Category Archives: Activities

Backing up is good for your memory

In this modern, computerized society of ours, warnings and advice about backing up computers and tablets have become fairly common. I had to learn the value of backing up my photos and documents the hard way. It happened back in the 90s when personal computers were becoming more and more popular. I can still remember embracing the joy of writing articles, stories and photos on my desktop.

Oh, I had heard plenty of advice for users to be sure to back up everything. I also thought that was a good idea – unfortunately, I didn’t actually do it. Then one day, poof! my computer crashed and everything disappeared. Since I didn’t have bucket loads of money to spend on recovery, the result was, once my data was gone it was gone, and so were the memories I had stored.

Another reason to back up

Senia and Wayne backing up for better memories
Senia and Wayne backing up for better memories

It turns out that backing up is not only good for digital memories, but also for the ones we store in our brains. According to a recent study done at the University of Roehampton, walking backwards can enhance your memory when compared to standing still or walking forward.  

Backing up safely

One reason walking backwards is helpful is that it falls into the category of neurobic activities or exercises. They are, in a nutshell: Doing the ordinary things in new, surprising and unexpected ways. Break routines. For example, turn your calendar upside down, or, find a safe place to walk backward.

Speaking of safe places, my husband and I recently joined a YMCA which has a lovely, indoor pool. I love that I can do some backward walking without having to worry about falling over. I still have to always be aware of who is behind me though.

My Mama, who has since passed, was raised in the Great Lakes area and loved the water. Even well into mid-stage dementia, she enjoyed going to our local wellness center to ‘swim’. Though she was comfortable in the water, I always made her wear floating bands – just in case. I would hold her hands and walk backward while she walked forward. It turned out that I was doing both physical and neurobic excrcise at the same time.

Adding backwards walking to your routine is an idea worth considering. Besides giving your memory a boost, walking backwards can also help your knees, heart and provide a whole host of other benefits.

If you do decide that walking backwards is for you, always think about safety. Walk with a partner, who is facing forwards, set your treadmill on the reverse (and slowest) setting, or try walking backward in a pool, beach, or a hallway – whatever you do try to continuously be aware of what is behind you.

By the way, it’s still a good idea to back up those digital files.

Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “FinishingWell: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama.  May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy on your own, unique journey.

Find our group on Facebook 

Paperback or Kindle edition
Paperback or Kindle edition



Autumn sights, sounds and smells help trigger memories

I love this time of the year. Autumn, Fall, Holiday season – whatever you call it. Cooling trends begin as days get shorter. Trees begin dressing in their fall finery before decorating the ground with their orange, red and yellow jewels.

Beautiful autumn colors along Hwy 9 in Maine
Beautiful autumn colors along Hwy 9 in Maine

We recently enjoyed a road trip that took us through several New England states in order to spend time with family in New Brunswick, Canada. The trees were stunning, the air was crisp (as were the apples). The timing of our trip was perfect as we were also treated to the delightful show of fallen leaves dancing on the road in front of us caused by the wind whipping them up and around as we drove through Maine. 

Sensory stimulation is vital for everyone

Our senses help us comprehend the world around us. Studies show that senses are also powerful memory triggers. Why? According to, the same part of the brain that’s in charge of processing our senses is also responsible, at least in part, for storing emotional memories. Our brains receive information through our senses; primarily sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. The Autumn season, it turns out holds a bushel full of sensory delights to help trigger a trip down memory lane.

Autumn memory triggers

Sensory stimulation may be helpful if you have a loved one who is becoming forgetful, or showing any symptoms of dementia.  Walking through familiar fall activities may help ‘prime the pump‘ so to speak and possibly activate some of the memories hidden inside their brain.  Ponder the possibilities by taking lovely drive through the countryside to view trees dressed in their fall finery and breath in the crisp, cool air.

A tractor and crates of pumpkins harvested for pies and carvings for autumn traditions
Harvesting pumpkins for pies and carvings for autumn traditions

The Thanksgiving Holiday plays a large part in packing the emotional memory box for Autumn. This season is resplendent with the sights, sounds and smells that can trigger old memories. Smell of pumpkin pies, wafting smoke from burning leaves, and cool morning mist. Beautiful changing leaves, blooming mums, as well as the taste of candy corn. Songs such as “Over the River and Through the Woods”, “Count Your Blessings”, and “My Favorite Things” are also powerful memory triggers.

The sing-song voices of children calling ‘Trick or Treat’ may trigger fun memories. Pay close attention to be sure they don’t become confused by all the costumes. Keeping activities short or limited is a good idea, as overstimulation can result in negative emotions.

Meaningful and familiar

Yummy pumpkin pie part of the Autumn tradition
Yummy pumpkin pie part of the Autumn tradition CC0 Creative Commons

The important thing with any activity is that it is meaningful and familiar to your loved one. If you are aware of traditions done in the past, then begin with those things. Don’t give up if you have to try a few things before something clicks. This is going to be a season of changes. When the smell of the old family recipe of pumpkin spice cake baking seems to perk your loved one up one day, but not the next, then perhaps vanilla will work. Smells, it turns out are the most powerful memory triggers of all the senses. The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses.

As we turn the corner from the hot summer and temperatures begin to cool down, be sure to time for your own enjoyment of autumn. Wonderful recollections are good for everyone – not just those with memory issues.

Finish well!

Has your world been touched by dementia? Or, are you a caregiver? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey. Find our group
 on Facebook 

Brush your teeth to stay healthy

I remember a time when I was in elementary school that a dentist came to visit our classroom. He brought everyone in the class a new toothbrush. He demonstrated with a model of teeth the correct way to brush.

First, we all brushed our teeth. Next, we were then given a little pinkish-red pill to swish around in our mouths.  Any plaque

Toothbrushes at the ready with my favorite toothpaste.
Toothbrushes at the ready with my favorite toothpaste.

remaining on our teeth would turn red. The teacher came around the room with a hand-held mirror so we could see how red our teeth were. This visit was based on one of the special projects aimed at the oral health of children implemented in the 1960s.

Most adults generally know that brushing and flossing our teeth is a good idea. Options for toothpaste, brushes and floss types abound along with numerous commercials and ads each touting the benefits of their products. Meeting regularly with your dentist for cleanings and checkups are also ways to prevent or fix any issues regarding your teeth.

According to the Mayo Clinic, we should brush our teeth twice a day. They have a saying, “When you brush, don’t rush. Take time to do a thorough job”. My husband and I have a saying as well, “You only have to brush the teeth you want to keep”.

Brush your teeth for bonus benefits

Besides the obvious reasons for practicing good oral hygiene such as keeping your mouth clean, preventing bad breath as well as tooth decay and gum disease, there are a few unexpected benefits for regular brushing (which is described as brushing twice in a 24-hour period).

An article titled “Surprising Connection between Gum Disease and Bad Knees“. According to the article in, scientists have found traces of gum bacteria in the knees of people with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology, adds more evidence of the link between poor oral health and poor health in general.

I discovered another unexpected benefit while visiting a VA Hospital. A poster on the wall had a headline that caught my attention. It said, “Brush your Teeth to Prevent Pneumonia”. How interesting. It turns out that Shannon Munro, Ph.D., a nurse researcher had investigated the benefits of tooth brushing among hospitalized veterans.

The research demonstrated that if the biofilm that forms on teeth is removed twice a day, harmful bacteria will not migrate into patients’ lungs and cause pneumonia. Since the practice began an amazing drop in the pneumonia rates have dropped by nearly two thirds. It makes sense if it helps folks in the hospital, we all might benefit from such a practice.

On an interesting note: of the two brushing times, bedtime seems to be the most important. One reason is that saliva levels drop while you sleep,  which leaves bacteria and plaque to cause destruction to your teeth during the night.

So, at the end of the day (so to speak), you can give yourself the best smile possible when you take care of your teeth to the best of your ability.

Quality of life for loved one benefits everyone

Quality of life rises to a higher priority as options become more and more limited. When we first realized that Mama was beginning to display signs of dementia, our family made the unconscious decision to try to fill her life with as much joy as possible. I say ‘unconscious decision’ because, at that point, we didn’t know much about dementia. All we knew was that our smart and witty Mama, who enjoyed eating out, swimming and attending concerts would experience more joy if we tucked as many of these events as possible into her daily life.

Wayne pauses to smile as he checks one of our bird feeders. Bird watching has become an important part of our quality of life.
Wayne pauses to smile as he checks one of our bird feeders. Bird watching has become an important part of our quality of life.

These activities must be done on purpose. A default response can easily be to find the proverbial ‘rocking chair’, sit down and rock into oblivion. There may be some prodding and pestering involved in keeping your loved one active and as social as possible.

Bringing joy into Mama’s world didn’t always involve leaving the house. She enjoyed watching her goldfish swim about as well as a wide variety of old movies such as “The Sound of Music” and the ‘Three Stooges”. We also hung a finch sock filled with thistle outside the living room window, so she could watch all the beautiful, yellow finches flit and fly as they came and went from the bag throughout the day.

We went to as many places as possible as well. Leaving the house has its own set of challenges. Since Mama also suffered from diabetes, her ‘go bag’ needed to include a glucose monitor and a small packet of honey (found at coffee shops) in case her blood sugar dropped. Other things became necessary over time such as Depends and a change of clothes in order for Mama to stay active.

Change continues to happen. For example, before Mama broke her hip, she enjoyed taking a walk as often as possible. She was also quite social and loved to visit, even though she didn’t always make sense.

Once she couldn’t walk anymore, we put more emphasis on chatting, singing and praying. She also enjoyed looking out the window watching people and cars go by. As time went on the visiting became more and more one-sided and I would sing songs to her, read out loud and pray for her.

The search for joy and contentment is not limited to those with dementia. For every person, the pursuit will of necessity, require flexibility as needs and abilities change.

Quality of life important for everyone

Quality of life became a focus when my husband and I retired and moved across the country, we had to discover what activities would be included in our new lifestyle. We do keep busy. We have become beekeepers. Our backyard is small, but on a creek, so we have a good place for the bees to buzz around and (hopefully) make us lots of honey.

Our 'Bee Crossing' Sign that alerts the bees where to cross.
Our ‘Bee Crossing’ Sign that alerts the bees where to cross.

We also have hung several bird feeders that have attracted a lovely community of songbirds that we can watch from our dining room table. Quite a few of the birds are new to us here like cardinals, wrens, finches, sparrows and woodpeckers along with doves, titmice, nuthatches, threshers, and jays. We also have a couple of hummingbird feeders and enjoy watching the tiny little beauties visit the feeder throughout the day. For comic relief, we have several squirrels that chase and play all day long. Their main goal in life seems to be to get into the bird feeders (even though Wayne feeds them peanuts every morning).  When my sister Peggy and her husband came out to visit they bought us a special bird feeder that has a sensor on it. If a squirrel jumps on the perch, they end up spinning off. We call it ‘Twirl a Squirrel’ or ‘Squirrel-Go-Round’. They are quite persistent (and apparently thick-headed) as they try over and over.

Every stage and season of life will develop its own version of what expresses a good ‘quality of life’. Interests and abilities further define it for each person. If you’re not sure where to begin, here is a site that contains 25 Habits for Improving the Quality of your Life

Find your joy, finish well.

Finish well! Has your world been touched by dementia? Or, are you a caregiver? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey. Find our group on Facebook 

Get a grip to prevent ‘digital dementia’

Have you ever shaken someone’s hand and it felt like a limp noodle? You know the feeling. We’ve all experienced that from time to time. Have you ever wondered what it means?

Wayne and our son Adam shake hands
Wayne and our son Adam shake hands

A weak grip in a handshake may not mean anything except that someone is shy or lacks confidence in social settings.

On the other hand, a strong handshake may mean that someone is strong, confident, and trustworthy.

Could there be more to the story? Yes, as it turns out. Grip strength may actually indicate more than a personality indicator. Several recent studies suggest a correlation between grip strength and longevity.

One study carried out by researchers from University College London found evidence on the association between measures of physical capability, grip strength and balance, and the risk of an earlier death.

Another study by The Lancet concluded that grip strength was a stronger predictor of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality than systolic blood pressure.

PLOS Medicine did a nationwide population-based study in Taiwan among middle-aged and older people. It found that weak handgrip strength showed a significant association between cardiometabolic risk, and the danger of coronary artery disease.

My daughter, a Bodywork Therapist, is continually teaching her clients about the importance of doing muscle strengthening exercises. Since she is an expert on muscles (like a muscle doctor), my husband and I have found that it always benefits us to listen to her teaching and follow her advice.

I asked her what she thought about the importance of a strong grip. Very important, she replied, She explained that the strength of hand grips are a product of something called ‘recruiting’. Recruiting happens when our hand muscles call on muscles from other parts of our body – such as arms, neck, shoulders and even our torso. If those other muscles do not have the strength to respond, than it could be an indicator of muscle weakness. I believe that she hit the mark. A strong core can provide strength to our entire body.

Focusing on our grip strength and ways to improve it can mean more than simply a longer life – it can mean a better quality of life as well. Other reasons why a weak grip can impact our lives: The ability to stay active and independent frequently begins with our hands. Weak hand strength can impair a person’s ability to open a jar, grip a steering wheel, brush your teeth, or hold a grandchild. If you can’t open your medicine bottle, then taking medications becomes difficult.

Time to ‘get a grip’

To get a stronger grip on life, here are some exercises to help you work on your hand strength.

Here are some handgrip exercises, but keep in mind that the overall goal is to strengthen the entire body.

Web MD Slideshow: 10 Ways to Exercise Hands and Fingers

Range-of-motion hand mobility exercises you can do at home

Your muscles and tendons move the joints through arcs of motion, such as when you bend and straighten your fingers. If your normal range of motion is impaired — if you can’t bend your thumb without pain, for example — you may have trouble doing ordinary things like opening a jar.

These exercises move your wrist and fingers through their normal ranges of motion and require all the hand’s tendons to perform their specific functions. They should be done slowly and deliberately, to avoid injury. If you feel numbness or pain during or after exercising, stop and contact your doctor.

Harvard Health Publishing offers exercises to improve hand mobility  Below are five easy-to-do range-of-motion hand mobility exercises. Hold each position for 5–10 seconds. Do 10 repetitions of each exercise at a time. Repeat three times a day.

  1. Wrist extension and flexion
  • Place your forearm on a table on a rolled-up towel for padding with your hand hanging off the edge of the table, palm down.
  • Move the hand upward until you feel a gentle stretch
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat the same motions with the elbow bent at your side, palm facing up.
  1. Wrist supination/pronation
  • Stand or sit with your arm at your side with the elbow bent to 90 degrees, palm facing down.
  • Rotate your forearm, so that your palm faces up and then down.
  1. Wrist ulnar/radial deviation
  • Support your forearm on a table on a rolled-up towel for padding or on your knee, thumb upward.
  • Move the wrist up and down through its full range of motion.
  1. Thumb flexion/extension
  • Begin with your thumb positioned outward.
  • Move the thumb across the palm and back to the starting position.
  1. Hand/finger tendon glide
  • Start with the fingers extended straight out.
  • Make a hook fist; return to a straight hand.
  • Make a full fist; return to a straight hand.
  • Make a straight fist; return to a straight hand.

For more information on the causes and treatment of hand pain, and strengthening strategies for hands, buy Healthy Hands, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.


A Digi-Flex helps users develop strength and dexterity in their fingers and hands. Trumpet players and softball players both use them to improve their manual agility, Evers said, so these devices are found in both music and sporting-goods stores.

Theraputty, which is like a more substantial Play-Doh and available in varying degrees of pliability, also is used in strength-building regimens.

“This is something we give out to patients. They take it home for home therapies and get different colors as they progress,” McKerrow said.

Although the putty can be satisfying to move around as a stress buster, McKerrow said there are specific exercises to go along with it, such as squeezing it between the thumb and forefinger to improve pincer hold strength.

In addition to working on the fingers and hands, McKerrow said the wrist and forearm are important aspects of total hand function.

“You need to have good wrist extension when you hold that coffee cup,” she said.

Want to get to work on your own hand strength? Evers and McKerrow shared the following exercises:

Rubber-ball squeeze: Grasp a ball in the palm of your hand and squeeze it as firmly as you can. Hold this squeeze for 8 to 10 seconds.

Theraputty pinches: Hold a small ball of putty between your thumb and finger. Squeeze it flat or roll it into a tube shape.

Rubberband stretch: Hold your hand with your fingers together and flat and your thumb directly underneath them. Place a rubber band over your thumb and fingers, then slowly move your fingers away from your thumb. Hold this position for a few seconds, then repeat.

Forward wrist extension: Sit near the edge of a table with your forearm supported from wrist to elbow. Your hand should be off the table and your palm should be facing the ceiling. Holding a light weight, slowly curl your wrist upward. Hold for a few seconds, then lower.

Backward wrist extension: Stand holding a light weight with your arm straight by your side. Your thumb should be pointed forward. Slowly flex your wrist to point the weight upward behind you. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly lower it.

Oh, one more thing. Don’t be too quick to judge someone’s health by their handshake – remember, some folks are left-handed and will naturally have a lighter grip with their non-dominate hand.

"Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia" can be ordered by clicking on the following link:
“Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia” By Senia Owensby

Has your world been touched by dementia? Or, are you a caregiver? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey. Find our group on Facebook 

Bird watching is good for mental health

Birds of a Feather

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. The luncheon was held in the dining area of a lovely home. As an added bonus, 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. The birds provided a constant show for Mama as she watched them regularly with rapt fascination.

Birds love our feeder, this little guy is a frequent visitor to our bird feeder
Birds love our feeder, this little guy is a frequent visitor to our bird feeder

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. It was great to find a  wild birdseed mix abundant in those seeds. Learning about suet added additional joy. Suet is 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. It was not long before a variety of ‘southern winged visitors’ began to show up. 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). They would endlessly flit, fly and scamper around in search of their favorite munchies.  As we watched them, I understood Mama’s fascination with the flitting little flyers. Over time we began 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.

"Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia" can be ordered by clicking on the following link:
“Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia” can be ordered by clicking on the following link:

Has your world been touched by dementia? Or, are you a caregiver? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey. Find our group on Facebook 

Do You Hear the Music? Dance!

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)

Near the top of our ‘favorite annual events’ list is the ‘Almond Blossom Ball’ (6 p.m., Saturday, February 10, 2018, at Ridgeway Park) held by the Whittenberg Country School every February.

Wayne and I enjoy a dance at the Almond Blossom Ball.
Wayne and I enjoy a dance at the Almond Blossom Ball.

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!

"Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia" can be ordered by clicking on the following link:
“Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia” By Senia Owensby

Has your world been touched by dementia? Or, are you a caregiver? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey. Find our group on Facebook 

Smile For a While and Let’s Be Jolly…

My sister Peggy, age 5, smiling her beautiful smile
My sister Peggy, age 5, smiling her beautiful smile

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

My sister Peggy and me sharing a laugh. She was always making me smile.
My sister Peggy and me sharing a laugh. She was always making me smile.

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?

Senia, age 4

But wait, there’s more! According to, 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.

Everyone feels depressed now and then, and this is not meant to be a flippant post on the subject. Issues such as sadness and depression are not to be taken lightly. If you or someone you know is experiencing sadness that won’t go away, has some good advice on When To Seek Professional Help And Where To Find Help For Major Depression.

The takeaway here is that smiles might just be the best Christmas gift you can give out all season long…and best of all, they’re free!

"Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia" can be ordered by clicking on the following link:
“Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia” By Senia Owensby

Has your world been touched by dementia? Or, are you a caregiver? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey. Find our group on Facebook 

Nature does good things to the human brain

The call of the beautiful wild

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

Beautiful New Brunswick fall
Beautiful New Brunswick fall

(especially in New Brunswick) are stunningly beautiful. They turn every color o fall 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?

"Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia" can be ordered by clicking on the following link:
“Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia” By Senia Owensby

Has your world been touched by dementia? Or, are you a caregiver? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey. Find our group on Facebook 

Find a sense of balance in your busy life

Balancing Act

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”.

3-legged stool provides balance
3-legged stool

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 to MedicalNewsToday, 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 the Family Caregiver Alliance, even though Caregivers often find themselves exhausted at the end of the day, many are still not able to sleep.

The National Institute on Aging offers a couple of tips to help you fall asleep

  • 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.

"Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia" can be ordered by clicking on the following link:
“Finishing Well: Finding the Joy in Dementia” By Senia Owensby

Has your world been touched by dementia? Or, are you a caregiver? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy in your own, unique journey. Find our group on Facebook