Cultivating Forgiveness – Part 3

Holding on to resentments and hurts from the past only adds to caregiver stress, worry and fears.  Feb17 Cultivating Forgiveness with words

Forgiveness takes courage and integrity and it is essential to our happiness, health and peace. In the previous two blog articles, we took a close look and reflected on forgiveness of self. We noted that while forgiveness is a process, and a very personal one, we can and must practice it for our own good.

In Part Three of this theme, we tackle what might perhaps be the toughest reflection — forgiving the persons who have hurt or harmed you. Forgiving another takes compassion and wisdom to recognize when one owes a genuine apology. It is highly likely that we ourselves, have hurt others, sometimes knowingly or unknowingly, just as we have been hurt by others. Forgiveness recognizes their dignity and humanity because we recognize our humanity, imperfections and struggles.

The Compost Heap of Forgiveness

Growing a garden takes lots of fertilizer or “manure.” Past incidents of hurts in our lives as caregivers may continue to muddy up our present. Forgiveness can feel impossible at times. We  need to “dig through” the ugliness of a situation when we were hurt, dissect it, and let it go. When you forgive, “you are accepting the reality of what happened. You are finding a way to live in a state of resolution with it,” according to Andrea Brandt, Ph.D., MFT.

Forgiveness does not condone the behavior of those who have caused us suffering and pain. It doesn’t mean that you are pardoning or excusing the other’s harmful actions or words. Forgiveness also doesn’t mean that everything is okay now, or that you need to tell the person they are forgiven. You are the one who needs to decide whether or not you want to tell the person that you have forgiven them. The relationship may still need a lot of work to right itself. If the hurt stems from a family member who is not the person living with dementia, professional counseling may be the answer.

A Grieving/Resolution Process

Clinical psychologist and Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield, MD, describes the forgiveness process in his book, The Wise Heart, A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology. He writes, “Practicing forgiveness, we may go through stages of grief, rage, sorrow, fear and confusion.” But he goes on to note, “As we let ourselves feel the pain we still hold, forgiveness comes as a relief, a release for our heart in the end.”

If you are ready now to reflect upon this aspect of forgiveness — the people who have impacted negatively on your life — find a comfortable and quiet place where you will not be disturbed for the next twenty minutes or so.

A Reflection on Forgiving Those Who Hurt You

Take a few minutes to quiet your thoughts and emotions and enter into yourself. Gently close your eyes and focus your awareness on your breathing. Become aware of the peace and timeliness that lies within you.

Recreate as best you can the situation that continues to be a source of pain. As you relive the experience, identify and name what hurts. Accept all the emotions, tensions.

Using “I” messages, share with the offender your version of the incident. Tell the offender the pain you have experienced ever since that incident. As you do so, you are mindful that forgiveness is a state of the heart, and you are sharing from your heart.

Listen to his/her version of the story and how they, too, have suffered. Take this conversation as far as you can, until you literally feel the barriers disintegrating and darkness is replaced by light. Become aware of how you are feeling. Become aware of the release of the tensions and stress.

Now ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I want the inability to forgive to define my future, my life?
  • What have I learned about the suffering I experienced?
  • What have I learned about myself?
  • On my journey of forgiveness, have I increased my self-esteem?
  • How will I draw on the process of forgiveness to lead a fuller life?

When you feel ready, open your eyes, and write down in your journal what you would like to take away from this reflection time.

I compared the process of cultivating forgiveness to cultivating a garden. It takes constant care and attention. But now, you have the necessary tools to continue making the garden of your heart bloom and thrive! You have experienced your capacity to let go, to release the suffering, the sorrows, the burdens, the betrayals of the past. Instead you have chosen to “grow” the love of self and love of others. My hope is that you now experience a new vitality in your role as caregiver!

I wish you peace, patience, joy, and compassion in your caregiving today and every day!

*  *  *

I am deeply grateful to Merle Stern, my friend and mentor, for composing this third reflection in the series. If you share the meditation with others, please acknowledge her contribution.

 *  *  *

Dementia trainer and advocate, Teepa Snow, instructs caregivers about important phrases they need to learn when caring for someone with dementia in this brief YouTube video. Take a look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=54&v=KKejCymVS2Q.

 *  *  *

To purchase Jack Kornfield’s book, The Wise Heart, A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, you can find it here: https://jackkornfield.com/the-wise-heart-2/.

Cultivating Forgiveness – Part 2

With the arrival of a new year, we have an opportunity to shed those resentments, grudges, and hurts that drag us down emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Feb 3 Crocus in bloom As we renew ourselves as caregivers, we become better able to renew our families, our homes, perhaps even the “world” around us.

In Part One of this blog post, we looked at the positive benefits of entering into the “forgiveness process.” We noted that forgiving ourselves and others is a liberating process, similar to planting a garden, and one where we are the real beneficiaries. We are the ones who will inevitably “bloom.”

Forgiveness and Self-Compassion

There is no one undeserving of forgiveness. You, caregiver, are deserving of being forgiven. Acclaimed author and teacher Jack Kornfield, Ph.D., explains the process of forgiveness as “…the capacity to let go, to release the suffering, the sorrow, the burdens of the pains and betrayals of the past and instead to choose the mystery of love.”

Another author and teacher, Tara Brach, tells the story of a person walking in the woods and coming upon a little dog. “The dog seems harmless enough, but when they reach out to pet the dog, it growls and lunges at them. The immediate response is fear and anger, but then they notice that the dog has its leg caught in a trap, and compassion begins to rise up in the place of the anger. Once we see how our own leg is in a trap and hold our experience with self-compassion, it becomes easier to see how others might be caught, too – causing suffering, because they are suffering.” American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr even goes so far as to note, “Forgiveness is the final form of love.”

Feb 3 Crocus seedlingsJust as a gardener must frequently weed the garden and water and fertilize the plants to make them grow strong and hardy, taking this time for reflection will help you to grow in inner strength and grace. The reflection that follows provides another opportunity for us to leave behind the old, and move forward into 2018 with new energy, new focus. This meditation is about forgiving ourselves, experiencing self-compassion.

A Reflection on Forgiving Ourselves

Find a place and time when you will not be disturbed for about twenty minutes. Try to create an atmosphere that is calm, relaxing, and peaceful.

When you are ready, gently close your eyes. Focus your awareness on your breathing. Breathe in peace and quiet; breathe out tension and stress. Try to eliminate all sources of distraction. Let your mind and body relax.

If the concept of asking forgiveness of yourself seems a bit vague or even unnecessary, here are some ideas to get you started. You are asking forgiveness of yourself, for what has happened, for what is happening, and for what may still happen:

  • For submitting yourself to situations where you allowed yourself to be hurt, taken for granted, exploited, demeaned, emotionally and physically abused, etc.
  • For being attentive to the needs of others but not your own;
  • For putting yourself down when alone or in the presence of others;
  • For judging or blaming yourself and/or permitting others to blame you;
  • For being a perfectionist and not permitting yourself any mistakes;
  • For causing suffering to your body, mind, heart;
  • For allowing yourself to be the scapegoat.

Focus your awareness on your breathing. Become aware of the peace and timelessness that lies within you. Recall to mind the incident and the manner in which you neglected, or rejected, or abandoned your very own self.

For a moment, replay the situation from the standpoint of choices you are making, knowing that you are free to decide and that you can take responsibility for the consequences. Take a few minutes now and fully experience the inner sense of freedom, the release of a burden that has weighted you down internally, the release of stress. Now offer yourself tender forgiveness and  respond, “I forgive myself.” Say it again to yourself with conviction, “I forgive myself.”

When you feel ready come back to the room and open your eyes. If you wish, write in your journal what this experience of forgiving yourself has been like for you. What have I learned about myself? Am I able to respond to demands made by others, especially those I love, in a way that respects my limits, dignity and integrity? What do you wish to carry away from this time of meditation?

In Part Three of “Cultivating Forgiveness,” and the last on this topic, we will pick up the theme of forgiving people who have impacted negatively on your life.

I wish you peace, patience, compassion, and joy in your caregiving today and every day!

 *  *  *

I am so grateful to my mentor and friend, Merle Stern, for her contribution of the above meditation to this article.

 *  *  *

The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley has developed a quick quiz to find out how forgiving you are. It just takes a few minutes. To take the test, go to: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/quizzes/take_quiz/forgiveness.

Cultivating Forgiveness – Part 1

Leonard Bernstein’s operetta, “Candide,” is based on a 1759 novella of the same name by Voltaire. The story line is basically about how to live in a world full of injustice, wars, disease, greed, sadness and loss. However, it ends on a hopeful note of new beginnings in a new world for the hero Candide and his bride Cunegonde. The operetta climaxes with a hopeful finale where the ensemble and choir gloriously sing, “We’ll do the best we know. We’ll build our house and chop our wood. And make our garden grow.” Jan 20 bud

In this new year, I would like to offer this reflection to help all of us who are caregivers assess our “forgiveness practice.” Hopefully, this will enable us to move forward into 2018 unfettered by last year’s hurts, angers, grudges and resentments. I think “forgiveness” is a process of cultivation, similar to making a garden grow.

“Forgiveness is liberating! How we take care of each other is by cultivating our forgiveness,” writes Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a perfect model for the power of forgiveness. In the mid 1990’s, he helped heal his country of South Africa through the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “The ability to forgive is innate but, like any natural talent, it is perfected by practice,” Tutu notes in The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World.

Preparing the Soil and the Soul

Choosing to forgive is for your health and well-being. It is something you need to do for you. It’s in your best interest. Mahatma Gandhi put it so well when he noted, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

Just as with cultivating any garden, there is a process to forgiveness. We begin with what I call “The Active Work Phase – Preparing the Soil and the Soul.” We first need to free ourselves to a new way of feeling. We start the process by forgiving ourselves for not feeling very forgiving at times. We need to reflect on negative emotions like anger, hatred, and resentment, and bring these to light. Then we proceed to make the decision to choose to rout out these emotions from our heart, just as we would pull the weeds and dig out stones from the soil. Weeding out the negative is critical. Holding a grudge affects me, not the one who has “hurt” me. To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest.

We till the soil with a new way of thinking about the person who hurt us. We attempt to better understand and put into context what motivated or prompted the injurer, and try to ascertain what was behind the actions or words. Perhaps we would have reacted similarly if faced with the same situation.

Jan 20 shootsChoosing to Plant Forgiveness

Choosing which flowers and plants will grow in our garden is usually the next phase after preparing the soil. Choosing to forgive the person who offended is difficult. The offender may never admit they harmed you. Our loved ones can put unreasonable demands on us at times. Family members can be more a hindrance at times than a help to our caregiving. Your loved one may be at the stage in their disease where they exhibit little impulse control because their brain has been affected in the area that regulates this. You lose your temper when your once gentle mother now swears at you and hits you while you desperately coax her to take a shower. You may be caring for a critical parent or spouse who used to disparage you, or you may be an adult who was abused by your parent when you were a child. If you struggle with this trauma, counseling might help you heal from the abuse.

Enjoying the Fruits and Blooms

If we are wrapped up in hurt and resentment, we will likely pay dearly in loss of energy, depression, even health problems. The Mayo Clinic lists the “fruits” or benefits of forgiveness as:

  • Improved mental health;
  • Less anxiety, stress, hostility;
  • Lower blood pressure;
  • Fewer symptoms of depression;
  • A stronger immune system;
  • Improved heart health;
  • Improved self-esteem;
  • Inner peace.

Forgiveness releases the control and power the offending person and situation has had in your life. As Archbishop Tutu put it, “Forgiveness is liberating!”

Meditation on Forgiving People Whom We Have Hurt

If you are not quite ready yet to move forward with forgiving yourself or your offender, please take a few more minutes to read through this reflection. Find a quiet spot where you will not be disturbed for about twenty minutes. Try to create an atmosphere that is relaxing and peaceful.

Gently close your eyes and focus your awareness on your breathing. With each breath, go deeper and deeper inside yourself. Experience the silence, peace and timelessness that lies within you. Take as long as you wish to savor what you are experiencing.

Recall a time when you were the forgiven one and how you felt. It may have been when you were speeding on the highway and were stopped by the police or sheriff. He quietly spoke about the consequences of speeding but said he would waive the fine this time. He wished you a pleasant journey and took off without writing a citation. With this example in mind, you desire to give the gift of forgiveness.

As you scan over your life, become aware of one or more persons whom you met along your life’s journey and that you have been a source of their pain. It may have been through betrayal, words said in anger, withholding affection, being self-centered, or any other thoughts of affliction that come to mind. Become aware of whether it is keeping you from living your life fully.

Gently welcome the pain and suffering you now experience. It comes from knowing that you have been the source of another person’s pain. Stay in touch with your tension and pain. As you do so, you have a flashback of the precise time, place, and the person. Allow your pain to speak to the person. You can feel this outpouring coming from your heart. Trust yourself to share without any judgment, blame, rationalization, or defensiveness. As you unload this burden that you have silently carried, feel the tension disappear. It is replaced by a feeling of oneness, unity, wholeness, and union.

Take a few minutes to relish what you are experiencing, knowing that you can always return to this space. Gradually become aware of the space around you: the room, your furnishings, your clothing, your breathing, and the emerging thoughts. Reflect on what you have learned about yourself through this experience. Do you feel propelled to take further action? If you do, visualize the process that will enable you to bring it to fruition. It is a work in process and will be completed in its time. Take a few minutes now to write out your reflections.

In Part Two, I will continue with more reflections on this process of cultivating forgiveness: forgiving ourselves, and forgiving the people who caused us pain. Each reflection is an opportunity to reclaim the power over our lives, our dignity, and integrity. May you begin what it takes to make the garden of your soul grow and bloom!

I wish you peace, patience, joy and compassion in your caregiving today and every day!

 *  *  *

Many thanks to my friend and mentor, Merle Stern, for composing this meditation on forgiveness; and to my friend, Priscilla Klatt Dunning for information about Archbishop Tutu’s book.

*  *  *

For more information on the power and process of forgiveness, check out Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s and his daughter Mpho Tutu’s book, The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and our World,2014, Harper/Collins Publishers.

 *  *  *

Check out the website: www.projectforgiveness.org.

 *  *  *

To hear “Make Our Garden Grow,” the finale of the operetta “Candide,” with Paul Grove as Candide and Kristin Chenowith as Cunegonde, go here: https://youtu.be/nlVD-jrq_Yk.

 

 

 

Empowerment Health Goals for 2018

“Good health and good sense are two of the greatest blessings,” wrote Publilius Syrus, a Latin mime author who lived 85-43 BC. He was known for his witty and wise aphorisms. This simple statement seemed to resonate with me as I ponder what if any New Year’s resolutions I can make to maintain my own health, and what I should write to encourage caregivers to look after theirs. 2018 Clock

I am not usually good at making and keeping New Year resolutions, but the more I read about the impact one’s lifestyle has in developing dementia, I believe that I need to set some goals for 2018. One of the books I began reading over the Christmas holidays is The End of Alzheimer’s, The First Programme to Prevent and Reverse the Cognitive Decline of Dementia, by Dr. Dale Bredesen. Bredesen is Professor of Neurology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and is known internationally as an expert in the mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Alzheimer’s Disease. This book has opened my eyes to the various lifestyle and dietary factors that can help prevent as well as even reverse the cognitive decline of dementia.

There are many research projects that prove exercise and healthy eating improve stress levels. Dr. Bredesen also makes the case for these two lifestyle factors, among others. He notes that “…brain health is closely related to general health.”

Exercising and Brain Health

Daily exercise is a relatively easy way to keep the brain in top shape, even as we age. The Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California recently provided results from their research that taking a short walk each day makes for a resilient brain. In their two year project, researchers found that of the 26 adults (60 years and older) in the high physical activity group (defined as those who walked more than 4,000 steps or approximately 3 kilometers each day) had thicker hippocampi, as well as thicker associated brain regions, when compared with that of those falling under the low physical activity category.Jan 6 Walking

I try to walk about a mile (about 2,000 steps) at least four days a week, but I am setting a new resolution for 2018 to double this pace toward a goal of 4,000 steps (about two miles). It isn’t realistic for me to double it right away, but to work toward that by the year’s end. Fitbits, smartwatches, fitness bands, pedometers, and apps for phones now make it easier than ever to track steps.

I know that caregivers, especially those who live in colder climes, may not have the ability to go out each day for a walk. However, I encourage you to try to get some exercise each day. Choose your own best way to do that.

Healthy Eating

Jan 6 gummi bearsMy second goal for 2018 is to eat healthier. Sugar is a “poison” to the brain as far as developing dementia, so I will be cutting back on sugary drinks, desserts, and my favorite candy, Gummi Bears.

Dr. Bredesen writes that an unhealthy body mass index (BMI) raises one’s risk for cognitive decline. When I read this, I quickly checked my BMI to see if it is within the goal of between 18 and 25 for optimal cognition. While mine is within that range now, I know I have to work on keeping it this way. If you want to check your BMI, here is the formula that Dr. Bredesen gives: “Simply multiply your weight (in pounds) by 703, divide by your height in inches, then divide that by your height again.” (Page 155)

Laughter and Brain Exercises

Laughter is a good way to “jog” internally. It’s an easy “exercise” for the brain, body, and soul, and you don’t have to go outdoors to do so. A joke a day keeps the gloom away. Laughter is also a good stress reliever as it reduces cortisol levels and releases endorphins. Laughter transmits nerve impulses to facial muscles to the limbic system which is the key emotional center in the brain. Read humorous stories or watch funny movies to decompress at the end of a challenging day. Jan 3 laughter

While I try to do other daily brain exercises utilizing AARP’s website and/or Lumosity tools, plus crossword puzzles before going to bed, my third goal during 2018 is to try other means to keep my brain fit and alert. I have attached a link to an article by Linda Melone that gives “Ten Brain Exercises that Boost Memory.” She gives ten excellent ideas to stimulate and keep the mind alert and healthy.

Good Sense

Even in ancient times, Publilius Syrus realized that “good sense” was critical for a healthy lifestyle. It may not be realistic for many of you who are caregivers to make more than one resolution in the new year. Making more than one can be overwhelming, and more likely keeping them will not last well into the year. However, I hope if you choose to do only one, that it will be one that empowers you as a caregiver. I’d like to suggest that, if you aren’t already a member of a support group, that you make this your “Number One” New Year goal.

I give educational presentations to groups of caregivers and see that many suffer social isolation. I notice a great difference in persons who are part of a regular support group. They appear to be healthier, less stressed, less depressed, encouraged by others dealing with similar issues and problems. There is no need to be embarrassed by reaching out and asking for support. This is only “good sense.” To find a support group near you, check with your local Alzheimer’s Association or call their 24/7 Helpline (800-272-3900).

You likely have heard the joke, “A New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.” It’s not enough to make resolutions.  Let 2018 be different, even if you make one resolution that will empower you. Create a plan to help you stay on track. Keep a journal to note your progress and what you have learned. Take care of yourself as you care for your loved one. May 2018 be a year of keeping yourself in good health!

I wish you peace, patience, compassion and joy in your caregiving today and each day of the coming new year.

*  *  *

Neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter has a two-minute video that touches upon lifestyle factors and disability. You can check it out at: https://www.drperlmutter.com/lifestyle-factors-disability-how-our-lifestyle-choices-improve-quality-of-life.

 *  *  *

For more information about The Semel Institute’s 4,000 step research, check out this article: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320463.php.

 *  *  *

For ten ideas about brain exercises, read Linda Melone’s article: https://www.everydayhealth.com/longevity/mental-fitness/brain-exercises-for-memory.aspx

 *  *  *

To download The Stress Management Society’s 9-page “Seven Step Achievement Plan for 2018” go here: https://praesto.infusionsoft.com/app/linkClick/17468/6b93479f0b6749ad/15782808/892b033902910aa4

A Christmas Gift for Caregivers

I read an article recently that calculated how much it would cost to give the twelve gifts mentioned in the classic holiday song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The grand total came to about $15,000. Now we all know that Christmas is not about the gifts under the tree. Deec 16 Blue ornamentThese gifts are meant to be symbols about the spirit of LOVE. For Christians it is also meant to be a religious celebration of the birth of Christ.

According to official figures from the Alzheimer’s Association, there are more than five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. More than fifteen million Americans provided unpaid care that was valued at over $230 billion in 2016. I can only imagine that at the end of 2017 when the figures are calculated, the value of unpaid care will amount to even more.

This gave me an idea to create my own version of twelve gifts of Christmas that your “true” loved one would wish for you, if they could. Please read the letter below as if it came from your loved one.

December, 2017

My Dear Care Partner,

This holiday season I wish I could tell you all the things for which I am so grateful. I decided to write this letter to give as my gift to you — a description of a special spiritual Christmas tree. The decorations are all the qualities and strengths that I love about you. May these symbols be an expression of my deepest gratitude for the sacrifices you have made day in and day out this past year.

The Star of Enlightenment: You somehow find the actions and words to soothe and calm me when I am afraid and in the grips of anxiety, confusion, or panic.

The Tinsel of Tenderness: Your hugs, kisses, and embraces comfort my body, mind, and spirit, especially when I feel lonely or discouraged.

The Bell of Knowledge: You try to learn as much as you can about the disease and its stages of progression. You are not afraid to advocate on my behalf, and to question professionals who provide my health care.

The Bow of Understanding: You give me the space I need when my mood changes or when I have outbursts of aggression. You understand that I am not acting on purpose to aggravate you.

Dec 16 AngelThe Angel of Serenity: You remain calm when the situation calls for quick thinking to avoid a crisis. You know how to redirect when I’ve asked the same question for the umpteenth time.

Jewels of Joyfulness: We can laugh together when unexpected and humorous things happen during the course of our daily life.

The Wreath of Wisdom: You seem to know just when to intervene, when to agree, and when not to argue with me. You also realize that your needs are important, and that you need to  take care of yourself.

The Lamb of Patient Endurance: You encourage me to use my skills to the best of my ability or strength, even if it takes a little longer to do things now. You focus on what abilities I have left, instead of what I’ve lost.

Pearls of Perseverance: Your spirit doesn’t wane when things get rough or you get weary. I know I can always count on you to be there for me.

The Dove of Peace of Mind and Heart: I know that you have done your very best in the decisions and the actions you take on my behalf.

The Rose of Compassion: You try to put yourself in my situation and imagine what it is like for me to live with this disease.

The Heart of Abundant Love: This flows from your decision each day to care for me. Even if I may not live with you, I know that you love me.

I could go on and on. If I had to calculate the value of your caring, the cost would be PRICELESS! I hope my gift tree will symbolize my deep gratitude this Christmas. Thank you! Merry Christmas!

Your Loved One

Dec 16 blue hand christmas-2920187_640

 *  *  *

One of my favorite musical groups, The Piano Guys, have teamed up with 15-year old singer, Lexi Walker, for a new version of two classic holiday hymns, joining lyrics of “O Holy Night” to the melody of “Ave Maria.” May it bring peace to your heart! (https://thepianoguys.com/portfolio/o-holy-night-ave-maria-ft-lexi-walker/)

 *  *  *

Here is a charming version of “O Tannenbaum, O Christmas Tree,” sung in three languages by Andrea Bocelli: https://youtu.be/Xww_oaafCBA.

 

Tips for a Relaxing and Joyous Holiday Season

The upcoming holiday season can cause caregivers mixed emotions. When the music, commercials and ads are all focusing on how to make the season “merry and bright,” you might be filled with dread for what you anticipate will be an extra drain on your energy, your emotions, and your preparation time.   Dec 2 Star on treeIt is also very common to experience a sense of loss for the way things “used to be.” At a time when you believe you “should” be happy, you could instead find that stress, disappointment, and sadness prevail. Get rid of the “should” in your thinking!

Take a deep breath and realize that you already are a gift to your loved one. Here are a few suggestions that I have culled from a number of sources to help you stress less, keep your sanity, and experience the true meaning of the season – LOVE!

Adjust your expectations!

Begin by taking a good look at what you can realistically do to celebrate the season. Consider what may be expected of you, both socially and emotionally. What does the holiday season mean to you, your loved one, and your family? Give yourself permission this year to do less. Pick and choose what traditions and activities are most important. How much of the planning and execution can be done together with your loved one and family members? Perhaps it’s time to modify or start new traditions.

Keep your sanity by keeping celebrations simple. You may need to schedule and limit holiday visits of family and friends to certain times or days. Consider having gatherings with a few people at a time. Plan a slow-paced brunch or noon meal, rather than a late dinner when you and your loved one are apt to be tired.

Help manage others expectations!

Prepare your loved one for any upcoming events. Try to keep to their daily routine as much as possible. Let them help with decorations, baking, icing cookies, wrapping presents, signing holiday cards, or whatever they are still capable of doing that they might enjoy. Build in rest/quiet times for them, especially if you will be visiting in others’ homes. Keep in mind that it is exhausting for a person living with dementia to try to make sense of everything around them, especially when the noise and activity levels are overwhelming.

Prepare family members or friends who will visit ahead of time as to what to expect. If they haven’t seen your loved one in a while, familiarize them with your loved one’s condition and any behavior changes. An easy way to do this is via an e-mail letter where you express that you are eager to see them, but to make it a rewarding experience for all concerned, you need to update them on some of the changes in your loved one’s condition.

Let them know that you intend, as much as possible, to control stress this holiday. Let them know your wishes. Remind them not to ask a lot of questions, especially “Don’t you remember….?” Discuss the need for them to be patient, to speak slowly in a relaxed tone, one person at a time, and not to argue.

Schedule their visits at your loved one’s best time of day. Ask them to bring photos or their favorite traditional holiday foods to share. Delegate tasks that will give you some relief, such as setting the table, helping cook, doing dishes.

Play holiday music and sings carols together. Music is a great way to enjoy each other’s company. Music also stimulates long-term memories.

Take care of yourself!

Dec 2 GiftThe holidays are opportunities to share time with people you love, but trust your instincts. Resist the pressure to celebrate the way others might want or expect you to. Make these celebrations easy on yourself so that you may concentrate on enjoying the time together with your loved one, your family and friends.

You might want to arrange for someone to stay with your loved one while you attend a holiday religious service, or take a few hours of a break away to meet up and enjoy time with your friends.

It is so important that, as a caregiver, you not only take good care of your loved one, but you also take good care of yourself. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Feast of the Three Kings, remember that the only ideal one is when you decide to make the holiday season a reflection of your values, dreams, affections, and traditions. You are the gift that keeps on giving day in and day out as the primary caregiver, not just during the holidays, but all year round.

May you and your loved ones experience the true joys of a memorable holiday season! I wish you peace, patience, love, and joy today and every day!

 *  *  *

Dementia advocate and trainer, Teepa Snow, offers additional tips for the holidays: http://myalzheimersstory.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Teepa-Snows-Holiday-Tips.pdf

 *  *  *

The Midlands Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, Omaha, NE, prepared a booklet with more holiday suggestions: https://www.alz.org/documents/midlandschapter/holiday_tips_for_caregivers_booklet_web-11.pdf.

 *  *  *

To help put you in the holiday mood, watch this YouTube video from The Piano Guys that combines Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” with Handel’s, “Joy to the World:”  https://www.Youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=JyVEKsNFDjw.

A Reflection: Counting our Blessings at Thanksgiving

At this Thanksgiving season, there is so much for which we as caregivers can express gratitude. Nov 18Gratitude enables us to see the many blessings all around us. The more we find to give thanks, the more things we find to be grateful for. Here are just a few examples:

  • GRATITUDE for the grace to care for someone who is no longer able to care for himself/herself, and in so doing provide ripples of security and peace to relatives and friends;
  • GRATITUDE for the opportunity to actualize our potential, and reinforce the virtues of patience, compassion, forgiveness and mercy, just to name a few;
  • GRATITUDE for the gifts that we possess whether through genetics or birthright;
  • GRATITUDE for the innate gifts and positive qualities that we possess but often take for granted, like creativity and resourcefulness;
  • GRATITUDE for the people we have encountered on our life’s journey. No matter how brief the encounter, it has enabled us to experience our dignity and self-worth.
  • GRATITUDE for the people who believe in us when we were unable to believe in ourselves;
  • GRATITUDE for the unexpected beautiful moments in life, like the kindness of a stranger, the smile from a baby, the helping hand of a neighbor or relative;
  • GRATITUDE for the gifts we have taken for granted, our parents, clean water, shelter, well-stocked supermarkets, etc.
  • GRATITUDE for the many opportunities available as we navigate through difficult times;
  • GRATITUDE for the memories we cherish.

Take time out to reflect on your own personal blessings, and perhaps even write these in your journal.

The Thanksgiving holiday provides not only an opportunity to be grateful for the blessings in our lives, but also to look at the challenges we faced this past year from a different perspective – a perspective of grace embedded in a silver lining.

Shift your focus now to recall a CHALLENGE that you once faced as a caregiver, one that was a painful experience, perhaps one which left you with some unfinished business. At the time when you were dealing with the CHALLENGE, you may not have had the resources to deal with it then, as you do now. What were your emotional assets at the time of that CHALLENGE? What made it difficult for you to draw on these assets?

Find a quiet place and a comfortable position to sit and reflect. Make sure that the chair is comfortable. Sit in an upright position with your shoulders relaxed. Place your feet flat on the floor, with your knees a few inches apart. Your hands are open, with palms down and resting on your thighs. Gently close your eyes and focus your awareness on your breath. As you breathe in, visualize drawing your breath from the universe, the same air that is available to all human beings, plants and animals. As you breathe out, visualize and feel your breath going into the universe, — a process of giving and receiving.

Allow thoughts of your personal CHALLENGE to come and go, without any embellishments, recriminations, or judgments. In retrospect, you are giving yourself the freedom to experience that CHALLENGE in a different way. You will now be looking at that CHALLENGE through new sophisticated lens which you have acquired for this specific purpose. In the process you have found a “gold nugget” amid the “debris.”

What does the “gold nugget” symbolize in your life at this moment in time? How has the “gold nugget” enhanced your life and enabled you to grow?Nov 18 gold-nugget

Had you been deprived of that CHALLENGE, would you be the same person you are today?

What important lessons have you learned from that experience? How has your experience enabled you to connect or empathize with people of similar experience? How will it enable you to face the CHALLENGES of today and the CHALLENGES of tomorrow?

Take a few moments now to write down your reflections from this meditation. What is the light that emerged from that darkness and for which you can truly give thanks this holiday season?

I wish you peace, patience, compassion and joy in your caregiving today and every day!

*  *  *

Many thanks to my friend and mentor, Merle Stern, who composed this Thanksgiving litany and its accompanying reflection!

   *  *  *

My wishes and prayer for you this Thanksgiving are in a hymn composed by one of my favorite British composers, John Rutter. Please take a moment to listen to this blessing, “The Lord Bless You and Keep You:”  https://youtu.be/PaLBndhralI.

 

Veterans and the Risk of Developing Dementia

My father was a proud World War II Army veteran. I have a nephew in his twenties who recently served in the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another nephew is currently serving in the Marine Corps and intends to make it a career. I have often wondered about the likelihood of soldiers returning from their tours of duty, eventually developing Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. I came across some recent articles that gave me disturbing answers.  Nov 4 soldier-996536_640

Veterans’ Unique Risk Factors

There are currently about thirteen million veterans over the age of 55. This represents two-thirds of the veteran population in our country. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that more than 770,000 older veterans have Alzheimer’s disease or associated dementias. The National Institute of Health published a study in which they estimate that 420,000 veterans will have developed Alzheimer’s between 2010 and 2020.

According to Dr. David X. Cifu, a researcher and traumatic brain injury specialist at the VA, veterans are at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s for several reasons. There is a higher prevalence of mental health disorders in the veterans’ community which creates more likelihood of developing dementia.

The unique risk factors include: post-traumatic stress, depression, traumatic brain injury, and blast-induced neurotrauma.

  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression

According to a study that appeared in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the risk of Alzheimer’s doubles for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The VA estimates that thirty percent of Vietnam veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress. This is four times the rate of the general U.S. population. More than one-third of our Iraq veterans suffer from PTSD or depression. PTSD and depression are also associated with suicidal ideation and the rising rate of suicide among veterans.

Symptoms of PTSD may include:

Unwanted and repeated memories of the life-threatening event;

Flashbacks where the event is relived and person temporarily loses touch with reality;

Avoidance of people, places, sights, or sounds that are reminders;

Feelings of detachment from people, even family, and emotional numbness.

  • Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) also increases the risk of dementia. TBI is a nondegenerative, noncongenital insult to the brain from an external mechanical force, possibly leading to permanent or temporary impairment of cognitive, physical, and psychosocial functions, with an associated diminished or altered state of consciousness. Veterans with TBI are sixty percent more likely to develop dementia than other veterans, according to a 2014 study by the American Academy of Neurology.

Because of the prominent use of improvised explosive devices, blast exposure has been the most common cause of TBI. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are at a higher risk to develop Alzheimer’s because they have sustained more brain injuries. If you were to count all combat wounds veterans suffered in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, twenty-two percent were brain injuries. This is nearly double the brain injuries sustained by US soldiers during the Vietnam War.

There are physical, emotional-behavioral, and cognitive symptoms that are common consequences of TBI. Here are some of the symptoms:

Physical:  fatigue, headaches, difficulty with speech, decreased muscle movement, and disruptions to sensory symptoms.

Emotional-behavioral:  depression, irritability, anxiety, disturbed sleep, impulsivity.

Cognitive:  word-finding problems, difficulty multi-tasking, difficulty remembering and concentrating.

  • Blast-induced Neurotrauma

The use of body armor is allowing soldiers to survive blasts that would otherwise be fatal. Blast-induced traumatic brain injury (bTBI) is a major medical concern and has been called the “signature wound” of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. During the Iraq conflict, nearly half of the soldiers who were injured experienced blast exposure resulting in neurotrauma.1

According to a variety of scientific studies, high rates of blast injuries and blast-induced neurotrauma are associated with irreversible, chronic brain tissue damage, including neurodegeneration, long-term neurological deficits, and memory loss.

  • Successive Concussion Syndrome

The post-concussion syndrome (PCS), a common sequel of traumatic brain injury (TBI), is a symptom complex comprising of headache, sleep disturbance, neuropsychiatric symptoms, and cognitive impairment.

Mayo Clinic defines post-concussion syndrome as “a complex disorder in which various symptoms, such as headaches and dizziness, last for weeks and sometimes months after the injury that caused the concussion. Concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that usually happens after a blow to the head. It can also occur with violent shaking and movement of the head or body. You don’t have to lose consciousness to get a concussion or post-concussion syndrome. In fact, the risk of post-concussion syndrome doesn’t appear to be associated with the severity of the initial injury.”

Barriers to Effective Diagnosis, Treatment and Care

A timely and early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is critical to care. Veterans may face several barriers to getting effective care. These include: a complex VA health system; a lack of understanding of available benefits; and a stigma related to brain and mental health problems.

Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, Founder and Chief Director, Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas, notes: “Stigma about the brain keeps them (veterans) from seeking the help they need causing the problems to worsen over time. We must get ahead of the growing risk of Alzheimer’s for the increasing number of veterans who served our country.”

Alzheimer’s disease can not only take a devastating toll on veterans, but also on family members who provide their care. Social isolation and depression are possible negative effects of caregiving, but support is available.


Nov 4 veteran-1807121_640

A New National Network

The advocacy group, USAgainst Alzheimer’s, recently launched a new network called “Veterans Against Alzheimer’s” to specifically spotlight the challenges faced by veterans and their families. It will focus on raising awareness, and advocating for increased resources, programs and funding for needed research. This group also hopes to increase veteran participation in clinical trials. They are working in collaboration with the VA, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Department of Defense funded Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium.

Help Is Available

If your loved one is a veteran experiencing difficulties concentrating, has recurring headaches, or any of the symptoms described above, make an appointment to see a primary care provider who can then recommend a neurologist for more in depth diagnosis if needed.

Caregivers play an important role in the health and well-being of veterans. The VA offers a free six-week online workshop, “Building Better Caregivers.” Check out the other resources available at the VA website: https://www.caregiver.va.gov/. The Veterans Crisis Line phone number is 1-800-273-8255.

Additional Resources

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has information on their website regarding Alzheimer’s and dementia care: https://www.va.gov/geriatrics/alzheimers_and_dementia_care.asp.

For more information and to become involved in Veterans Against Alzheimer’s, go to their website: http://www.usagainstalzheimers.org/veterans-network.

Brainline.org is a website that focuses on brain injuries and TBI. It has a section devoted to veterans and their caregivers: https://www.brainline.org/military-veterans. The website also has a resource directory where you can find help near where you live: https://www.brainline.org/military-resource-directory.

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates is said to have remarked in 400 BC: “No head injury is too severe to despair of, nor too trivial to ignore.” As we approach the observance of Veterans Day, November 11, let us all join to help fight and win the battle against Alzheimer’s. We owe it to our veterans!

I wish you peace, love, compassion and joy in your caregiving today and every day!

 *  *  *

To read the brief, “Veterans and Alzheimer’s: Meeting the Crisis Head On,” published by Veterans Against Alzheimer’s, October 3, 2017, go to: http://www.usagainstalzheimers.org/sites/default/files/USA2_Veterans%20Issue%20Brief_October%2010%202017%20%282%29.pdf.

 *  *  *

Dr. David Cifu discusses brain trauma in this brief YouTube video: https://youtu.be/pXjmX1WKxRI.

 *  *  *

Patients are an integral part of the interdisciplinary polytrauma team at the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center: https://youtu.be/PPD3KLc-q08.

 *  *  *

An Army veteran discusses his symptoms and treatment of PTSD and TBI in this brief YouTube video: https://youtu.be/mEVA0T7QR1E.

 

Will We Get Alzheimer’s Disease? Maybe/Maybe Not!

Alzheimer’s is the second most-feared illness in the USA, following cancer. Studies suggest that our short-term memory peaks at age 25 and begins to decline at age 35. By age 65, approximately one person in seven experiences changes in their brain that may ultimately lead to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or some other form of dementia. At age 72, one person in three experiences measurable cognitive loss. At 85, up to half of us will be living with some form of dementia.  Oct 14 DNA Strand 1

This data is frightening!! In a few weeks I will turn 71. So far, (knock on wood and thank my lucky stars?) I am not experiencing measurable cognitive loss – YET! My Mom was diagnosed at age 82 with mixed dementia: late-onset AD and vascular dementia. So will my siblings and I develop this disease, too? I ask myself that question from time to time. I have tried to do the things that research indicates to keep my body healthy and my mind active. Here is what I have discovered that gives me some comfort, and I hope also answers my siblings’ concerns.

Scientists are still trying to determine the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s disease. It is a complex and complicated illness. However, it basically comes down to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and lifestyle choices. Of course it is entirely possible to do everything “right” and still develop dementia, but there is growing evidence that lifestyle choices can make a difference in many cases.

There is hope on the near horizon for identifying and treating the underlying causes of AD. Dale E. Bredesen, MD, who, with his colleagues, has conducted years of cutting edge research and identified new, previously unrecognized causes of AD. More about that later in this article.

Hereditary Genetic Mutation

It has been consistently reported that there are two types of AD: 1) early-onset AD which is rare, affecting people age 60 and younger (less than 5 % of AD cases); and 2) late-onset AD that develops in persons over the age of 60. Researchers have identified two categories of genes that influence whether a person will develop the disease: deterministic genes and risk genes. Deterministic genes directly cause early-onset AD.

One type of early-onset AD is known as familial AD (FAD), also called autosomal dominant AD (ADAD). This type affects less than 1% of all persons with AD. It is unusual because it is caused by a hereditary genetic mutation to one of three deterministic genes: PSEN1, PSEN2, or APP. Mutations are located on one of three chromosomes: 21, 14, and 1.

According to Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, “If a child whose birth mother or birth father carries a genetic mutation of one of these three genes, then the child has a 50% chance of inheriting that mutation from the affected parent.” If they do inherit that mutation, then the chance of them developing AD is nearly 100% certain. The genetic mutation is usually passed down from generation to generation.

APOE Gene and Late-onset AD

Geneticists have identified genes associated with an increased risk of developing AD, but the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene is the best known risk factor for developing late-onset AD. However, carrying the gene does NOT necessarily mean that the person will develop AD.

Oct 2 DNA Strand 2The APOE gene comes in three forms: e2, e3, and e4. Each of us inherits an APOE gene from our birth mother and an APOE gene from our birth father. This makes for six different combinations. It is when the person inherits the e4/APOE gene from both father and mother that the likelihood of that person developing late-onset AD by age 85 is 30-55%. Persons with e3/e3APOE genotype have a 10-15% risk of developing AD by age 85. Individuals with e3/e4 APOE genotype are at a 20-25% risk of developing mild cognitive impairment or AD by age 85.  The e2/APOE genotype is rare and there is not a lot of information about the risk with this form.

It is important to note that just because an individual has 1 or 2 copies of the e4/APOE gene does NOT mean that they will necessarily develop AD. Likewise, just because a person does not have a copy of the e4/APOE gene, does NOT mean they will NOT develop Alzheimer’s.

Risk Factors Besides Genes

In my research, I have surmised that everyone who has a brain is at risk for developing the disease as they age, whether or not they carry a genetic predisposition. Age is the number one risk. Race is another. Latinos and African Americans are 1½ to 2 times more likely to develop AD than Caucasians. However, there are environmental and health lifestyle factors that can increase or decrease one’s risk.

Factors that MAY decrease risk: 1) no family history of dementia; 2) a high level of education; 3) good cardiovascular health; 4) being male.

Factors that MAY increase risk: 1) a family history of dementia; 2) a low education level; 3) cardiovascular disease and conditions such as high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes; 4) being female; 5) obesity; 6) depression; 7) smoking; 8) a severe head injury or repeated head trauma.

The Reversal of Cognitive Decline May Be at Hand

Every day, researchers are learning more about our amazing brains and what factors contribute to the risk of developing this dreaded disease. One neuroscientist and neurologist, Dale E. Bredesen, MD, offers real hope to anyone looking to prevent and even reverse Alzheimer’s Disease and cognitive decline. Dr. Bredesen seems to have proof that AD is not one disease, as it is currently treated, but several different diseases, and each has a different optimal treatment. His new book, The End of Alzheimer’s, The First Program to Prevent and Reverse the Cognitive Decline of Dementia, outlines 36 metabolic factors (eg., certain micronutrients, hormone levels, sleep) that can trigger “downsizing” in the brain. Bredesen’s protocol rebalances these factors using lifestyle modifications, like taking B12, eliminating gluten, or improving oral hygiene.

After decades of research, the results have been so impressive that Dr. Bredesen published his extensive study and the results on ten patients in 2016 in the journal Aging (June, Vol. 8, No. 6). The therapeutic approach/protocol used was dubbed metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration (MEND). Patients who had to discontinue working, were now able to return to work. Those patients struggling at work were able to improve their performance. Of the first ten patients on the protocol, nine displayed significant improvement with 3-6 months. Since that time, the protocol has yielded similar results in over a thousand patients now.

Dr. Bredesen’s protocol brings new hope to a broad audience of patients, caregivers, physicians, and treatment centers. His book provides a fascinating look inside the science, as well as a complete step-by-step plan that fundamentally changes how we treat and even think about AD. I have ordered the book and will share some of the insights I glean in upcoming blog articles.

Everyone is at risk of developing AD, even without a family history, and if you are at risk to develop AD from genetics and family history, as in my case, there are still many things that we can do to decrease our risks. Here are several recommendations mainly in the areas of lifestyle and health choices that will help you take control and take charge:

  • Eat a healthy diet;
  • Maintain a healthy weight;
  • Exercise regularly;
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol;
  • Stop smoking (if you smoke);
  • Get adequate sleep;
  • Be conscious about safety by regularly using seat belts;
  • Make sure to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.

We can choose lifestyles that accelerate brain vitality rather than those that promote brain atrophy and dementia. What are we waiting for? It’s never too late to start!

I wish you peace, patience, compassion and joy in your caregiving today and every day!

 *  *  *

Disclaimer: This article is strictly an informational one. It is not meant to provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health professional.

 *  *  *

You can watch an interview with neurologist David Perlmutter, MD, discussing with Dr. Dale Bredesen the breakthroughs that this pioneer in Alzheimer’s research has documented in treating and reversing Alzheimer’s in 1,000 patients: https://www.drperlmutter.com/the-empowering-neurologist-david-perlmutter-md-and-dr-dale-bredesen/.

 *  *  *

The Alzheimer’s Association offers a 14-minute video, “Genetics in Alzheimer’s,” by John Hardy, Ph.D., of the National Institute on Aging, and Gerard Shellenberg, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania. They discuss how genes cause disease, the difference between deterministic and risk genes, and which genes of each type are implicated in early-onset and late-onset Alzheimer’s: https://www.alz.org/research/video/alzheimers_videos_and_media_genetics.asp.

*  *  * 

“Early-onset AD and Genetics” is a video that offers a profile of the DeMoe family, in which five of six siblings carry one of the rare genetic mutations that cause inherited, early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The family is partnering with doctors at the University of Pittsburgh to understand the course of early-onset Alzheimer’s. Watch the video here: https://www.alz.org/research/video/alzheimers_videos_and_media_early.asp.

 *  *  *

The video, “Late-onset AD and Genetics,” profiles the Nanney-Felts family, in which all seven siblings in the mother’s generation had late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The family is working with Columbia University’s Richard Mayeux, M.D., to help understand the complicated genetics of late-onset Alzheimer’s. Go here to watch it: https://www.alz.org/research/video/alzheimers_videos_and_media_late.asp

*  *  *

AARP published an article by Elizabeth Agnvall, March 1, 2011, titled, “Mother’s Alzheimer’s Increases Your Risk.” Agnvall  reports on a study that was published at that time in the journal Neurology. To read the article, go here: http://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-02-2011/health-discovery-mothers-alzheimers-increases-your-risk.html.

Music and a Memorial Tribute to Our Dad

Music can elevate mood, promote relaxation, reduce anxiety, depression, and agitation. Music therapy, including singing, dancing, playing an instrument, or even clapping or tapping rhythmically, has been used in the field of dementia care for many years.  Oct. 7 Violin

October 2 marked our beloved father’s fourteenth death anniversary. When I reminisce about him, I think Dad would want us to remember him for his devoted love of family, his gentle love of people, and his love of music. Dad did not have dementia, but he was a devoted caregiver for our Mom who was diagnosed in her early 80’s with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.

Music was the soundtrack of Dad’s life. He was a musician and a singer. As a young man in his twenties, he played violin and entertained at a local radio program as a member of a trio with his two brothers, Ed, the pianist, and Henry, the cellist.

It was music that brought our parents-to-be together. Dad met our mother at the Polish Hall in Lansing, MI while performing there. I can imagine them getting to know each other, and enjoying dancing to polkas and the other popular dances of their day. They married just before Dad was sent overseas to the front to head up a trucking division supplying the Army troops during World War II. While Dad was still stateside at Ft. Leonard Wood, he was a member of an all-soldier cast that produced a musical comedy, “Ready on the Firing Line!” This production was a fundraiser for the Army’s emergency relief fund.

When the war ended, Dad returned to the USA and settled in to raise a family. Music filled our home. My siblings and I were “encouraged” to take up a musical instrument as youngsters. Four of us chose to learn to play the piano, while my youngest brother played the drums. For twenty-five years, Dad and Mom were the choir director and organist at our local parish.

When they retired to Florida, they organized a choral group, the Choraliers, at their local Village Green retirement community. Dad directed the chorus while Mom accompanied on the piano. For about fourteen years, the Choraliers entertained residents, as well as patients in the local hospital and nursing homes.

Dad prepares to direct the Choraliers. Mom is the accompanist.

Dad prepares to direct the Choraliers. Mom is the accompanist.

We are rhythmic beings by nature and are “wired” to respond to music. Music engages the part of the brain called the hippocampus, the area that stores long-term memories, and the part of the brain that isn’t affected in the early or middle stages of Alzheimer’s. Research is currently being conducted on how music can improve the mood in those affected with dementia, even in the late stages of the disease.

You don’t have to be a music therapist or have an extensive background in musicology to make music an essential element in the quality of life for your loved one. Here are a few tips to spark joy through music:

  • Pick styles of music your loved one enjoys.

Research indicates that music that was familiar and popular at the time musical memories develop (between the ages of eight and twenty) resonates with persons with dementia and produces favorable outcomes. Do they have favorite musicians or singers, favorite songs, or favorite styles of music (classical, operatic, country western, rock and roll, hymns, etc.)?

  • Think about how the tempo, speed, and rhythm of the music can affect your loved one.

If you want them to become more relaxed, select music that is calming with a slow beat. If you want them to feel upbeat, select a lively song.

  • Observe how your loved one responds to the song or the particular kind of music.

Every person resonates with different music and song preferences. A song might trigger painful memories or emotions. If they appear agitated, it may be that they don’t want to listen to music at that moment but can’t let you know this. Soft classical music, lullabies, or non-rhythmic instrumental background music can reduce agitation and anxiety during periods of sundowning.

  • Pay attention to volume.

Music must be loud enough for your loved one to hear it, but not so loud that it’s uncomfortable. Persons with hearing loss or using hearing aids often have trouble hearing music in the higher ranges. Pick music that is in a lower range and has a strong beat.

  • Make connections with music.

Music can bring you and your loved one closer together. Use music as a tool to get to know them better. Music can trigger feelings and memories that aren’t expressed at other times. Use photographs and pictures along with the music to help bring back memories of good times and persons in their lives that will allow them to share their pleasant experiences.

  • Sing along or dance with your loved one.

You can usually search for lyrics on Google or YouTube music. A 2014 study in the Journal of Music Therapy specifically looked at the impact of singing familiar songs. It found that they could elicit memories, spontaneous conversation, and generally positive feelings of belonging and accomplishment.

I’m so grateful that my musical parents provided a foundation and exposed me to a variety of musical experiences that have enriched my life. I can just imagine Dad in heaven directing a choir of angels in a joyous rendition of George Frideric Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus!”

I wish you peace, patience, compassion, and joy in your caregiving today and every day!

  *  *  *

My blog article of April 9, 2016, also focused on the benefits of music. To read “Orange for the Ear, Tonic for the Soul,” click here: http://caregiverfamilies.com/category/music-and-alzheimers/.

 *  *  *

Ted McDermott, 80 years old, has dementia and loves to sing. His son taped him singing carpool karaoke, and put those tapes on YouTube. A producer from Decca Records heard Ted singing and offered him a record contract. Check out the story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qT22tFsPPUA.

 *  *  *

Wikipedia maintains a list of top American pop songs from 1940 to 2016:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Billboard_number-one_singles.

 *  *  *

Mary Sue Wilkinson, a music therapist, began a website, www.singingheartotheart.com, that shares how music can enliven lives. You can download her free e-resource, “Finding Memories through Music – A Family Interview,” by going to: https://www.singinghearttoheart.com/home.

 *  *  *

I came across an a cappella vocal interpretation of Edward Elgar’s, “Nimrod: Lux Aeterna,” sung by the British group VOCES8. It is a moving rendition that I think my father would have loved. May he rest in eternal light and peace. You can listen here: http://www.cmuse.org/elgars-nimrod-vocal-performance-will-make-you-so-emotional/.