Birds have an amazing communication system. One day, while my Mama was living with us, we attended a potluck lunch to celebrate the end of a project. Held in the dining area of a lovely home, we had a lovely view of a beautifully landscaped backyard.
As we munched and chatted, I noticed a multitude of tiny yellow birds. They were crowded around what appeared to be a tube sock full of seeds attached by a hook to ornate, wrought iron poles. I was told that the birds were goldfinches and they were eating a black thistle seed called Nyjer. The ‘sock’ was made of a netted fabric that allowed the birds to pull out thistle with their small, pointed bills. It immediately occurred to us that Mama would love watching this.
We hung a couple of finch socks in front of the window. Though I’m not sure how birds pass the word along, it didn’t take too long before our finch socks were sporting a dozen or so little yellow birds. They were fun to watch as they flitted about, jostling for position on the sock according to a pecking order known only to them. They were always in motion. It was fascinating to watch them come and go. They provided a constant show for Mama as she watched them regularly with rapt fascination.
Birds in North Carolina
Our recent move to the east coast has given us new birds to entice to our feeders. Most notably, the famous North Carolina Cardinals. With a quick bit of research, we learned these beautiful red birds love black sunflower seeds – abundant in the wild birdseed mix we found. We also discovered suet – a hard block of a seed mixture that sets inside a rectangle frame which the birds hang onto while feasting at the suet.
We found branches that were strong enough to hold the feeders, but too thin for squirrels to climb on. Since the squirrels here are quite clever about getting into bird feeders, we were careful to select just the right branches. We hung our new feeders, sat back and waited.
The bird communication system must have activated again as it was not long before a variety of ‘southern winged visitors’ began to show up. How lovely it was to watch the birds as they eagerly began to munch on the seeds. We began seeing cardinals, sparrows, doves, titmice, nuthatches, and wrens along with a variety of woodpeckers as well as the occasional hawk.
My husband and I found it a very peaceable thing to watch the birds (as well as squirrels) flit, fly and scamper around in search of their favorite munchies. Watching them, I understood Mama’s fascination with the flitting little flyers as we began watching and learning the habits and songs as well as species of the winged visitors who come to our little backyard feeders.
As it turns out, according to ‘ScienceDaily’,birdwatching is very therapeutic. However, birds may not be your thing; perhaps fish are more enjoyable or possibly petting cats. The important thing is to find something soothing that will enable you to take at least one ‘mental health’ break each day to refresh and recharge.
I love our new home on the east coast. There are a lot of amazing attractions and amenities that were not available on the west coast – most notably, our grandchildren. In spite of the fact that we are transitioning nicely into our new world, and yes, culture, there are people and events that take place back home that cause a bit of homesickness. (Hint: it has to do with the word dance)
It is a fundraiser for the school’s arts program. The semi-formal evening is a family-friendly delight filled with dancing and desserts. A photo booth provides a memorial of the lovely almond blossom themed event.
Dancing, it turns out provides many benefits. Of course the most obvious is the physical exercise but its value waltzes way past that. According to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, dancing may be one of the best means of actually avoiding Alzheimer’s. Dr. Joe Verghese, a neurologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, followed elderly subjects over a 21-year period to determine which activities most resulted in dementia resistance.
The study revealed the usual list of suspects such as doing crossword puzzles and reading did show a 47% & 35% reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, but the results from golfing, swimming or bike riding produced an unexpected 0% lower risk. The biggest surprise of the study was that social interaction of dancing lowered the seniors’ risk of dementia by a staggering 76%. Wow! Sorta makes you want to do the happy dance.
Another study, this one published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, has similar results. It revealed that dancing causes the part of the brain called the hippocampus, a region crucial for memory to grow larger. The study also indicated that dancing improved balance in the elderly.
What happens when we dance?
It turns out, the need for cooperation between two dancers, with one leading and the other following causes the type of quick decision-making process that makes the brain more resilient. For best results, the dancers need to learn new dances (rather than just doing the same steps over and over) and the more the better.
There seems to be something beneficial when our brains are called upon to move in a required format while at the same time being aware of everything going on around you (so dancers don’t bump into each other). Dancing is also a very social activity; the positive effects of being social have been well known for some time. It becomes especially powerful when combined with music – which is another factor in dementia resistance, associated with dancing.
Spouses who dance together may, over the years be actually watching out for one another’s well-being in a fun way. Dance clubs and senior centers offer opportunities for both couples and singles to learn new dances in a social setting.
Listen, do you hear the music? What are you waiting for? It’s time to dance!
The Cheshire Cat may have been onto something. Accounts differ as to what inspired Lewis Carroll to use the smiling cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but the majority agrees that he certainly made it famous. A multitude of studies has recently shown that smiling actually changes your brain (in a good way).
That is really good news for those who suffer from some form of dementia, who, along with Alice might find themselves in a strange and confusing world where nothing appears real and everyone seems to be a bit mad. They may also feel frightened and lonely and wish they could simply tap their ruby slippers together three times and go home again….wait; I’ve mixed up my stories. Suffice it to say, dementia is not a pleasant world to live in.
Those caring for loved ones who suffer from dementia may also find themselves living in a strange and lonely world. People they once had lively and meaningful conversations with can no longer chat and may not even recognize them. My Mama, who was smart, witty and a wonderful conversationalist, lost the ability to recognize me in the early stages of her battle with dementia.
This is the time of year when dark feelings of loneliness and depression can magnify – how ironic since the holidays are usually portrayed by scenes of happy family and friends getting together. Of course, the contrast between what is depicted and reality may be a contributing influence in the sadness factor. That, combined with what is referred to as Winter Blues (when days are short), can cause many caregivers to experience feelings of hopelessness.
Back to the smiles.
Smiles are also contagious; if you smile at someone, they smile, and then you both get a little happier–which can be especially good news for caregivers. Try smiling at your loved one several times throughout your day and watch how they respond. Researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden concluded that frowning when looking at someone smiling is possible, but would be very difficult.
What if you don’t feel like smiling?
But wait, there’s more! According to HealthHub.com, smiles– even fake smiles do a lot more than simply let the world know you’re happy. It turns out that there is also a whole host of health benefits to smiling. In an article titled, “15 of the best and free health benefits of smiling” including heart health, pain and stress reduction as well as an increase in productivity and longevity.
As a child, my family did a lot of traveling. My parents loved to visit national parks and forests, state parks, and scenic byways of every kind. As fun as it was, I didn’t really appreciate the beauty of nature displayed during those childhood trips until I was an adult.
One afternoon, while my sister and I were talking about all of our various childhood trips and travels, she told me about her first trip to Sedona, Arizona as a grown-up. She and her husband were going to attend a wonderful, company-paid weekend of rest and relaxation. On their drive up to Sedona from the Phoenix airport, my sister confessed that even though this weekend trip sounded delightful, she had a lot on her mind and was feeling rather stressed. Besides, she was more of an ‘ocean’ girl than a ‘desert’ girl.
So, while she was brooding and remembering about all the responsibilities she should be taking care of instead of spending time in the desert, their car rounded a curve in the road. Suddenly, spread out in front of them was a spectacular sight: Sedona!
The vibrancy and variance of all the colors in the stone formations jutting upwards from the painted landscape to the brilliant blue sky created a vivid, and mesmerizing scene. At that moment, she understood why Sedona is called the “Most Beautiful Place on Earth”. She also realized the stress that had been plaguing her began melting away.
The de-stressing effect is confirmed by a study done at Stanford University. It strongly suggests that getting out into natural environments could be an easy way to improve moods for city dwellers. Researchers discovered that people who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.
Nature writer for the National Geographic, David Gessner also explains that science is proving what we’ve always known intuitively: nature does good things to the human brain—it makes us healthier, happier, and smarter.
The beauty of nature all dressed up for fall
My husband and I just experienced a wonderful, stress-reducing journey as well. We were able to travel up through the New England states into New Brunswick during this beautiful, fall season in order to visit family and enjoy Canadian Thanksgiving. The trees
(especially in New Brunswick) are the stunningly beautiful. They turn every fall color there is to create some of the most enchanting landscapes I have ever witnessed. At some point in our trip, I remembered what my sister had told me about her experience in Sedona. I could relate.
An article in Mental Floss offers 11 Scientific Reasons Why Being in Nature is Relaxing. It turns out that spending time in the great outdoors has been scientifically proven to reduce stress levels. It also helps you find clarity, and rejuvenate your mind and body.
In spite of our busy lives, isn’t there a few moments we can devote to soaking in a bit of natural beauty. Listen, what do you hear? Is it the call of the (beautiful) wild?
The word for today is ‘Balance’. It’s a buzzword we hear about all the time. Balance, it seems is the key to a happier, healthier life. Keeping our lives in balance is something we all strive to achieve. Our sense of justice demands it, but an honest evaluation may reveal that we are falling rather short of the goal. When we are ‘out-of-balance in some area of our lives it can be painful. But at times, the ability to find balance becomes incredibly elusive. Trying to keep up with all the daily demands in life can have us going to bed exhausted and waking up tired.
In order to find a sense of balance in our busy lives, it is first important to define what balance actually is. One definition is a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions. But remember, what balance means to each of us is different. Since we all have unique strengths and abilities, we can’t compare ourselves with anyone else. Only you know when you find that mysterious spot between the rock and the hard place. Sometimes it can be difficult, and you may wonder if you can go on, but as Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving”.
We’re reminded to eat a balanced diet and as well as to get plenty of rest while keeping up with all our varied responsibilities. It can be enough to cause despair.
But wait! There’s hope. It turns out that little changes added to an existing routine can help pave the way to bigger changes.
The idea of balance can be illustrated by comparing it to the famous 3-legged stool.
3-legged stool provides balance
Leg #1, DIET: For instance. Can’t find the time/energy/money to eat a balanced diet? Try bananas. According toMedicalNewsToday, Bananas are one of the most widely consumed fruits in the world for good reason. Eating them could help lower blood pressure and reduce the risks of cancer and asthma. Bananas are a healthy source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, including potassium, and vitamins B6 and C. Bananas don’t need refrigeration, they are compact, tasty, and easy to peel and eat. Also, I’ve never heard of anyone who is allergic to them, they are healthy for you, and very inexpensive. If your life is so busy that you find yourself rushing out of the door without breakfast, or running through a drive-thru in order to get a meal, try taking a few bananas with you to eat and you may find yourself less hungry and able to save a bit of money on the fast-food meals. Icy cold water in a water bottle can also be a healthy and money saving idea.
Leg #2, EXERCISE: Now, for those who are currently living with your loved-one. Who has time to exercise when we’re constantly jumping up a couple of times every night to provide care, hoping to it in order to fetch items and fix meals, and springing up to offer assistance? But if you do happen to tilt toward the sedentary, it can leave a person off kilter. Adding a five-minute stretch every morning or evening is an easy add-on to your existing routine. One way is to sit on the side of your bed, lay back and stretch out your hands over your head. Wait for five minutes. Hint: it’s a bit harder than it sounds but worth it to help stretch out your core.
Here’s another thought about balance. Usually, when someone refers to living a ‘balanced lifestyle’ they mean it in an intellectual or intangible way. But actual balance (the kind that keeps you from falling over) is important as well. My daughter, who is a massage therapist, reminds me of the importance of balance. I have a post on my blog, MAINTAINING A GOOD BALANCE that explains some of the reasons that good balance is so important.
According to WebMD, Keeping muscles fit matters: In a 2009 study of 900 seniors, researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago reported that those who maintained muscle strength were significantly less likely to go on to develop memory impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.
In an article in the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, Bob DeMarco talks about discovering his mother’s trouble with balance. After he began to take her to the gym (at the age of 88), her balance improved dramatically. The article goes on to say that poor balance may indicate memory decline – another reason to work on improving balance.
I have found I can work on it every time I brush my teeth. I have one of those toothbrushes that pause every 30 seconds to let you know it’s time to change where you are brushing your teeth until the front and back of both the top and bottom teeth are brushed for a total of 2 minutes. It occurred to me one day that if I stood on only one leg for each 30-second segment, it would help me maintain good balance.
Leg #3, SLEEP: No matter how busy and demanding your day is, somehow, sleep has to happen. If your loved one is active at night, you might have to consider exploring the possibility of overnight 0respite help so you can get some sleep. However, according to an article by theFamily Caregiver Alliance, even though Caregivers often find themselves exhausted at the end of the day, many are still not able to sleep.
You don’t really have to count sheep—you could try counting slowly to 100. Some people find that playing mental games makes them sleepy. For example, tell yourself it is 5 minutes before you have to get up, and you’re just trying to get a little bit more sleep.
Some people find that relaxing their bodies puts them to sleep. One way to do this is to imagine your toes are completely relaxed, and then your feet, and then your ankles. Work your way up the rest of your body, section by section. You may drift off to sleep before getting to the top of your head.
At times, I have trouble falling asleep. When that happens I recite Psalm 23 and try to picture the green pastures and quiet waters from the sheep’s point of view. That usually helps. If after a little while it doesn’t help, then get up and read until I get sleepy.
Caregivers typically put other’s needs before their own. But remember, it’s not selfish to get a good night’s sleep, it is essential in order for you to take care of yourself as well as provide quality care for your loved one.
Unlike the standard 3-legged stool picture, once you become a caregiver your life (as you know), becomes much more complex. Not only do you have your own diet, exercise, and sleep to consider, you now have someone else’s as well. For instance, if you have three hours to be up and ready to go to a doctor’s appointment, you may find yourself streamlining and shortcutting your own routine in order to prepare your loved one for the appointment. That’s what reality looks like right now. Remember the definition of balance is that it is a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions. When you thoughtfully plan out a way to shortchange your own routine in order to adequately care for your loved one, you are arranging the time required into correct proportions.
Bananas, stretching, sleeping, and standing on one leg, these are all elements of a good balancing act.
A friend of mine was frustrated. Her Mother is in the early stages of dementia, and although she is one of four siblings, the weight of decisions regarding her Mother’s care falls to her.
After an extensive search, she and her husband found an acceptable care home that had an opening in the city where they live.
My friend is able to visit her Mother a few times a week. She was pleased with the level of care they provided, which included a wide variety of activities. Her Mother regularly enjoyed strolling through the garden area and sitting on the shady benches while visiting with friends among the beautiful flowers. All seemed well as her mother settled into the routines at her new home.
Then one day my friend received a call from the director of the facility. He informed her that a decision had been made to move her mother to a different house within the complex. The care home campus consists of three homes, with each one housing residents of similar abilities. She and her husband were a bit uncertain about this move since they had been quite happy with the previous arrangements and were concerned that this change could be detrimental to her mental well-being. He stated that she would be given a thirty-day notice if they did not go along with the move. Due to the lack of options, they agreed to this unsettling change.
As feared, her mother’s condition worsened after the move. The residents in the new home were much less active – or talkative. Before long her mother began to settle into a more sedentary lifestyle as well. It was at this point where my friend was sharing her frustrations with me. She was concerned that her visits would not be enough to counteract the effects of her Mother’s new living situation.
Shortly after our visit, I came across a wonderful study published in “Neurology Advisor” that found that just one hour a week of social interaction improved patients’ quality of life and eased their agitation. The study included more than 800 dementia patients living in 69 nursing homes in the United Kingdom.
The key word here is ‘social interaction’. As long as there is any willingness or ability for a loved one to be actively involved in the visit there seems to be a measure of benefit. Some examples of active involvement include conversations, singing together, playing cards, board games, or bingo.
Try to discover what activities your loved one might enjoy doing, (although this may change over time). I would encourage you to venture out when you can. Help your loved one go to their place of worship, attend concerts, browse art galleries, feed ducks at the park, or visit a zoo.
Do whatever your loved one enjoyed prior to the onset of dementia and even add a few activities whenever possible. When it comes to food, help your loved one share a meal with others, whether it’s at a restaurant, with family, or in the dining room of the care home.
The best part of this study is that it shows what only one hour of ‘social interaction’ can do to improve quality of life, additional time spent may help even more.
An additional benefit may be the discovery that the increased ‘quality of life’ and ‘sense of connection’ may flow both ways.
While my husband Wayne was a tour bus driver, some of his favorite trips were the “Road Scholar” excursions.
Their adventures took them to a wide variety of interesting places – not just the touristy spots, but also out-of-the-way destinations with educational value.
That is why I was so pleased when I learned that the Road Scholars would be offering Caregiver Grants to adults age 50 and over who help care for a loved one. The grant would also offset the costs of arranging substitute care while attending a Road Scholar learning adventure.
You are an eligible caregiver if you are the primary unpaid caregiver providing daily care and support for an ill or disabled family member (spouse, parent, adult child, partner or sibling).
A quote found on the page of the Road Scholar website states:“The leaders took a personal interest in me, and in each of the participants. They understood I was on a respite from caregiving for my daughter who is very ill and in hospice care. I felt I had permission to sleep as much as I needed and to socialize only as much as I was able. Each presented their topics in such a way that I was inspired to learn more when I got home, or to restart former activities such as painting and Tai Chi. They gave me a new lease on life and I am so grateful.” — Road Scholar Caregiver Grant Recipient
If you have any questions regarding Caregiver Grants, you may contact Participant Services by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling toll free at (877) 426-8056, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., ET.
Heraclitus of Ephesus, a philosopher born in 535 BC, stated: “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change –”. Heraclitus was famous for his insistence on ever-present change as being the fundamental essence of the universe, as stated in the famous saying, “No man ever steps in the same river twice“
Over the past few years, our family has experienced a bucket-load of change; sickness, job loss, new job, death of family member, sale of home, retirement, and move across country. I’m sure we are not alone – every family, couple and individual experiences change on a constant basis.
Change can be challenging – it is not always optional – or welcome.
There are a myriad of reasons why change occurs or has to take place. Even planned changes can be a bit unsettling while trying to find your way in new circumstances. If it is at all possible, it’s best to have a proactive plan in place before change occurs.
When we moved to the east coast from the west coast, we also changed three time zones. It turned out that by driving instead of flying, our internal clocks could adjust a bit more slowly. Keeping in touch with those at home was another way to keep our bearings while finding our way-we discovered Instagram and posted photos of interesting things we saw along the way.
Change is not always bad – in fact, it seems we are designed for change – it happens whenever we break routines. Even when there isn’t a big change in our life, we can still get a benefit by doing something called ‘Neurobic exercises’. Neurobics is the science of brain exercise. They are, in a nutshell: Doing the ordinary things in new, surprising and unexpected ways—in other words—change. A few examples are using your non-dominate hand to brush your teeth, unlock a door or try to read something upside down. These activities help to increase brain connections and develop new brain pathways.
According to ‘Healthy Living Magazine‘, just as with a physical workout, you will need resistance to grow stronger, just like going to the gym to lift weights; only in this case, the weights are mental.
If the change is going to happen to a loved one who is already experiencing cognitive issues, it can be unwelcome and can trigger something called Transfer Trauma.
Plan to have your loved one do as much as is normal for them such as making coffee, watering plants, listening to music or watching familiar movies – keep the same routines as much as possible. If old routines are not possible, try to establish new ones as soon as your situation allows. Finding any type of balance is the key to a smoother transition.
Change is going to happen. Our only option is to look for and embrace as much joy as we can in the process.
This is the time of the year when even the best of procrastinators have to reluctantly gather all the bits and pieces received from various financial institutions such as banks, employers, Social Security, brokers as well organizations that send retirement benefits in order to file their taxes.
When I was (much) younger, my Mama had me help her do their taxes so that I could be her backup if she couldn’t do them. That was back in the late 1970s when taxes were a whole lot simpler. I found that I actually enjoyed it. One day, I happened to hear about an IRS program that helped folks file their taxes and thought it would be worth looking into.
The first year that I volunteered, I took the classes in Redding, CA with the intention of working at a tax site in Red Bluff. We opened a site, but it didn’t get a lot of response. The next year I discovered a group that had been trying to accomplish the same thing so I joined them. Classes were held at the First Baptist Church in one of their Sunday School rooms.
They took place in January and the only source of heat was from a wood burning stove – so along with pencils and calculators, students were also required to bring a piece of wood for the fire. Those were the good ol’ days – we also used carbon paper and folks had to mail in their completed forms to the IRS. The tax classes had been taught by IRS employees, but they wanted to expand and advertised for instructors. I immediately volunteered.
Help for taxes
Over the past 30+ years that I have been involved, the tax program has evolved to a much higher level of sophistication – we now use computers instead of pencils and carbon paper and e-file the returns instead of mailing them to the IRS – it is a more accurate and quicker way to accomplish this annual project. One thing that has not changed is our dedication to provide free help to anyone who needs to file their taxes.
To that end, the TaxAide program in Tehama County is in full swing for this year’s tax season. To make an appointment, call 727-8298 – you will hear a recording prompting you to leave your name and number so that someone can call you back with the details. TaxAide also has a website with a few more details about the program TehamaTaxAide.weebly.com
How safe do you feel? I recently took a self-defense class for women. The class was a one-day workshop taught by a Kung-Fu Master – which means he had mastered the fighting style of the Chinese martial arts. Now, if they had advertised the workshop as a Kung-Fu class, I may not have attended, as I have no desire to begin learning martial arts at my age. However, since it was advertised as a self-defense class, I thought that perhaps I could learn some things that would be useful in case I needed to defend myself.
Apparently others thought the same thing as the room was filled with women who were north of 50.
I immediately liked the teacher. He had a calm and confident attitude about him. His voice carried neither arrogance nor nervousness as he began talking about what he would be sharing with us that day.
My own confidence level increased when he explained that Kung-Fu was developed by the Chinese – who were generally of smaller stature – for self-defense. He went on to explain that the main requirements are brains and balance. It turns out that women have an additional benefit if they learn a few techniques – the element of surprise, as their attacker would likely not expect them to provide any resistance.
Even without a class, there are two things that anyone can work on immediately:
Be more aware of your surroundings: Being aware of your surroundings seems obvious, yet in the rush of our busy schedules, as a caregiver, we also need to stay attentive to our loved one, and may not always able to be as alert to possible danger. Making a commitment to becoming more aware of what’s going on around you as well as practice will help.
Maintain or improve your balance: This can be helpful for a variety of reasons, but for our discussion here, the more stability someone has, the less likely an attacker can throw that person off balance. Practice your balance by standing on one foot for 30 seconds – then switch to the other. You can do this almost any place or time, but be sure to have something close to grab onto in case you get wobbly.
It is also a good idea to make a plan to keep your cell phone charged at all times in case you need to call 911. An “Alert” button on a necklace would add a layer of security as well.
If it’s possible, try to find and attend a basic self-defense class that will give you the training to help equip you in case of an attack. The class I took was offered by my church but adult classes and workshops are often held at community centers or martial arts studios as well.
Ideally, never having to face a dangerous situation would be best, but since life isn’t always ideal, learning how to anticipate peril in order to avoid it would be the best way to keep yourself safe.
No one can completely avoid danger, but do everything you can to resist – the element of surprise is on your side. Then call for help.