Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Caregiver’s Recipe for Prevention: An Ounce of Spice and a Whole Foods Mediterranean Diet

“My mother has Alzheimer’s. What can I do so I don’t get the disease?”
Frequently worried caregivers ask Marwan Sabbagh, MD, author of The Alzheimer’s Prevention Cookbook: Recipes to Boost Brain Health, that question. Dr. Sabbagh is a geriatric neurologist, dementia specialist and the Research Medical Director of the Banner Sun Health Research Institute in Arizona.  He understands the concerns and fears of caregivers and he is able to offer them hope.  the-alzheimers-prevention-cookbook-cover_lg_mini

“The changes in the brain that lead to Alzheimer’s or dementia start 25 years before the first day of forgetfulness,” Dr. Sabbagh says. “The dementia is at the end of the disease, not at the beginning.”

The more he researched the impact of spices and food on the brain, the more he realized the importance of diet in boosting brain health.

Foods are More Effective than Supplements in Protecting the Brain

*   The nutritional values of food are well researched; the nutritional value of supplements varies widely from company to company.
*   The body can break down food into small, transportable molecules that can permeate the brain’s protective barrier and reach the brain with the nutrients still intact; supplements aren’t as easily broken down and often cannot penetrate the blood-brain barrier.

“The road from our mouth to our brain is long and winding. Because of the way we digest food and nutrients, the best source of neurotransmitter precursors is almost always food; supplements are much less reliable,” Dr. Sabbagh writes.  foods

Caregivers Need Nourishing Foods
“Caregivers take the disease on the chin,” Dr. Sabbagh says. “Their stress levels are higher than the people with Alzheimer’s.”

This stress weakens the immune system and puts them at risk for illness and disease.

Five Ways to Boost Your Brain Now

*   Spice Up Your Life and Increase your Antioxidants

The spices that add the biggest boost of healing antioxidants include
cloves, oregano, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon and turmeric.  Add turmeric to your eggs. Sprinkle cinnamon into your coffee or smoothie. Include rosemary in your salad.

spice spoonscinammon

*   B is for Brain Health

“The three most important vitamins for brain health are B6, B9 and B12,” Dr. Sabbagh writes.
For B6, eat sunflower and sesame seeds, pistachios, bananas, spinach, and vegetable juices.
For B9, nibble on broccoli, kale, lentils, peas, and strawberries.
For B12, eat eggs, shellfish or fatty fish. For vegetarians, take  a supplement.

*   Dine Mediterranean Style

Reduce red meat, decrease saturated fats; add more fish and fruits and vegetables. The more fruits and vegetables, the healthier the brain.

*   Believe it Can Happen

“You have to make a commitment to incorporate healthy eating into your life,” Dr. Sabbagh advises. “Part of this is psychological. If you believe this is hard, that belief will make it hard. It you believe that a whole foods diet is part of who you are and how you live, you can easily weave healthy eating into your life.”

*   Don’t’ Wait: start today.
***

Q for U:

How do you add nourishing foods and spices into your daily diet?

***

For more information about boosting brain health, visit Dr. Sabbagh’s website:

http://www.marwansabbaghmd.com

Read his book The Alzheimer’s Prevention Cookbook: Recipes to Boost Brain Health, written with world-famous chef Beau MacMillan.


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A Caregiver’s Gift from Her Mother

Recently, I met Cynthia and her mother, Frances. I was so inspired by their story and I wanted to share it with you.

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Some people steal away to a day spa so they can slow down and relax. Others take a vacation or immerse themselves in a meditation retreat. Cynthia Robinson, age 61, didn’t have time for any of those options. It was 2010, and as she was trying to build her consulting practice, she realized her 88-year-old mother, who lived alone, had memory problems. When Cynthia took her mother to a neurologist, the diagnosis was mild cognitive impairment, which for many is a precursor to Alzheimer’s.

Cynthia was thrust into the role of primary caregiver.

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“Initially, I felt irritated and a little resentful,” she said. “I loved my mother but I didn’t want caring for her to take up so much of my time.”

Deciding What Was Most Important In Life

Cynthia had to decide what was most important.  Was it taking care of her mother or building her business? She analyzed her situation; her husband was retired and they could get by on his income.

“I knew I would regret it if I didn’t take care of Mom,” she said. She had another reason: she felt she could be at risk for Alzheimer’s. “I wanted to model caring behavior so my daughters and husband would know how to act if I ever developed this disease,” she said.

Cynthia wanted to think of ways her mom could feel valuable and really loved and she experimented with these concepts:

Slow Down

She slowed down to her mother’s pace. She didn’t bring her computer over to her mom’s house; she didn’t talk on her cell phone or check her emails and texts. “I tried to patiently experience my mom’s world,” she said.

 slow down

Listen Lovingly and Learn

Even though she sometimes bit her lip in frustration as her mom endlessly repeated the same story, Cynthia practiced really listening to her mom’s tales.

“Once I did this, I heard stories I’d never heard before,” she said. “ I learned some meaningful family history.”

Experience the Sensory Beauty of the Present

“I had never paid attention to the millions of shades of bright green,” Cynthia said. “But Mom notices sensory things and we talk about the colors, the flowers and the trees. She keeps me in the here and now.”

grass 

Seek Interesting Solutions

Normally, Cynthia’s mom would never wear a hat. But her long hair was thinning and Cynthia bought her a cute cap. Her mom was delighted by the gift and whenever she wore it, she received compliments.

Find New Common Ground

Cynthia installed birdfeeders at her mom’s house. Enjoying the ever-changing array of birds increased her mom’s quality of life and gave them a new topic of conversation.

birds

Delighting in Her Mother’s Gifts

The more Cynthia slowed down and stayed in the present with her mom, the more she appreciated her mother’s wisdom and serenity. Her mother repeatedly told her, “People are about as cheerful as they make up their minds to be.”

“ My mother once guided me through the experience of being a parent,” Cynthia said. “Now, she’s guiding me in the experience of how to make the best of Alzheimer’s.”

**Who are your unexpected guides? What fascinating lessons are you learning on your journey?

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Admiring the Plastic Frogs: A Tool for Creatively Navigating the Caregiver’s Journey

“There’s the frog. There’s the ladybug.” My two year old grandson Robert is pointing excitedly to a green plastic frog poised to devour a plastic ladybug. The sun illuminates the spider web that stretches across my neighbor’s small front yard pond and waterfall, a fasicinating place that Robert avidly visits every time he comes over.

waterfall 2

Robert never tires of discussing the various frogs, lizards, giant ants, snakes and butterflies that our neighbor has carefully placed around his pond’s perimeter. We count the lizards and marvel at the new scary black spider. We notice the bubbles as the water cascades down its rocky slope and we marvel at the large frog that’s taking a shower. One miniature yellow frog perches across the pond on a flat rock while a turtle bathes serenely several rocks up.

Although they are seemingly inanimate objects, under Robert’s vivid scrutiny they come to life. Each time, we notice something different and we admire something familiar. Each time Robert visits, I can’t wait to go to the waterfall with him.

Noticing Can Lead to Understanding

Robert intuitively knows something that I had to struggle to learn: just noticing and speaking aloud the details can lead to understanding and admiration.

One summer, Ron and I went on a spiritual retreat and the teacher gave us this exercise. “Go on a noticing walk,” he told us. “Take turns simply reporting out loud on what you see.”

At first, it seemed silly and awkward to say, “I see a red barn,” or “I see a mica rock.” But after about ten minutes, our noticing became more natural.  As we reported the sights, the intricacy and important importance of each object seemed to sink into us. We walked more slowly, eager to appreciate our environment.

leaves

Using Awareness on the Caregiver’s Journey

Years later, when my mother was deep into Alzheimer’s, I remembered that walking exercise and decided to use it on a visit to her.

At first, I felt an emotional charge as I walked up to the Memory Care Unit and “noticed” the keypad that let me into the area, a keypad that symbolized the locked unit, the loss of freedom, the decline of my mother.  I had to take a breath and remind myself, “This exercise isn’t about symbology; this is simply an observational experience.”

keypad

My mom was asleep when I reached her room and I sat down and began quietly looking at her. I noticed her silver curly hair. “I see pink fingernails,” I murmured. “I see a woman wearing a navy blue sweatshirt.” I slowed myself down and noted the details of the room, each one interesting in its own right.  By the time my mother stretched and awakened, I was right there, grounded by the simple act of noticing, ready to look into her eyes and meet her wherever she was. The awareness exercise had slowed me down and opened me up.

Take Ten and Appreciate

What can you more deeply appreciate through noticing? It’s fun to take ten minutes and just report to yourself on the objects around you. It’s even more fun to do this with someone. And if you’re lucky enough to have a child and a pond, get ready for a delightful experience.

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Noticing The Perfect Moment: Adding Joy to the Caregiver’s Journey

One Friday in August, I looked out our kitchen window and saw something I had always wanted to see: a Barred Owl.owl 1

All my life, I had admired owls in zoos and animal parks but I had never seen one in nature. This bird was resting on a branch of our giant oak tree only 15 feet away from me. I stared in awe as he lifted his claw and scratched the side of his face, then swiveled his head from side to side and ruffled his feathers. I ran upstairs to get my partner Ron and together we watched the owl like he was an award-winning documentary.

“I have to get back to work,” I told Ron and he nodded. We both returned to our home offices but it was hard to concentrate knowing such a powerful bird was nearby.  We looked up owls on-line and learned they represent wisdom, intuition, and magic. One person wrote, “Owls give us the power to see that which is hidden to the naked eye.”

Drinking in Every Movement

Already, we were under the animal’s charismatic magic spell. Every 15 minutes I took a break to commune with the bird. Once a butterfly fluttered around the owl’s head and the owl followed its movements like a child would watch soap bubbles. Every movement was interesting to me. The owl slept; with its great eyes hooded its face seemed empty. Upon awakening, it stretched its wondrous wings (a wing-span of almost four feet, our bird book reported) and preened. I gazed at the owl and the owl stared at me as if looking deep inside my soul.barred_owl 2

During the course of the day, several friends and neighbors came over to view the winged visitor. They were as excited, mystified and awestruck as we were.

As I marveled at the beautiful brown and white patterning on the owl’s chest, I remembered my first glimpse of such a creature: at a pottery store in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. I was 14 when my family vacationed at a friend’s cabin in the Smoky Mountains.  One day we went into town, ate at a fried chicken restaurant and toured the pottery factory. My brother and I were each allowed to select one item from the seconds’ table and I chose a small Barred Owl. I loved the whimsical, serene and profound look on the figurine’s face. Though I had saved very few things from my childhood that souvenir was still with me. Miraculously, I knew right where it was. I walked into the living room and took the small clay object off the mantel. I held it in both hands and closed my eyes, hoping for a profound insight or mystical moment.

0wl 5

None came; just the special joy I always feel in the presence of birds.

Appreciating the Beginning and the Ending

That evening, before we went out to meet friends, Ron and I peered through the kitchen window and said goodbye to our owl.

“We hope we see you tomorrow,” we said.

Early the next morning, I ran breathlessly to the kitchen. The tree was empty; the owl was gone. My sense of loss was quickly replaced by a feeling of gratitude. We had experienced the miracle of winged wisdom and I knew that owl would be with me for a long, long time.

The Daily Challenge For Caregivers and All of Us: Finding the Moments

That Friday it was easy to notice the perfect moments. Other days, it’s more complicated. Part of my creative challenge to myself is to notice the magic in every day, even a day that’s prone to mundanity or challenges.

How about you? How do you notice the gifts in each day? What are some of your perfect moments?

 

 

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