Tag Archives: dementia

Nuts to dementia…

Squirrels aren’t quite as ‘squirrelly’ as you might think. In fact, research conducted at the University of Exeter has shown that their memory for the locations of hidden nuts is excellent. My granddaughter agrees. She loves squirrels. We were watching a couple of them racing, chasing and hiding nuts in our backyard one day. I remarked that it must be hard for them to remember where all they hid them. She assured me that the little grey guys actually have very good memories.  She is 11 now, but if she wishes to attend college in the UK, perhaps the University of Exeter would be a good choice.

Chuckles, one of our backyard squirrels waiting for Wayne to toss a few peanuts his way.
Chuckles, one of our backyard squirrels waiting for Wayne to toss a few peanuts his way.

The findings, according to an article published in ScienceDaily states, “Previous research at Exeter has shown that their memory for the locations of hidden nuts is excellent,” said co-author Professor Stephen Lea, of the University of Exeter.

I wonder if the secret to their good memory is found in the nuts. A study conducted by  the University of South Australia concluded that Brains are Nuts about Nuts. It goes on to state that “Long-term, high nut consumption could be the key to better cognitive health in older people.” The recommended amount is two teaspoons per day, so even though nuts are high in (good) fat, two teaspoons seem worth a modification in our diets to achieve better brain benefits. As a bonus, the article also includes a chart detailing the benefits of 10 different nuts.

One of our backyard squirrels waiting for Wayne to toss a few peanuts his way.
Mirth, another one of our backyard squirrels waiting for Wayne to toss a few peanuts his way.

That’s really good news for me, as I am a bit nuts about nuts myself. My husband and I eat a couple of brazil nuts every morning. We also eat almonds, walnuts and sunflower seeds on a regular basis. It is also good news for the cute and rascally squirrels that live in our backyard. My husband tosses out a few peanuts to them every morning – and if he somehow forgets, they come up to our patio and try to look through our glass doors.

We enjoy watching them so much, that we’ve even named a few that we see on a regular basis. Their names are Mirth and Chuckles – their daily antics fit their names as they continually try different ways to get into our bird feeders. They have even taken several rides on a bird feeder my sister gave us. We call it Squirrel-a-Twirll. Since squirrels are heavier than birds, when they grab the perch trying to get to the seeds, it begins spinning around. It doesn’t hurt the squirrels and is hilarious to watch!

This is all good news, right? But wait, there’s more! An article published in VeryWell Health   includes a study suggesting it may be possible that eating nuts can help reverse cognitive loss symptoms that are already present. Even though the study was conducted using mice, it’s a start and it offers hope. Besides, unless you have a nut allergy, adding a few nuts to your daily diet can’t possibly hurt and may even help.

Laughter is good for the brain as well. Take a ‘chuckle break’ and watch “Mission Impossible Squirrel“.

Shedding some light on the subject of dementia

In light of the summer solstice marking the official start of the summer season, and the day with the most amount of sunlight, I thought it would be appropriate to write a post about vitamin D – also known as the sunshine vitamin.finishing_well-in-life-VitD

Science Daily reports that Vitamin D deficiency is associated with a substantially increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in older people. This was the most robust study of its kind ever conducted. An international team found that the study participants who were severely vitamin D deficient were more than twice as likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Also, a study published in  Neurology®, found that people with low levels of vitamin D had a 53 percent increased risk of developing dementia and those who were severely deficient had a 125 percent increased risk (that’s huge!) compared to participants with normal levels of vitamin D.

Vitamin D comes from three main sources: exposure of skin to sunlight, foods, and supplements. Since older people’s skin can be less efficient at converting sunlight into Vitamin D, making them more likely to be deficient and reliant on other sources.  Care must also be taken to limit exposure due to the risk of skin cancer.

In my case, sunlight can be a problem. In fact, I love to garden, but refer to myself as a shade plant, so I try to get enough vitamin D from supplements and food.

Thankfully, a seven-year study in France concluded that higher vitamin D dietary intake was also associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.

According to the National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, (Office of Dietary Supplements) among the best sources are fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel. Other foods that provide small amounts of vitamin D include; beef liver, cheese, egg yolks and mushrooms. Additionally, nearly all milk and many breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin D.

Increasing our vitamin D intake is an easy way to help reduce the risk of dementia, so whether you are a sun flower or a shade plant, be sure to get enough of the sunshine vitamin.

Curry some goodness

I love it when a study comes out that touts the benefits of a food I love. As you might guess from the title of this post, today’s topic is curry. Turns out that curry has some secrets hidden in all it’s yellow goodness.

A new trial by Australian scientists suggests that eating curry on a weekly basis may keep dementia at bay as we age.

Published in the British Journal of Nutrition, the study identifies yellow spice turmeric, which contains curcumin – an ingredient used in many curry dishes. It is thought that the curcumin blocks rogue proteins called beta amyloid, which clump together and destroy neurons.

Curry is a dietary staple in India, a country where the rate of Alzheimer’s disease is among the world’s lowest.

According to a story posted by WebMD, researchers say curry’s powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties make it a very attractive possibility for treating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, and heart disease.


My husband and I had learned about the possible benefits of turmeric, so we began the practice of eating a spoonful of mustard, (which contains turmeric) each day. I love mustard, so it wasn’t a problem, but my husband thought it might be nice to see if perhaps it came in pill form. Fortunately, it does!

In light of this finding, we recently went to one of our favorite Thai restaurants to order some yummy, curry-laden dishes. When the food arrived, the waitress asked if I would like some chopsticks. I was feeling adventurous, and (while retaining my fork) I said, “Yes”.

I quickly discovered another brain sharpening feature of eating curry: Using chopsticks. Since I’m not very good with them, it is a good neurobic exercise for me.  Neurobic exercises in a nutshell are: Doing the ordinary things in new, surprising and unexpected ways.

I wrote about neurobics in a previous post: “Upside Down and Backwards”     Of course, if you are already handy with chopsticks, it may not be that helpful for you, but still fun nevertheless.

If you really want to get a wonderful, dementia bashing benefit from eating curry, then here’s one more tip. Grab a friend – or several to join you for dinner. Studies show that social engagement – talking, laughing and sharing with others is good for your brain.

Are you beginning to feel hungry? Why not make a plan to ‘curry’ some goodness in the near future.


Maintaining a good balance

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.finishing-well-in-life-bal

I also work on my balance while brushing. 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. I’ve discovered that it also helps to pair activities up with something I am already doing in order to work it into a routine.

My daughter, a massage therapist, is always telling me about the importance of staying in balance. Even if I don’t do all my other stretching exercises every day, I will, at least be working on my balance. I did discover an interesting thing – if I close my eyes, I have to work harder to stay balanced. So, if you try this, please have something sturdy close enough to grab if you need to.

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.

If all of that wasn’t enough, there is one more motivation to develop better balance:

According to the study by the French Institute of Health and Medical Research and the University of Bordeaux, the risk of dementia may be higher for older people who have general anesthetics.

finishing-well-in-life-balaAfter my Mama had a hip operation, her body healed nicely, but the part of her brain that knew how to walk never came back on-line.

So my challenge to you…and myself is: How can we improve our balance? The gym? Stretching exercises? Standing on one leg? I realize it’s hard to add one more activity into an already busy day, but remember – it’s all about balance.

Help, my Mother-In-Law is moving in….

….and I think she has dementia. There are so many ways this post could go from this headline, but today, I am going to focus on the ‘Safety’ aspect of bringing an elderly loved one home. The person who inspired the title of this post had a toddler, so she had already done some ‘baby proofing’ such as securing cupboard doors, pulling knobs off the stove, and plugging outlets. Adults, however, bring a whole new set of safety issues – essentially you may need to senior-proofyour home.

Once Mama came to live with us, we began the practice of keeping the doors leading outside locked at all times. We thought that was enough to keep Mama from going outside alone. We were under the mistaken impression that dementia would prevent her from remembering how to unlock doors.

That’s when we discovered ‘Muscle Memory’.  It turned out that evenfinishingwellinlife-lock though her mind didn’t remember how to unlock a door, her fingers remembered and were able to turn the lock quite nicely. It didn’t take too long to discover there was much more to be done.

My husband Wayne quickly went to the ‘big box’ store and bought a new lock he could install near the top of the door where Mama would never think to look and couldn’t reach. We also hung a very large Christmas bell around the finishingwellinlife-bellsdoorknob to create noise for added security.

There were a few things we could do right away that made a big difference. Since falls are a leading cause of injuries, we removed throw rugs and anything else that could cause her to trip. We noticed that Mama liked to sit in a certain place on the couch, so we made it ‘her’ place.  We also placed a folded blanket under the couch cushion to bring it up higher so she would have an easier time standing back up. Adding more, and brighter lighting, as well as several night-lights were also easy to do.

The bathroom needed more attention. We obtained a raised toilet seat, a shower chair, grab bars for the walls and a bubble bath mat for the shower—there was already a shower wand that extended the facet. I always set the water for Mama, so there wasn’t a problem with getting the hot and cold mixed up.

A Place for Mom” has an “Elderly Home Safety Checklist” which can be printed and filled out for handy reference.

“Good Call” has a resource as well, “A Guide to Helping Senior Citizens Stay Safe at Home” it is accessible and reader-friendly, with larger font and compatible with screen-reader technology. Their optimized guide also includes a printable PDF version to share to those who can’t access the internet.

For additional help and resources, use the federal government’s Elder Care Locator  to find your local office, or call 800-677-1116 to inquire about home modification loans and services available to seniors.

Remember, at the end of the day, we can only do what we can do to make a home a safe place for our loved one. My sister and I would tell each other all the time, “We’re doing the best we can, and so is Mama.”

Send in the Butterflies

Back when my Mama was in the early stages of dementia, we tried to help her be as active as possible by taking walks, eating at restaurants and walking laps at a local gym that has an indoor pfinishing-well-in-life-butterflies_1ool.

In the course of these outings, we naturally came across folks who didn’t know that she had dementia. Since Mama was very social and friendly, she would often initiate a conversation with someone. It usually didn’t take too long before the other person would begin to suspect that the nice lady they were chatting with was not functioning at 100 %. Sometimes it was a bit of a dilemma; we didn’t want to dishonor Mama by talking about her as if she wasn’t there, but at the same time, we needed to clue them into what was going on.

We would try to catch the person’s eye and mouth the word dementia’.  A puzzled expression was quickly replaced by a smile and nod as understanding dawned.

A couple of recent articles has proposed excellent solutions for those ‘awkward moments’.

The first one tells about a using a card the size of a busfinishing-well-in-life-butterflies_2iness card to relay the information: New ‘purple card’ system would help people with dementia 

Madeleine Fraley’s husband has dementia, so she created a simple card explaining the situation that she could discretely hand to someone. The purple-hued card  states, “My companion has memory problems. Please be patient. Thank you!” 

What a brilliant idea! That would have been quite useful to have on our outings.

The other clever idea is really more for a hospital or medical situation. They are using butterflies to help ifinishing-well-in-life-butterflies_3dentify patients who are suffering from dementia. The butterfly symbol is stamped on everything associated with the patient. Staff is trained  to keep an eye out for the symbol so they can support and treat the patients appropriately.

Francesca Hall, the hospital’s dementia champion states, “It’s vital that people know that a patient has dementia so they can treat and support that person appropriately to ensure the best care possible.

The important thing here is to keep your loved one as active and social as possible while continuing to treat them with dignity and honor.

Who are you?

I’m not saying I’m predictable, but on the rare occasion, if I happen to act uncharacteristically, such as ordering something different off a menu, or suggest we see a Sci-Fi movie rather than a Chick flick with a good ending, my husband will say, “Who are you and what have you done with my wife?

I believe we are all a bit predictable to some degree. After folks have known us a while, they might be able to anticipate some of our reactions to certain questions or events. The way in which others see us respond to various occurrences might actually be the result of our ‘social filter’. Something might annoy us, but since it would be impolite to show the annoyance, we smile and let it go.

Now, I’m not saying that it isn’t a good idea to be polite, show finishing-well-in-life-questionconsideration and act kindly to others, but some recent observations have convinced me that we might want to do a bit more than ‘act’.

I was attending a class recently that my sister teaches. She was recounting a recent visit she and a friend of hers made to our Mama (who is in the final stage of dementia).  During the course of the visit, her friend remarked how sweet and kind our Mama has always been, and that the dementia didn’t seem to change her personality any—she was still as sweet as ever. My sister responded that she believed that it was because Mama was so nice on the inside, and when she lost her ‘veneer’ it didn’t change who she really was—that it wasn’t simply a social nicety. At that point, her friend quipped, “Uh, oh, I better begin working on becoming nicer on the inside now, so when I lose my social veneer, it won’t be such a dramatic change.

Another person in the class said that they had heard it put that, “We are who we are, and as we age, we become more so.

The bible teaches us about the need for certain qualities such as showing mercy, genuinely forgiving others and ‘walking humbly with our God’.

There is no time like the present to work on becoming a better version of who we really are.

Smiling Man

Hey Smiling Man, you waved to me! Yea! I’ve been waiting for some time.

That first time I saw you in the hall, you didn’t notice me – I guess you must have had something on your mind that day. After that, I looked for you every time I came in. Sometimes I would see you, but it took a long time before I could catch your eye.

I remember that first time you glanced my way. You looked a bit unsure, but returned my smile with a quick nod. Since that day, I have been getting better at catching your eye – now you look my way almost every time.  A couple of times, you’ve even spotted me first, and I noticed that your smile was becoming more spontaneous and enthusiastic – no longer waiting for me to smile first.

Today, however, was the best. When you spotted me, your whole face lit up and then finally, finally, finally – you waved!

Most of the residents at the care home where I visit my Mama won’t look at me, but there you are – smiling and now waving. Sometimes, I get sad after a visit with Mama, but your smile helps cheer me back up.

I wonder if you ever get any visitors or have any family in the area. In fact, I don’t know anything about you, and your condition, or even your name, but to me you will always be Mr. Smiling Man – thank you.

Is someone waiting for your smile today?


Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “Finishing Well: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and finishingwell-3Dcovertips 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 

What a doll

I couldn’t believe my eyes. While I was at the care-home where my Mama lives, I noticed one of the residents in the hallway holding a tiny baby. What were they thinking? I quickly looked around for the baby’s mother. No one seemed to be paying any attention to her. Taking a closer look at the baby, I understood why –it was a doll! It was so lifelike, and the resident holding it looked so happy.

What a wonderful idea! Even if dementia has stolen and ripped away most of who your loved one was in their younger days, the maternal and paternal instinct is so deeply embedded into us as parents that the simple act of holding a (fake, weighted) doll can awaken the natural feelings that reside inside.

I did a bit of research to see if there had been any studies regarding the use of dolls for memory stimulation. Reading through the studies I could find, I learned that the dolls did, indeed seem to wake up the maternal or paternal instinct within many dementia patients. It did appear to have a greater effect on those in earlier stages of the disease.

One study in particular, conducted in 2007,  suggested doll therapy is a promising and effective approach to use in the care of older adults with dementia.

Many have found doll therapy to be a good way to engage loved ones while giving them a purposeful and rewarding activity. The dolls also seemed to have a calming effect and often created a distraction for them from upsetting events. Loved ones usually spent time rocking their baby dolls – which also helped them fall asleep. Another finding was that they often enjoyed singing to their doll, something family caregivers can join in or simply encourage their loved ones to sing on a regular basis.

The one major negative was that some family members or caregivers thought that giving a doll to someone with dementia was a demeaning and offensive practice.

The studies also agreed on some fundamental practices for the use of dolls:

  •  Do not call the doll a doll, refer to it as baby, or by name if your loved one has given it a name.
  • Provide a bassinet or small crib for the doll.
  • Do not purchase a who’s eyes open and close, or a doll that cries out loud, or as that could be upsetting.
  • Do not force the doll on your loved on. Let them discover, approach and hold the doll on their own time.
  • Be sure to communicate the purpose of the doll for any one else who may be providing care for your loved one.
  • Never remove the doll without permission of the person with dementia. When removing the doll, healthcare professionals and family members should hold the doll as if it were a living baby and explain where they are taking it, for example, if the doll is dirty, it is going to get a bath.

I believe that the bottom line is this is, try it, don’t force it and see what happens.

There is a Postize post on my Facebook group: Finishing Well for Caregivers that has some great photos folks with their dolls. Be sure to check it out as well.

What do you think about doll therapy? Have you found it to be an effective way to treat anxiety and behavioral issues in seniors with dementia, or do you believe that it is demeaning and an offensive practice?

Upside Down and Backward

During a recent round of physical therapy sessions, I was pleased to learn that one of the exercise sets involved walking backward.

It reminded me of a delightful time back when my Mama, who is currently suffering from the last stages of dementia, could still remember how to walk. Mama loved to go swimming. She loved to be in the water. At the time, we had a membership at a wellness center that included an indoor pool. The majority of my time in the pool was spent walking backward while facing Mama so she would walk frontwards as we ambled back and forth in the water. At the time, one of the attendants mentioned that walking backward was good for the brain – it helps with memory.

Well, that was encouraging. But that was then and life moved on. Mama forgot how to walk and we stopped going to the pool.

So there I was on the treadmill set for reverse and the wonderful memory of Mama and I walking back and forth in the pool came back to me. I remembered the statement someone had said about walking backward being good for memory and wondered if it was really true.

In a previous post, Keep Smelln’ Them Flowers I wrote about the benefits of brain function regarding the olfactory system with the sense of smell.

Taking a step backward

Hanging a calendar upside down forces the brain to change how it processes information.
Hanging a calendar upside down forces the brain to change how it processes information.

I wondered if that could apply to other senses as well. I did a bit of research on Google, and it turns out that the internet has a lot to say on the subject.  I learned that walking backward falls into a category of actions called ‘neurobic exercises’.

According to SheKnows.com Neurobics is the science of brain exercise.

Neurobic exercises, in a nutshell, are: Doing the ordinary things in new, surprising and unexpected ways. Break routines. For example, turn your calendar upside down. Find a safe place to walk backward.

A website called Physiotherapy-treatment.com  provides several Neurobic exercises to try. Don’t make too many changes at once, attempt things and find out what works for you. Develop a mindset that asks, “How can I do this differently?”

Since neurobic exercises can help make a person’s brain more responsive to mental challenges, they could actually enhance the quality of life for both caregiver and those being cared for.

So, now that I think about it, perhaps Mama should have been the one walking backward in the pool.

In future posts, we will be sharing additional ideas for neurobic exercises. Stay tuned!