bear witness that (there is) no god except Allah; One is He, no partner hath He, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His Servant and Messenger. Once the person has passed away, the next step is to perform the ghusl, (similar to the Jewish taharah) or the washing of the deceased’s person body. The ghusl can can be done by most adult family members of the same sex as the deceased. After the body is washed, it is then enshrouded, typically in plain, white cloth.
  6. Have a meaningful farewell service
  7. Honor the loved one at different times during the year
  8. Build memory books
  9. Finish what the deceased person didn’t
  10. Write letters to the deceased and writing them back to yourself
  11. Donate a toy for the age of a baby or child who died to “Toys for Tots
  12. Write a life story

 

10 Ways caregivers can reduce stress and feel instant relief

Spa still-life.

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

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

20 Ways to give your body the best nutrition it deserves

fresh fruits and vegetablesIt’s National Nutrition Month and a perfect time to think about ways to increase your nutritional intake. By now most folks have forgotten about their New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, eat healthier, become a vegetarian, reduce sugar intake, etc. It doesn’t matter. New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken.

This is a good time to develop a new plan that makes sense. Whether you want to support your brain health, relieve stress and anxiety about caregiving responsibilities, or just want to rev up your energy, stamina and immunity, here are some ways to protect your health and support your mood.

  1. Did you know that 70% of your immune system lies in your gut? Probiotics are live bacterial microorganisms that populate the human gastrointestinal tract. They combat the daily bombardment of toxins and pathogens (bacteria, fungus, parasites, and viruses) that enter our digestive system every day through contaminated food and other toxins. Recent studies show that the bacteria in your gut can also affect your mental health, mood and stress levels. Fermented foods such as kombucha, Greek yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, cottage cheese are probiotics. Probiotic bacteria colonize the digestive tract with good bacteria. Prebiotics are the food and nutrients that feed probiotics. Prebiotic fiber is found in fruits and vegetables such as artichokes, jicama, wild yams, onions and garlic, asparagus, beans, oats, chicory root and Jerusalem artichokes. Prebiotics support mineral absorption, vitamin utilization, and healthy blood sugar levels. Your gut needs both pro- and prebiotics in order to stay healthy and keep you healthy.
  2. The brain is very sensitive to the food we eat. A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine (Aug. 8, 2016) evaluated 242 participants, measuring fasting blood sugar and neurocognitive functioning. Those with elevated blood sugar, including people who did not have diabetes, had a dramatic increase of developing dementia. Just remember that what is good for your heart is good for your brain. So try eating a Mediterranean based diet of olive oil, fish, and lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts and seeds, with less meat, cheese and sweets.
  3. Drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated and to flush out toxins. Your brain is 70% water when fully hydrated, and it gets dehydrated just like your body. When it is dehydrated neurotransmission—which is heavily dependent on water—is impaired, resulting in poor memory, concentration and impaired abstract thinking. The next time your mind is muddled, drink a tall glass of water and notice the difference.
  4. Take a complete B-vitamin supplement to make sure you are getting a balanced amount of B vitamins. 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. Berries are berry good for your health. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, cranberries, as well as some others you may never have heard of, contain unique phytochemicals that may help prevent cancer, heart disease, age-related brain declines, and much more. Blueberries score highest on the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) test—a measurement that rates the total antioxidant score of foods, and many berries, such as raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, and strawberries contain ellagic acid, which preliminary research suggests may help to prevent certain types of cancer. Summer is almost here, so enjoy your berries. They are good for you!
  6. Eat more healthy fats and skip the hydrogenated and trans fats found in doughnuts, potato chips and other pastries and desserts.  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. Eating fish such as wild-caught salmon, sardines and other cold-water fish can protect you against Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Numerous studies have shown that elderly people who did not have dementia had high blood levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an essential fatty acid found in cold-water fish, in comparison to those with dementia, who had on average 30% to 40% lower blood levels of DHA. Ways to increase your DHA intake: eat cold-water fish such as wild-caught salmon, sardines and mackerel, at least twice a week. Add flax meal to cereal and baked goods, sprinkle flax oil on your salad, eat a small handful of walnuts at least several times a week.
  7. Eat breakfast! It is the meal that you break your fast with. During the night our blood sugar levels drop, so it’s especially important to eat within one hour of arising and by 10am. Eating breakfast restores healthy blood sugar levels, but make sure your breakfast isn’t coffee and a doughnut. Have some protein and a healthy fat such as an omelet and avocado and a piece of whole grain or gluten-free toast. It’ll provide you with the energy you need to get through the morning while maintaining a sense of equilibrium. My favorite cool weather breakfast is eggs (any way you like them), a side of beans such as black or pinto, and a pile of sautéed greens. When the weather is hot, I prefer home-made granola made with oats, a bit of coconut oil and maple syrup, coconut flakes, and lots of nuts including almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pumpkin seeds. Add chia seeds, flax meal, yogurt and fresh berries and you’ve got a breakfast for champions.
  8. Avoid commercially processed meats and favor grass-fed meats, free-range chickens and eggs fed an organic, non-GMO diet. And limit your meat consumption to no more than twice a week.
  9. Eat like a rabbit to reduce your risk of stroke, dementia, macular degeneration, and other chronic illness. Veggies are low in calories and high in fiber. Fruits are also high in fiber and like veggies, contain numerous vitamins and minerals. Just like people, fruits and vegetables come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. And it’s the colors that identify many of the bioactive substances called phytonutrients that give us antioxidant protection and other special health benefits. The scientific community has produced a large body of research showing the potential of these super nutrients. Compared with people who eat few fruits and vegetables, populations that consume a large variety and generous amounts of plant foods enjoy longevity and reduced risk of disease. For example, the people of Okinawa have a long life expectancy, numerous centenarians, and a low-risk of age-associated diseases. Their diet is low in calories, fat, sugar, salt, and meat and dairy products. Instead, Okinawans eat fish, tofu, whole grains, and lots of fruit, dark green leafy vegetables, onions, green peppers, sea vegetables and sweet potatoes—which are all dense in phytonutrients and antioxidants. These islanders are known for a low-stress, carefree and relaxed attitude. Their rates of stroke, dementia, cancer and heart disease are also the lowest in the world. For every 100,000 people in Okinawa, 30 have passed their 100th birthday, one of the highest rates in the world.
  10. A cup of Joe will do you good . . . just don’t overdo it and don’t add lots of cream and sugar. Researchers from the University of Scranton found that coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the U.S. diet. Coffee has been shown to improve mental acuity. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (2012) found that people older than 65 who had higher blood levels of caffeine developed Alzheimer’s disease two to four years later than people with lower caffeine levels. The study included 124 people who had mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Typically, 15% of people with MCI will go on to develop full-blown Alzheimer’s disease each year. The study participants who had less than 1,200 ng/ml of caffeine levels in their blood developed Alzheimer’s disease. This is equivalent to drinking several cups of coffee a few hours before their blood was taken. The people whose memory loss did not progress to full-blown Alzheimer’s disease had higher levels of caffeine in their blood. Coffee appeared to be the only source of caffeine for the participants in the study. Some big caveats: if you have high blood pressure limit your coffee intake to 2 cups a day, and avoid drinking it before exercise or physical labor which both naturally raise blood pressure. Coffee acts as a diuretic, depleting the body of necessary fluids, so make sure you drink a glass of water for every cup of coffee you drink. Coffee can raise homocysteine levels, an indicator and risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It can also cause headaches, fatigue, depression, anxiety and drowsiness if a coffee drinker forgoes his or her usual daily dose of caffeine. So be smart and listen to your body.
  11. Drink green tea if you don’t like coffee or are unable to drink it. Scientists have found evidence that green tea extract can help fight everything from glaucoma to prostate cancer and leukemia. Now a research team composed of chemists, biochemists and biophysicists at the University of Michigan has found a new potential benefit of green tea extract: preventing the clumping of proteins associated amyloids in the brain, which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. The study found that the specific molecule in green tea, ( — )-epigallocatechin-3-gallate, also known as EGCG, prevented aggregate formation and broke down existing aggregate structures in the proteins that contained the metals copper, iron and zinc. At Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine, researchers tracked the green tea consumption of nearly 14,000 people over age 65 for three years. The participants’ quality of life (measured in day-to-day activities such as getting dressed, walking the dog, and performing household chores) was examined in relation to how much green tea they drank. The authors found that the more green tea participants consumed, the longer they were able to ward off the difficulties associated with old age. The people who drank at least five cups a day were one-third less likely to develop disabilities than those who had less than a cup per day. Those people who averaged three or four cups a day had a 25 percent lower risk. Just remember that while green tea and its extracts are considered safe in small amounts, they do contain caffeine and small amounts of vitamin K, which means it could interfere with drugs that prevent blood clotting. So the next time you feel the need for a cup of coffee or black tea, consider drinking a cup of green tea instead. It just might help you maintain clarity of mind, healthy bones, and cardiovascular health well into your senior years.
  12. Herbs or adaptogens can be helpful for increasing energy without stimulation. An adaptogen is a natural substance—usually an herb—that helps the body adapt to stress by producing a calming effect on the whole physiology, and stress is often blamed with being the root cause of many illnesses and diseases. Phytosterols, the plant compounds in the herbs ashwaghanda, gotu kola, passion flower, schizandra, skullcap, rhodiola, and cordyceps have been scientifically shown to support the adrenal glands and healthy blood chemistry, and enhance the body’s ability to resist the ravages of stress. Valerian, Siberian ginseng, kava kava, oat straw, and hops also help reduce stress. These herbs can be taken as a tea or in the form of a nutritional supplement. Culinary herbs also have numerous health benefits. Turmeric, the spice used in Indian cooking, has dozens of studies backing up its ability to reduce inflammation, another major cause of chronic disease, and risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Cinnamon helps to stabilize blood sugar levels, which is vital to healthy aging. Oregano contains antioxidants that offer antibacterial protection. Garlic has been called the natural antibiotic, and ginger root has been used for thousands of years for its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects. The list goes on and on.
  13. Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in your body—which means it is absolutely essential to your healthy blood pressure, cardiovascular health, bone and overall health. In fact, you cannot live without it! Magnesium is involved in more than 300 biochemical reactions, particularly as a catalyst for food metabolism and the release of energy. Yet, only about 25% of Americans meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of 400 mg per day for magnesium. Good sources of magnesium include: dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, Swiss chard and kale dark green, legumes, peas and beans (especially soybeans), seeds and nuts (especially almonds, cashews and pumpkin seeds) whole, unrefined grains, including oatmeal and bran, and halibut
  14. Go nuts on Brazil nuts. They are rich in selenium, a potent antioxidant which is concentrated in the thyroid gland. They also contain copper, which helps to support a healthy thyroid. Regardless of whether you have thyroid issues, selenium is a good all-round antioxidant. According to the Institute of Medicine, the tolerable upper intake level (UL) (i.e., the highest level of intake that is known to avoid toxicity) for selenium is 400μcg per day. On average, Brazil nuts have 544 mcg selenium per ounce, but studies indicate that the selenium content may vary widely depending on country of origin, cultivation methods, etc. With that in mind, a good starting point for most folks would be to consume 2 – 3 Brazil nuts per day.
  15. Eat more tomatoes. Recent epidemiological studies have suggested that eating tomatoes and tomato-based food products can reduce the risk of prostate cancer and macular degeneration.  This protective effect has been attributed to carotenoids, which are one of the major classes of phytochemicals in this fruit. The most abundant carotenoid in tomato is lycopene. Cooking tomatoes in olive oil helps you digest and assimilate the lycopene so if you like tomato sauce on your pasta, go for it. Just make sure you are eating a healthy pasta product–think whole grain, quinoa, etc.
  16. Include flax oil, flax meal or flax oil in your diet. They are the best source of lignans. Lignans are compounds that form the building blocks of plant cell walls. They contain phytoestrogens that help regulate the body’s estrogen production. When we eat plant foods the lignan compounds are converted in our intestines by good bacteria to produce a form that the body can assimilate. Enterolactone—the primary lignan metabolite (a substance produced by metabolism) that circulates in our blood—produces weak estrogenic activity. Dozens of reports have revealed that high levels of enterolactone in our blood help to reduce risk of breast, prostate and colon cancers, and cardiovascular disease. Studies have also shown that high levels of lignans can support healthy weight and glucose metabolism, reducing the risk of insulin sensitivity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Most plant foods contain small amounts of lignans, but flax seeds are by far the best source. Other good sources include high fiber foods such as whole grains (wheat, barley), sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews, kale, broccoli, carrots, legumes, garlic, asparagus and berries.
  17. Lutein and zeaxanthin reduce eye health risks. What are they? They are antioxidants in the carotenoid family—a group of naturally occurring, fat-soluble pigments found in plants—that play a key role in our the health of our eyes.  Carotenoids are the red, orange and yellow plant pigments that give fruits and vegetables their vivid colors.  All fruits and vegetables contain varying concentrations of carotenoids.  But their colors are often covered up by green chlorophyll contained in the plant. Lutein is found in spinach, kale, collard greens, romaine lettuce, leeks, peas, egg yolks, tomatoes, carrots, marigold flowers, and fruits. Zeaxanthin is found in corn, kale, mustard greens, spinach, egg yolk, orange peppers, collard greens, lycii berry fruit, green algae spirulina and other types of commercially produced algae. Lutein and zeaxanthin accumulate in the macula, the prominent, bright yellow spot in the center of the retina that allows you to clearly distinguish fine detail. And studies are showing that people with macular degeneration—the slow deterioration of the cells in the macula, which affects your central vision, the vision you use for reading, writing, driving and identifying faces—have low concentrations of these two pigments in the macula. So make sure you are eating plenty of the above mentioned fruits and veggies.
  18. Chromium is a first class blood sugar and insulin regulator. Yet, nine out of 10 American diets fall short of this trace mineral, which is essential for the transfer of sugar from the bloodstream to muscle cells, giving them the fuel they need to work.  Chromium is also involved in maintaining cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and supporting healthy muscles.  Chromium levels decrease with age and are often low due to poor diet. Eat more foods that are naturally high in chromium: broccoli, barley, oats, green beans, tomatoes, Romaine lettuce, black pepper, Brewer’s yeast.
  19. Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, is a vitamin-like compound and an important antioxidant. It exists in every cell of your body and you could not survive without it. CoQ10 is essential in the body’s production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which produces energy within the cells and is the basis for normal functioning of all body systems and organs. If you think of the body’s cells as little engines that use oxygen to burn the organic fuels that come from food, you may think of CoQ10 as the part of the engine that provides the spark for this process. No other substance will substitute for CoQ10. Without it there is no spark and therefore no production of energy for the cell. And without energy there is no life! As we age, it becomes more and more difficult for the body to produce enough CoQ10. An 80-year-old person has about half the CoQ10 levels of a 20-year-old.  Body levels of CoQ10 are also influenced by stress, cold, illness, high blood pressure, hormone concentrations, physical activity and prescription drugs, which can deplete CoQ10 levels. Scientists estimate that once levels drop below the 25% deficient level, a variety of health problems can take hold. But your cells’ energy and efficiency can be restored with supplementation and/or by eating eggs, dairy products, meat, and poultry, fatty fish, nuts and seeds, broccoli, cauliflower, and some fruits and vegetables.
  20. Are you getting enough vitamin D? Most people, especially the elderly, are vitamin D deficient.  Researchers have found a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and low mood, depression and worse cognitive performance in older adults. In a recent study, 1618 patients who averaged 73.8 years old were tested for vitamin D deficiency. Those with severe vitamin D deficiency were twice as likely to suffer from depression. Vitamin D is most commonly known for helping the digestive system absorb calcium and phosphorus. In that way it helps the body build and maintain healthy bones. But it does much more. Adequate vitamin D is believed to play a role in the reduction of falls, as well as supporting cardiovascular health, a strong immune system and cognitive function. Also, scientists theorize that one of the reasons that influenza occurs in the wintertime is that we do not manufacture enough vitamin D, and the resulting vitamin D deficiency might promote our susceptibility to the flu virus. Which foods contain vitamin D? Fatty fish such as salmon, trout, tuna and sardines, milk, and fortified cereals provide more than 100 IU per serving. And mushroom is the only food in the produce section that has vitamin D. But you’d have to eat an awful lot of these foods to get the recommended daily dose of vitamin D, which is 2400 IU, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition. For instance, you would have to eat at least five servings of salmon a day or drink 20 cups of fortified milk. Play it safe and take a vitamin D dietary supplement. According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition (March 9, 2009) adults need at least four times the current recommended dose of 600 IU of vitamin D. In 2008 The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) doubled its recommended minimum intake for infants, children and teens from 200 IU to 400 IU per day.

Be well, be heathy, and please subscribe to my blog for more articles filled with information on how you can support your health and the health of your loved ones.

 

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

8 Ways to Train Your Brain

Intelligence of the human brain

Intelligence of the human brain

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

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