Gardening as therapy for caregivers and their care partners

Senior couple gardening in the garden

Clipping vegetables and watering flowers can do wonders for the soul and have a profound effect on a stressed physiology. Horticultural therapy is a health-care specialty that uses gardening to promote physical and emotional health by creating a peaceful oasis amid the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease, or any other caregiving situation.

Therapy gardens encourage memory-impaired people and their caregivers to take a moment to smell the roses and perform tasks that magically momentarily take away their cares and worries. You might already being working in the garden, which is a natural balm for these anxiety-filled days.

If you are caregiving for a loved one at home, gardening is a great opportunity for you and your care partner to spend time outdoors, connect through memories that might arise, and de-stress. You’ll also gain the satisfaction of accomplishing something that will, hopefully, provide you with beauty, sweet scents, and/or food!

Here are some ways to include your care partner so that you both benefit—from the “Horticulture Therapy by horticulurual therapist Pam Catlin, chapter 17 in my book “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia.


Throughout the ages people have connected over food and the garden setting provides an abundance of taste experiences through edible flowers, herbs, and vegetables.  Not all non-poisonous flowers are tasty or have a pleasing texture, however.  Some tried and true edible flowers are nasturtiums, lavender, day lilies, roses, tulips, pansies and violas.  The flowers can be used in salads, baking, decorating cakes and so much more. In caring for these flowers, chemical pesticides must be avoided.

Herbs and vegetables are a great addition to a garden and they provide another taste experience for the gardener.  Examples of easy to grow herbs are basil, chives, mint, oregano, parsley and rosemary.  Some are even perennials that will come back each year. These herbs might be enjoyed by being mixed into plain yogurt or softened cream cheese to create an easy dip to spread on a cracker.  When selecting vegetables, keep in mind that all of the solanaceous family (tomatoes and eggplant) have toxic foliage.  With close supervision, they can still be planted as most gardeners love a beautiful ripe tomato.

For those who have retained their olfactory senses, just running hands over herb plants provides a fragrance to inhale and enjoy.  Scented geraniums, grown for their foliage and not their bloom, date back to Victorian times and are now available in most nurseries in a variety of fragrances including but not limited to citrus, chocolate and rose. Particularly fragrant flowers to include in your garden are sweet alyssum, heliotrope, pansies and cosmos.

When selecting plants to stimulate the visual senses, it is important to remember that bright colors such as reds, pinks and yellows are more easily seen by older eyes than subtle, pastel colors or white.   Don’t forget interesting leaf patterns when looking for visual stimuli.  Unusual leaf patterns and colors can be found in coleus, Rex begonias and some grasses, such as zebra grass.

Consider adding some auditory elements to the garden.  Wind chimes near the patio door can assist in orienting an individual to the door’s location.  Grasses, trees, plants with seed pods, water features and bird feeders can all add a variety of pleasant sounds to the garden.

As the other senses fade, tactile stimulation becomes an important part of the gardening experience.  Selections that are surprisingly soft to the touch are dusty miller, African fountain grass and lamb’s ears.  Smooth skinned succulents provide tactile interest and can be grown indoors and (weather permitting) outdoors.  Placing plants with texture near the edges of containers or beds is an invitation to garden visitors to touch and feel as they move through the outdoor space.  If the gardener with cognitive issues is not responsive to the stimuli when touching with their fingers try running a fuzzy leaf across the cheek.  The apple of the cheek is filled with tiny nerve endings that will often be more receptive than the nerve endings in older fingers.

What you need to set up a therapy garden in your yard or porch

As the person with memory loss advances in his or her disease process, physical balance tends to become a challenge. an effective way to create a safe gardening experience is to elevate the growing areas either through raised beds or large ports. For those able to stand for short periods of time, a variety of planter heights would be ideal to support gardening while standing or sitting. rEcommended dimensions for planter height is 2′ – 2 1/2′ for sitting or 3′ – 3 1/2′ for standing. Acceptable dimensions for widths are 2′ if accessible from only one side or 4/ if accessible from all sides.

If the gardener has limited reach, avoid building materials such as bricks or block as it would be difficult to reach the soil to plant. It’s a good idea to measure what would be comfortable for the user before constructing the garden. Growing in pots or raised beds requires good planting mixes (combination of peat moss, topsoil and sand or perlite or a good quality soilless mix), regular fertilizing and plants that are no taller than 3′.

These days, many large pots are lightweight and easy to move andn place prior to filling with soil mix. Pots can be placed on rolling saucers, provided the wheels have brakes, or on pavers to help raise

Successful Plants

There are a number of tried and true plants that are safe for the garden.  For cool weather gardening, calendulas, pansies/violas, and stock add bright color.  Cool season vegetables are broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, peas, radishes and spinach. Suggested plants for the warm season shade garden are coleus, impatiens, begonias and mint.  Good plants for warm season sunny locations would be alyssum, dusty miller, geraniums, marigolds, purple cup flower, petunias, portulaca, snapdragons, zinnias, most herbs other than mint and most vegetables other than those mentioned for cool season planting.   Bush varieties of squashes and cucumbers are best suited for raised beds and pots, as are some varieties of tomatoes.

A piece of advice when creating a garden space is to start small.  The primary purpose of this growing area is to provide peace of mind and an avenue of connection for the person with memory loss and those providing care, not food production.  A garden that provides a balance of physical activity and just being in nature is a perfect addition.


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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.

20 Ways to give your body the nutrition it deserves

Health food fitness. Food sources of omega 3 on dark background top view. Foods high in fatty acids including vegetables, seafood, nut and seeds

Health food fitness. Food sources of omega 3 on dark background top view. Foods high in fatty acids including vegetables, seafood, nut and seeds

It’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 neuro-cognitive 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 CoQ10is 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.


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

10 New Year Resolutions for Caregivers

2020 New year concept. Goals list in stationery, blank clipboard, smartphone, pot plant on pink pastel color with copy spaceYou’re tired, you’re stressed–You and 45 million or so American caregivers. So what are you going to do about it? Don’t say that “I don’t have time to take care of myself.” I’ve been there and done that. But I always promised myself that I was not going to be a martyr and sacrifice my health for my husband’s illness. Because if both of us went done that wasn’t going to serve any purpose, least of all our children. They were barely adults when my husband was in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease. They needed at least one healthy parent. And whether you are taking care of a spouse, parent or child, there are other people in your life who love and need you, not necessarily to take care of them, but to love and support them emotionally.

When you are a caregiver, it’s hard to find the time to go to the gym or even take a shower, somedays. But it’s absolutely vital that you take care of yourself or you will end up getting sick and then who will take care of your loved one? Who will take care of YOU?

Here are 10 easy ways to take the edge off your stress and fatigue so you feel some relief.

  1. Say a positive affirmation before you get out of bed. “This day is going to be a good one.” “I am grateful for my friends and family.” “I am healthy and full of energy.” “I am strong and competent.” Say something positive to set the tone of the day.
  2. Before you reach for a cup of coffee, drink a glass of hot water with lemon. It hydrates your body and brain, the lemon helps to alkalize the system (yes, it’s counter intuitive), which is usually too acidic, and it helps with regularity.
  3. Ask for help! You don’t have to do it all by yourself. No one is going to think badly of you if you take some time for yourself. If your loved one resents your going out, it’s okay. Don’t become a slave to their wishes and rants. If you can’t leave your loved one alone, please ask a neighbor, friend or home care professional to help at least a couple hours a week. Some social service programs provide free respite care.
  4. Many cities throughout the U.S. offer volunteer snowbusters (volunteers who will shovel your walk and driveway), fix-it volunteers who will help with easy home repairs, and yard maintenance volunteers.
  5. Meet a friend for a chat over coffee. Having a good chat and/or laugh, either via telephone or in person does wonders.
  6. Find a walking partner in your neighborhood and try to walk at least once a week (preferably 3 times a week).
  7. Put on a CD, vinyl record or the radio and listen to your favorite music. If your care partner is mobile, ask him/her to dance. There is nothing like music or dance to uplift the spirit.
  8. Use essential oils to immediately diffuse feelings of sadness, depression, anxiety, etc. Lavender oil is the most frequently used fragrance. You can also try bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, orange, clary sage, geranium, rose, and ylang ylang, frankincense, and myrrh. Put the oil in a diffuser or spray bottle to mist your collar or pillow. Find a fragrance that is pleasing to your care partner. It’ll help him/her also.
  9. Take a multi-vitamin mineral supplement to support your overall health, well-being, and immunity.
  10. It’s important to get at least 6 hours (preferably 7 or 8) of sleep every night. Of course, this isn’t always possible if you are caring for someone and need to get up at night, or are worried about paying the bills, taking care of the car, getting a new stove, etc. If you can’t get in the hours at night, put your feet up for 10 minutes during the day when your care partner naps. Or take a power nap. It really helps.

Wishing you and your loved ones a healthy, happy New Year! And remember that “this too shall pass.”

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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.

High blood pressure is a risk for (MCI) mild cognitive impairment

Close up of digital monitor device with cuff showing high diastolic and systolic blood pressureDid you know that high blood pressure puts you at risk for developing Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)? The problem is, MCI can eventually develop into dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

A recent study involving 9,400 adults that was published in JAMA (January 28, 19) indicates that you can reduce your risk of MCI by lowering your blood pressure.  Adults in their 50s or older with high blood pressure participated in a clinical trial led by scientists at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC. The purpose of the trial was to evaluate the effect of blood pressure control on risk of dementia. The participants received either intensive blood pressure control or standard treatment.

Intensive control was used to bring systolic blood pressure below 120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), while the purpose of standard treatment was to lower it to under 140 mm Hg. Systolic blood pressure is the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts. It is the top number in a blood pressure measurement, as in 120 mm Hg over 70 mm Hg.

The results revealed that significantly fewer of those who received intensive blood pressure control went on to develop Mild Cognitive Impairment, compared with those on the standard treatment. The lead investigator Dr. Jeff D. Williamson said that “three years of lowering blood pressure not only dramatically helped the heart, but also helped the brain.”

However, the study did not show that intensive blood pressure control reduced the incidence of dementia. The authors suggested that low numbers and the study finishing earlier than planned could be reasons for this.

What is Mild Cognitive Impairment? 

MCI is a condition in which the individual has some loss of mental acuity, such as forgetting appointments, losing the flow of a conversation, and difficulties making decisions and keeping track of finances, as well as trouble with reasoning. The individual is still able to care for him or herself and live a fairly normal life.

Approximately 15 to 20 percent of people 65 and older have MCI. People living with MCI are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. But MCI doesn’t always lead to dementia. In some cases, MCI remains stable or resolves on its own. Some medications may result in symptoms of MCI, including forgetfulness or other memory issues.

There are no pharmaceutical drugs approved in the U.S. for the treatment of MCI. However, the study discussed above, is a good indication that high blood pressure that is controlled through changes in lifestyle can help prevent MCI.

Why is high blood pressure dangerous?

It’s called the “silent killer” because it is insidious. It often has no warning signs or symptoms.

If your blood pressure is high it causes strain on the vessels carrying blood throughout your body. This can injure the vessels and lead to plaque buildup as a response to injury. Eventually, this can lead to narrow blood vessels and then clotting of passageways, which can cause damage to the heart and/or brain. High blood pressure ultimately increases your risk for getting heart disease, kidney disease, dementia, and for having a stroke.

Taking Your Blood Pressure

When your doctor takes your blood pressure, he/she is measuring the pressure in your arteries as your heart pumps. The heart contracts and relaxes during each heartbeat. When it contracts, the blood is being pumped out of the two ventricles (chambers) and your blood pressure goes up. Systolic pressure (the top number in the blood pressure reading) is the peak reading of the pressure produced by this contraction.

When the heart relaxes, blood fills the ventricles and your blood pressure goes down. The diastolic pressure (the bottom number in the blood pressure reading) measures the pressure between the beats as the heart relaxes.

What’s normal blood pressure?

High blood pressure used to be considered 140/90 or higher.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (a division of the Institutes of Health), normal blood pressure is now considered to be lower than 120/80 according to the guidelines released in November 2017.

The guidelines state that for BP above 115/75, every rise of 20/10 mm Hg doubles the risk of cardiovascular disease. Since 2017, the American Heart Association has advised that people with high BP should receive treatment at 130/80 rather than 140/90.

In the new guidelines, the AHA also recommends that doctors only prescribe medication in cases of a previous heart attack or stroke, or in the presence of risk factors such as: age, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. Rather, at the earlier stages of hypertension, another word for high blood pressure, patients should make lifestyle changes. Here are a number of ways to do that:

10 Ways to support healthy blood pressure and prevent MCI

  1. Eat a nutritious, high-fiber, low-fat heart healthy diet. Learn about the MIND diet.
  2. Beware of your intake of sodium.
  3. Include foods high in phytonutrients—fruits and veggies.
  4. Take nutritional supplements proven to support a healthy heart: magnesium, potassium, B vitamin complex, vitamin D3, CoQ10, Grape seed extract, Resveratrol, Quercetin.
  5. Avoid decongestants if possible. These drugs can raise blood pressure.
  6. Practice a stress reduction technique such as yoga or meditation.
  7. At the minimum, take a walk 3-4 times a week.
  8. Stop smoking and reduce consumption of alcohol.
  9. Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water every day.
  10. If you snore, have sleeping problems, or are sleepy during the day, discuss sleep apnea with your physician.

Give yourself the gift of peace and get plenty of rest and sleep.

Happy Holidays!


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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.

What if your dementia patient becomes abusive, aggressive or violent?

Angry, enraged senior woman yelling at a landline office phone, unhappy with customer service provided by the agent on the other side, giving off steam and smokeMy husband Morris was a gentle man. But occasionally, if things didn’t go his way, he would get nasty. Once Alzheimer’s took his brain hostage, he exhibited a darker side. But only when he was frustrated or confused.

Morris spent the last two years of his life in a memory care home. He was popular among the staff because he liked to goof around. When he walked the halls listening to music on his Walkman, he’d have a smile on his face and swagger to the rhythm. But if another resident got in his way, watch out. If it was crowded in the dining room and someone accidentally bumped him, he’d swing his arm out to shoo that person away. When one of his neighbors walked into Morris’s room mistaking it for his own, the two got into a rumble on the bed and fought like school boys. After this happened a couple more times, the neighbor was moved to the opposite side of the facility.

When Morris hit a resident in the dining room, the on-call physician prescribed a depressant to “calm him down.” Morris reacted to the drug by transforming into a zombie who slumped in his chair and slept too many hours during the day. I insisted that he get off the drug and Morris returned to his mostly cheerful self.

I once had a next door neighbor whose wife had Alzheimer’s. She threatened to kill her husband with a knife and then went on to slash a painting hanging in their living room. Was she or Morris responsible for their actions? No. A person with dementia is not responsible for acts of violence because as the disease progresses, neurons in the cortex that are responsible for language, reasoning and social behavior are destroyed. This leads to some Alzheimer’s patients engaging in aggressive or violent behavior such as biting, kicking, spitting, slapping, punching, and/or using foul language.

Research from the National Institutes of Health indicates that up to 96 percent of patients with dementia who were studied over a 10-year-period exhibited aggressive behavior at one time or other. In 2011, CNN Health reported that 5 to 10 percent of Alzheimer’s patients exhibit violent behavior at some point during the course of the disease.

There is usually a reason for aggressive behavior.

What to watch out for

  • Urinary tract infection
  • Pain or stress
  • Loneliness, depression
  • Too much noise or stimulation
  • Boredom
  • Constipation
  • Soiled diaper or underwear
  • Uncomfortable room temperature
  • Physical discomfort (stomach ache, etc)
  • Confusion
  • Anger about loss of freedom (to drive, living independently)
  • Drug reaction or contra-indication
  • Resistance against being told what to do such as bathing
  • Sudden change in routine, environment or caregiver
  • Communication problems
  • Hunger or not liking the food
  • Dehydration

What to do

  1. If your life or the life of the person you care for is in danger, get help immediately!
  2. The Alzheimer’s Association has a 24-hour helpline at 800-272-3900.
  3. Rule out UTIs, pain, discomfort, etc.
  4. Use an essential oil to help calm the person down. When my husband got agitated I’d put a few drops of oil on a cotton pad inside a diffuser and plug it into the wall. He usually calmed down immediately.  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.
  5. Reassure your patient by speaking gently and calmly.
  6. Play calming music, i.e. Mozart
  7. Try to distract the person with a TV show, favorite snack (ice cream almost always works), or a walk outside.
  8. Maintain a regular routine.
  9. Make sure the lighting is suitable in the home or facility.
  10. Help the person to maintain as much dignity and independence as possible.
  11. Make sure the person is eating a nutritious low-sugar, low-salt diet, with no or very limited amounts of alcohol and caffeine.

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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.

Preventing Caregiver Burnout with Good Nutrition and Foods that Support Neurotransmitters

Keto diet concept - salmon, avocado, eggs, nuts and seedsWhether 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.

Start your day with an energizing breakfast to stabilize your blood sugar, so your mood stays even and you can perform at your best. When blood sugar is too high or low it’s a signal to the body to store calories, which adds fat around your middle. If you’re nauseous in the morning it means your blood sugar is low.

Eat within one hour upon rising and by 10am, and 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.

Healthy Breakfast with Wholemeal Bread Toast and Poached Egg

Breakfast of Champions

  • Top a bagel or slice of whole wheat break with a fried egg, sliced tomato, avocado, slice of low-fat cheese
  • Bagel topped with hummus, tomato, goat cheese
  • Spread a tablespoon of almond butter on a piece of bread or bagel
  • Yogurt/granola parfait with fresh fruit
  • Sautéed greens (kale or spinach) and onion, and a corn tortilla topped with eggs, beans, sprinkle of cheese, salsa
  • Oatmeal or multi-grain cereal with almonds or walnuts, prunes, cinnamon, flax seed meal, Greek yogurt
  • Spinach mushroom omelet with salsa, berries and wheat toast
  • Whole-grain mini-quiche with ½ cup of berries

Hydrate!

Senior couple staying hydrated after running jogging

Our body is 50-65% water. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and to flush out toxins. The brain, which is 70% water, 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. Choose smoothies, fresh juices, water, herbal teas.

Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that communicate information throughout your brain and body. The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest. They can also affect mood, sleep, concentration, weight, and can cause adverse symptoms when they are out of balance. Neurotransmitter levels can be depleted many ways. It is estimated that 86% of Americans have suboptimal neurotransmitter levels. Stress, poor diet, poor digestion, poor blood sugar control, drug (prescription and recreational), alcohol and caffeine can deplete them. (Emmons, The Chemistry of Joy, 2006).

 

list of neurotransmitters

Serotonin is necessary for a stable mood.

A deficiency can result in depression, irritability, sudden tears, insomnia, anxiety, or panic attacks, binge eating, carbohydrate craving, an overactive mind, and low tolerance to stress. When chronic stress is combined with nutrient deficiencies because of poor eating habits the risk of mood disorders can increase.

Foods that enhance serotonin: Salmon, Soy, turkey, cheese, eggs, spinach, cottage cheese, nuts, milk, avocado, meat, chocolate

Activities that enhance serotonin: cross crawl movement, as in swimming, hiking, biking

Dopamine keeps us focused and motivated. Dopamine is sometimes referred to as a “gas pedal” neurotransmitter. A deficiency can result in depressed mood, excessive sleeping, eight gain, obesity, lack of energy, addictions. When in balance, dopamine increases alertness, wakefulness, energy. It is depleted by addictions, sugar, cigarettes.

Foods that enhance dopamine: Meat, wild game, eggs, chocolate, blueberries, yoghurt, milk, soy, cheese, seeds and nuts, beans and legumes.

Activities than enhance dopamine: Deep breathing, weight bearing exercise and strength training enhance dopamine.

GABA inhibits nerve cells from firing. Too many carbs and refined foods deplete GABA. Exercise, and being outdoors, paying attention to your personal needs are important.

Passion flower, lemon balm and valerian help support GABA, especially helps you fall asleep.

How to boost your neurotransmitters

  • Focus on complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits and veggies) and eliminate junk foods or refined carbs.
  • Eat 3 balanced meals and 1-2 snacks/day. Include a high-quality protein with every meal
  • Unlimited amounts of fresh veggies
  • Eat a good breakfast

Do you lie awake at night?

Lack of sleep triggers the body to increase production of cortisol, the stress hormone, which makes it harder to fall asleep and stay in a deep sleep because on some level your body and brain think they need to stay alert for danger. Although insomnia isn’t considered a disease by itself, it can lead to numerous health problems. Lack of sleep may result in slower reflexes, irritability, fatigue, lack of motivation and depression. Your health, motivation, productivity, mood and energy all depend on getting quality sleep.

Foods that promote sleep

Although it’s not recommended to have a full meal close to bedtime, eating a snack helps maintain blood sugar levels, which helps promote restful sleep.

A cheese slice, or slice of turkey contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid, that promotes sleep. Other foods that might help: Whole grain crackers with nut butter, oatmeal, popcorn, almonds and walnuts. Some fruits (oranges, bananas, tart cherries, kiwis) contain melatonin.

  • Small amount of protein
  • Complex carbs
  • Nuts
  • Cottage cheese
  • Chamomile tea, warm milk
  • Fruits

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.

Make Healthy Choices

Choose these

  • Water, green tea, herbal teas
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Avocado, olive oil, omega-3 fatty acids
  • Fresh fruits and Veggies
  • Fish, high-quality protein
  • SOUL foods (seasonal, organic, unadulterated, local)
  • Sugar alternatives: stevia, monk fruit, coconut sugar, maple syrup, agave, birch sugar, honey

Avoid these

  • Coffee, soda, artificial sweeteners
  • Chips, cookies, pastries, candy
  • Poor quality fats (hydrogenated,
  • Processed lunch meats
  • Dairy products with rBGH (growth hormones)

Remember this

Whether you’re eating breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack, always think protein!

Assortment of healthy protein source and body building food

Build your meal around chicken, fish, tofu, cottage cheese or eggs, and then add low-starch vegetables or fruits. The general rule is to eat 3-4 ounces of lean, dense meat or 6 ounces of fish. Women should aim for around 30 grams of protein. Men should aim for around 40 grams of protein. Another rule of thumb is to divide your plate in half. Fill half of the plate with veggies, one quart with a protein, and the other quarter with a whole grain such as quinoa, rice, barley, etc.

Happy eating!


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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.

 

7 healing soups to help you get through the cold and flu season

fresh soup 1January is National Soup month, and it’s also the month when people get colds and flues. It’s especially important during these cold winter months to support your immune system, get plenty of sleep, and try to maintain an uplifted mood.

Winter soups can warm us, strengthen us, help heal us and protect us from getting sick.  Home-made soup contains fresh ingredients that have more antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and protein. Canned soups are typically overcooked, high in sodium, and can have additives and preservatives. A big pot of soup will last several days, saving time in the kitchen. It is also an easy-to-eat, easy-to-digest form of nutrition for patients with a chronic illness such as Alzheimer’s, and for those bed-ridden with the flu.

If you’re lucky, your grandmother or mother gave you their delicious soup recipes. Here are some of my favorites for nourishing the body and soul during the cold winter months.

Immune boosting soups

Tomato Vegetable Soup

  • 2 cans whole tomatoes (organic, chopped)
  • 2 onions (sautéed)
  • 6 cloves garlic (pressed and sautéd)
  • 1⁄2 tsp oregano (dried)
  • 1 medium winter squash (peeled and cut into chunks)
  • 1 medium rutabaga (chopped)
  • 1 bunch turnips (chopped greens and roots)
  • 1 pound zucchini (cut into chunks)

Add water to cover and simmer until done. Serve with brown rice or couscous. 

Minestrone

  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 medium ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 cups chopped seasonal vegetables (potatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, butternut squash, green beans or peas; whatever you have)
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 large can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, with their liquid (or 2 small 15-ounce cans)
  • 4 cups (32 ounces) vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup whole grain orecchiette, elbow or small shell pasta
  • 1 can (15 ounces) Great Northern beans, cannellini beans, or kidney beans rinsed and drained, or 1 ½ cups cooked beans
  • 2 cups baby spinach or 2 cups chopped and carefully washed spinach.
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnishing (optional)

 Heat the oil in a large pot and add the onion, carrots and celery. When the onion is translucent add the chopped seasonal vegetables, garlic, oregano and thyme and cook for about 2 minutes. Next, add the broth, water, salt, bay leaf, pepper flakes, and pepper. Bring to a boil and then lower to simmer and cook for about 15 minutes. Add the beans, cook for an additional 10 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until wilted. Ladle cooked pasta into each bowl and add the soup on top. Do not cook the pasta in the soup because it will eventually turn to mush. Garnish with Parmesan cheese.

Miso Stew

  • 5 cups water
  • 1/2 cup dried quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp-sized chunk minced ginger
  • 2 stalks chopped celery
  • 2 carrots chopped
  • 1 cup chopped kale
  • 1/4 cup torn pieces combo/arame/nori seaweed (your choice)
  • 2 eggs (optional)
  • 1/4 cup organic red or white miso
  • 3 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne

Saute onion until soft in 2 tsp of the sesame oil. Add garlic and cook for a few minutes. Bring water, quinoa and carrots to a boil.  Reduce  to medium and add onion, garlic, ginger, celery and seaweed (if it’s a firm variety). Cook for five minutes. Crack eggs into pot and stir gently. When egg is mostly cooked, remove from heat and add kale and any tender seaweed. In a separate bowl mix miso, the remaining sesame oil, turmeric and cayenne. Add a large spoonful of broth (not boiling) and stir until smooth. When pot of soup has cooled enough to touch, add in miso mixture and serve hot. This soup can be reheated but do not boil the miso because this will kill the beneficial enzymes.

Chicken soup (Jewish penicillin)

  • 1 large whole chicken
  • 4 carrots chopped
  • 3 stalks celery chopped
  • 2 medium parsnips chopped
  • 2 medium rutabagas
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • small bunch of fresh dill
  • 2 Tbs salt, or salt to taste

Wash the chicken inside and out, remove any feathers and place in a large pot. Cover the chicken with water. Bring the liquid to a boil, lower the heat, and for the next several minutes, remove any scum that rises to the surface. Add the vegetables and salt.

Cover the pan partially and simmer the soup for 2-1/2 hours or until the chicken meat is very soft when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife. Pour the soup through a strainer or colander into a large bowl or a second pot. Set the chicken and vegetables aside. Remove the fat from the surface of the liquid with a spoon or fat-skimming tool.

For best results, refrigerate the strained soup; when it is cold, the fat will rise to the surface and harden and you can scoop it off. (Refrigerate the vegetables and the chicken separately.) Serve the soup plain or with the vegetables and boned, cut-up chicken.

Ward off the negative effects of stress

Mineral Broth

This broth helps to alkalize the body and warm the system. It also helps counter the negative effects of stress. Have it as a bowl of soup, or sip it throughout the day.

Wash with a scrub brush and cut into 1-inch chunks:

  • 1 medium potato (any variety, raw with skin)
  • 1 cup zucchini
  • 1 cup cabbage
  • 1 cup green beans
  • 2 cups celery cut into strips:
  • 1 cup kale or collard greens
  • 1 cup onion 

Coarsely chop:

  • a small bunch of dill weed
  • 1 clove garlic

Place ingredients in a large pot with a lid. Cover with  water, just to the level of the vegetables and add:

  • 6 slices fresh ginger root
  • 1/4 cup or more seaweed (dulse, nori, wakame, hiziki, kombu)
  • Seasonal greens (kale, mustard, spinach, broccoli)

Bring the water to a boil, then turn down to a simmer, and cover for three to ve hours. Strain the broth with a colander. Let cool before refrigerating or freezing. Will keep in fridge for five to seven days or in the freezer for four months.

Variations:

  • Add cubed sweet potato to soup mix in the beginning of cooking time.
  • Add 1⁄2 tsp. curry 10 minutes before serving for a zesty flavor.

Alleviate joint and inflammation

Bone broth

  • 6 pounds of any kind of bones (beef, chicken, etc.)
  • 3 cups of your favorite vegetables, chopped (carrots, celery, onion, potatoes, etc.)
  • 1 bunch flat parsley
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 head garlic, halved crosswise
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 1 Tbs vinegar*
  • pepper and salt to taste

Rinse the bones in a large pot with cold water. Drain the water and place the bones back in the pot. Cover with at least 4 inches of cold water and cook over medium-high heat for about 45 minutes until the liquid boils. Reduce heat to medium.

Simmer until broth looks clear, about 1 hour. Skim the fat off occasionally using a ladle. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 2 hours. Skim off fat and discard bits of meat. Then pour the broth through a fine-mesh strainer. Discard the solids. Cool before storing. This broth can be sipped throughout the day. It will keep in the refrigerator for 3 days. It can also be frozen in BPA-free bags, glass jars and BPA-free plastic containers.

* You must add some vinegar to the pot of soup in order to force the calcium in the bones to dissolve from the bones into the soup juice. Just 1 pint of soup can give you as much as 1,000 milligrams of calcium.

Ayurvedic healing soup

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.

Enjoy!


For more great information about how you can reduce stress, feel happier, more energetic, healthier, deal with issues of grief and depression, and ultimately experience inner peace, read Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia.   Available on Amazon and at all bookstores that sell quality books.

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


 

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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.

What does marijuana do for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients?

Medical marijuana from the DoctorMy husband passed away eight years ago from younger-onset Alzheimer’s.  Recreational marijuana is now legal in Colorado, but before medical marijuana was legal I’d find a way to obtain it for him to smoke or eat in cookies and brownies. It calmed him down and made him happy. It reduced his anxiety, but it definitely did not help his memory. And that’s not what I was looking for. I just wanted him to feel calmer, and in so doing, it helped me feel more at ease. (Please read Is it a good idea for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients to use marijuana?)

I am not a scientist, but having interpreted studies for the nutritional supplement industry for several decades I can say that it’s possible to find a pro and con study for almost any drug, nutraceutical, herb, vitamin or mineral. Every person is unique, every situation is unique and every environmental factor will influence the outcome of a scientific study in some way. This fact is especially interesting: Because of the federal restrictions, researchers’ only legal source of cannabis for study is a Mississippi farm. But the marijuana plants there are not necessarily identical to those that people get at the dispensary or on the street. Just another indication that studies don’t always demonstrate accurate findings.

Marijuana studies vary in quality and the conclusions are frequently conflicting, according to experts on the issue. What we do know is that marijuana contains hundreds of chemical compounds, the most powerful of which are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and cannabidiol, or CBD. THC produces the psychoactive effects — the marijuana high. CBD has a role in pain control and also moderates the effect of THC. But many strains of marijuana in use today have high concentrations of THC and little CBD to balance it. The long-term effects of this shift are unknown.

Here are some recent studies showing the effects of marijuana use on cognition, dementia and heart health.

  1. It’s a known fact that high beta-amyloid—the culprit in Alzheimer’s disease—triggers inflammation and nerve cell death. This leads to memory loss and cognitive deficits. A study published in the journal Aging and Mechanisms of Disease (Amyloid proteotoxicity initiates an inflammatory response blocked by cannabinoids) found that the compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) reduced beta-amyloid levels and eradicated the inflammatory response to beta-amyloid, preventing nerve cellular death. While clinical trials are needed to confirm the role THC might play in protecting nerve cells against beta-amyloid, the researchers believe their findings shed more light on the role beta-amyloid plays in Alzheimer’s disease, which could pave the way for new treatments.
  2. Another study examined mice with induced symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The laboratory animals were given a combination of THC and CBD.  The animals displayed improved learning and had less evidence of amyloid clumps in their bodies. Other researchers believe that targeting the CB2 receptor could control the activity of microglia, (a type of cell located throughout the brain and spinal cord) preventing the potentially harmful overactivation of the immune system in the brain.
  3. A Harvard study indicates that medical marijuana has a positive impact on executive functioning in adults. The study points out that medical marijuana products themselves may protect against the executive function deficits that affect most recreational marijuana users because of the inherent differences between medical and recreational products. Medical products are usually low in THC, the primary psychoactive constituent of the plant, and high in other cannabinoids, including CBD. CBD is a non-psychoactive component touted for its therapeutic potential, which may also mitigate some of the negative effects of THC. On self-report questionnaires, patients also indicated moderate improvements in quality of sleep and depression. Obviously, individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s are not  making important decisions, but this study shows how cannabis can help with sleep and mood.
  4. Research presented in March 2017 at the American College of Cardiology’s 66th Annual Scientific Session showed that using marijuana raises the vascular risks of stroke and heart failure, both major risk factors leading to vascular dementia. Research in cell cultures shows that heart muscle cells have cannabis receptors relevant to contractility, or squeezing ability, suggesting that those receptors might be one mechanism through which marijuana use could affect the cardiovascular system. The study drew data from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample, which includes the health records of patients admitted at more than 1,000 hospitals comprising about 20 percent of U.S. medical centers. Researchers extracted records from young and middle-aged patients—age 18-55 years—who were discharged from hospitals in 2009 and 2010, when marijuana use was illegal in most states. Marijuana use was diagnosed in about 1.5 percent (316,000) of more than 20 million health records included in the analysis. Comparing cardiovascular disease rates in these patients to disease rates in patients not reporting marijuana use, researchers found marijuana use was associated with a significantly increased risk for cardiovascular events such as stroke, heart failure, coronary artery disease and sudden cardiac death. Marijuana use was also linked with a variety of factors known to increase cardiovascular risk, such as obesity, high blood pressure, smoking and alcohol use. After researchers adjusted the analysis to account for these factors, marijuana use was independently associated with a 26 percent increase in the risk of stroke and a 10 percent increase in the risk of developing heart failure.

“Even when we corrected for known risk factors, we still found a higher rate of both stroke and heart failure in these patients, so that leads us to believe that there is something else going on besides just obesity or diet-related cardiovascular side effects,” the lead researcher said. “More research will be needed to understand the pathophysiology behind this effect.”

Conclusion

A lot of clinical research needs to be done in order for the medical community and Alzheimer’s Association to recommend the use of cannabis for Alzheimer’s and dementia.

As with any pharmaceutical, it’s important to understand that no drugs are, as a general rule, 100% safe. But if they can fix something, we take a calculated risk by using them. If cannabis calms down an agitated person, helps with sleep, puts a smile on one’s frozen face, it might be worth trying. If you do decide to give it to an individual with Alzheimer’s, please be cautious. Start with a very small dose in a cookie or brownie and see what the reaction is. Watch for signs of distress and nausea. And hope for some sense of calm and joy.

It helped my husband relax and appear as his old, happy self. But it certainly didn’t help his cognition.


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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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