Tag Archives: memory

Berries are berry, berry healthy for you

It’s berry season. I love berries. One of my fondest memories, when I was a little girl, involves picking wild berries that grew along a dirt road behind my grandparent’s home in Michigan. Blueberries, raspberries, and even one that my Grandpa called ‘June berries’. I don’t know what they really were, but I suspect that he called them June berries because that’s when they became ripe.

Wayne is getting ready to enjoy a delicious smoothie made with blueberries and strawberries as well as a bunch of other tasty ingredients.
Wayne is getting ready to enjoy a delicious smoothie made with blueberries and strawberries as well as a bunch of other tasty ingredients.

Most folks know, or at least suspect that berries are good for you, but it is always a bonus to have studies back it up. As nice as it is to know that berries help keep our bodies healthy, those of us who have loved ones with memory loss, or want to keep ourselves from memory loss will be gratified to know that according to two recent studies,  those who ate a cup of blueberries per day showed improvement in cognitive performance and brain function.

Also, a study conducted by Harvard researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that berries also appear to slow progression of memory decline in elderly women. They learned that a high intake of flavonoid-rich berries, such as strawberries and blueberries, over time, can delay memory decline in older women by two and a half years.

WebMD also weighs in with a study: Eating More Blueberries and Strawberries Is Linked to Better Brain Function With Age

Summer is a great time to enjoy berries, but since frozen berries are available year-round, we don’t have to limit the benefits to summertime. I did a web search to see if freezing berries destroy any of the nutrients. According to Healthy Advice Blog: “Freezing raw berries, fruits and vegetables does not kill the enzymes contained in these foods like heat does”

Healthy Advice goes on to mention another benefit: “Frozen berries when local, freshly picked ones are not available is that frozen fruits, berries, and vegetables are often more nutritious than produce that has been shipped a long distance. In order to transport well, fresh produce needs to be picked before they fully ripen to minimize bruising. Plus, with the time involved transporting produce cross-country, what you think are fresh fruits, berries and vegetables may actually be 1-2 weeks old, if not more. This causes them to lose much of their nutrients.”

Healthline.com adds a thought to the fresh vs frozen debate.   “Frozen fruit and vegetables are generally picked at peak ripeness. They are often washed, blanched, frozen and packaged within a few hours of being harvested.”

One cup of fresh berries, like these organic strawberries, can be a part of a healthy addition to our diet.
One cup of fresh berries, like these organic strawberries, can be a part of a healthy addition to our diet.

One protest that typically arises whenever the topic is on healthy eating is cost. Eating berries may be part of a healthy diet, but if they are too expensive some folks believe they can’t afford them. No argument that berries can be pricey. I might maintain that though berries aren’t cheap to add to our diets,  perhaps instead of adding berries, there is something currently in the budget (less healthy) that can be substituted for berries? It may not be possible, but it may still be worth checking out.

To help determine what the cost of eating one cup of berries per day would be, next time you are at the grocery store, check out the frozen berry section and compare prices. Keep in mind that 1 pound is equal to about 3-3.5 cups of blueberries and about 2 cups per pint of strawberries (sliced).

If you’re still not convinced of the benefits, here is an article enlisting strawberries in the fight against cancer.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to choices.

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!

Sleep? Oh yawn

So it turns out that sleep may not be overrated after all. The amount of sleep you get may have an impact on whether or not you get Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers are beginning to see a more definite link between sleep and beta-amyloid and Alzheimer’s. Beta-amyloid build-up in the brain may lead to a vicious cycle – it disturbs sleep and impairs memory, which can trigger an additional build-up of Beta-amyloid  — the protein that makes up the toxic plaque that is the most common suspect behind Alzheimer’s.

Wayne Owensby is demonstrating a sleep-inducing yawn.
Wayne Owensby is demonstrating a sleep-inducing yawn.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have also found compelling evidence that poor sleep – particularly a deficit of the deep, restorative slumber needed to maintain memories — is a conduit through which the beta-amyloid protein may trigger Alzheimer’s disease attacks the brain’s long-term memory.
Our findings reveal a new pathway through which Alzheimer’s disease may cause memory decline later in life,” said UC Berkeley neuroscience professor Matthew Walker, senior author of the study to be published in the journalNature Neuroscience.

How does it work?

“Sleep is helping wash away toxic proteins at night, preventing them from building up and from potentially destroying brain cells,” Walker said. “It’s providing a power cleanse for the brain.”

According to a recent research study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, that analyzed the sleep patterns of adults 70 and over found that those who slept for shorter amounts of time and had poorer sleep quality, had higher levels of Beta amyloid, a brain plaque that is an indicator of Alzheimer’s. That’s not to say that if you don’t get enough sleep, you’re destined to get Alzheimer’s disease, but there does seem to be a link between the two.

“These findings are important in part because sleep disturbances can be treated in older people. To the degree that poor sleep promotes the development of Alzheimer’s disease, treatments for poor sleep or efforts to maintain healthy sleep patterns may help prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer disease,” said Adam Spira, PhD, lead author of the study and an assistant professor with the Bloomberg School’s Department of Mental Health.  

How can you get more sleep?

Besides avoiding the usual suspects of caffeine and alcohol, there are other of practices that can help. The easiest one is yawning and stretching – in fact, it’s so easy that you are probably trying to stifle a yawn right now.

Get a  great going-to-bed routine. Begin by opening your mouth wide to simulate a big yawn. Reach out your arms and give them a good stretch. At first, you’re just going through the motions, but after several yawns and stretches, your body and brain will get the message that it is time to sleep. Then notice what this does to the quality of the sleep that follows. What you will discover is that something about stretching and yawning prepares the body and brain for sleep.

Here’s a video to get you yawning: Contagious Yawning: Why We Do It, What It Shows About Us

I don’t know if my Mama had sleep issues in the early stages of dementia, but sadly, in the late-stages of this disease, sleep seems to be one of her superpowers.

Sweet dreams.

Emotional Memories

More often than not when I arrive for a visit at the carehome where my Mama lives, she is either sleeping or simply staring out into space.

I usually put my hand under her chin and turn her head towards me in order to make eye contact and get her attention.  When she looks at me, there is no flicker of recognition in her eyes. I’ve come to terms with that – knowing I’m her daughter is a memory that dementia stole long ago.

I always begin with a smile. Establishing eye contact is our initial point of connection.  Everything proceeds from there.

When I am able to make eye contact during our visits, it is easier for her to make a connection between my speaking to the noise she is hearing.

A famous quote from Maya Angelou, an American poet says, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

A recent study by the University of Iowa has confirmed Angelou’s statement. The results of the study concludes that caregivers can have a profound influence for either good or bad on the emotional state of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.finishing_well-in-life-connect

It’s called Emotional memory. It is the memory of the feelings associated with an event, as opposed to the facts of the event. They may not remember the details of recent visit by a loved one or mistreatment by staff at a nursing home, but those actions can have a lasting impact on how they feel.

One of the researchers in the study, Guzmán-Vélez, states,Our findings should empower caregivers by showing them that their actions toward patients really do matter.”

So it turns out that even though Mama and others in her condition are not able to remember facts, their emotional memory is as active as ever.

I am not always able to achieve a good connection with Mama during our visits. Sometimes she is so far lost in the world of dementia that “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” are unable to pull her consciousness back to this world again. But we are doing the best we can… and so is Mama.

Voice lessons

With tears in her eyes, she told me that her mother could no longer carry on a conversation – she could still talk, but not comprehend what was being said to her. She told me that all she can do now is listen as her mother rambles on and on. I remember when my Mama was at that stage of dementia. My heart breaks for those who go through this. There is no right way and it is never easy.

I gave my friend some advice that I have been finding myself saying over and over: If it is at all possible, record your loved one’s voice while you still have the opportunity.finishing_well_in_life_record

As discouraging as it might seem to no longer be able to have a meaningful discussion or even simply chat about this and that, it is even more daunting to wish you could hear a single word. Mama, who  is at the final stage of dementia, has been silent for over a year now.  I would love to hear her voice again.

This is not simply advice for loved ones with dementia as other illnesses also take them away sooner than we want. A friend of my told of the bittersweet time she had while her mother spent her last days on earth. One of the sweet things she took away from that time was a recording from her mom. Anytime she wants or needs to, she can listen to that recording and remember.

I got to thinking about words. Words are great. Words hold so much power—so much potential for both good and evil. Kind words are gifts we can give each other; to our spouses, family, and friends.

If someone had told me that it would be a good idea to record my Mama’s voice while she still had speech, I might have. I’d like to think I would have, but it’s hard to say when looking back what you might or might not have done. Even though I didn’t, I still have hope that I will come across and old VHS or cassette tape that she is on.

I wish I had a recording of Mama’s voice from the days when she could still talk. But though I don’t have her voice, I still have her and I give her the gift of hearing my voice as often as I am able.

Note: Most phones come with a voice recorder app, but in case you don’t have one, try Voice Recorder by Green Apple Studio – it’s a free app and works on either an iPhone or an Android.

Memories and memorials

You really can go home again. In fact, according to a recent article,  it is good for the memory. Of course, the saying “You can’t go home again” has more to do with wanting things to be exactly as they were in the past. That is a different issue. The article touched on a variety of ways to help the memories of the present by experiencing places, faces and the smells of the past.finishing_well_in_life_map

We were able to experience some of the joy of reminiscences on a recent trip we took to visit the area where my husband spent a great deal of his childhood. One of his dear cousins passed away, and we traveled up to the state of Washington for the memorial. While there, we did some driving around to see some his childhood houses and haunts.

One place in particular was a wonderful meat store called “Farmer George Meats”  in Port Orchard – by the way, if you ever find yourself in the region, make sure you stop by Farmer George Meats and pick up some of the finest jerky or beef sticks on the planet. Not only was the visual of seeing the shop wonderful, but the smell of the ‘smokes and spices‘ used to prepare the meat triggered a cacophony of wonderful memories.

When we were first married, Wayne was stationed at Fort Lewis near Tacoma, so while we were there, we also checked out the places we lived at that time. Though we noticed the differences, we appreciated the parts that were the same.

The memorial itself, with all the various family and friends, evoked powerful associations and memories.  There is something inherently satisfying about making those types of connections.

To make a delightful trip (though for a sad reason) more enjoyable, we were able to stop in Portland for a short visit with one of my cousins. The visit was lovely as we were able to catch up on family news. As an unexpected bonus, the sound of my cousin’s voice (with her charming Wisconsin accent) produced powerful reminders of the sounds of speech I heard as a child back in the Great Lakes area.

Our oldest son is getting to enjoy, to a degree some of the joys of returning to visit his hometown, as he has been able to come out to California for a rare vacation. He has been able to see the familiar faces and places from his childhood.

As Glenn E. Smith, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at the Mayo Clinic, in an article on the clinic’s website says, By gathering memories, you can bring important events and experiences from your loved one’s past into the present. You’re the link to his or her life history.

So, whether physically, or virtually, try to take a trip or two down memory lane to enjoy a journey of a lifetime.

My new friend


I made a new friend today. She was in the activity room where I visited with my Mama after work. I spotted her right away – a new face. I noticed her watching us while I was chatting with Mama.

Looking her way, I smiled. She smiled back, and softly asked, “Are you her daughter?”  Nodding, I resumed my ritual of applying Mama’s lipstick and folding a tiny, minty breath strip as small as possible and popping it into Mama’s open mouth. Mama enjoys her teeny-tiny minty treats, and since they dissolve quickly I can offer her something that I don’t have to worry about her choking on.

finishing_well_in_life_senior_computer
Keep using technology and be as social as possible to help keep dementia at bay.

My new friend stuck her hand out towards me and told me her name. We talked for a moment as she shared with me that her son lives in the bay area but he’s busy and they don’t get along well, and she has a daughter who is a doctor and lives on the east coast. She was hoping that her daughter might be out to visit this weekend.

Since she was talkative, I ventured to ask if she would mind telling me why she was in the care home. She smiled sadly and said she was having some memory troubles so she called 911. I must admit, I was a bit surprised as she had a laptop and seemed to quite ‘in the moment’.

She looked at Mama – who loves a good conversation as much as anyone, but is at the stage where everyone else has to do the talking, and then back at me. Hesitating, she asked me if Mama had dementia. I nodded. She said she couldn’t remember the exact term her doctor gave her, but it was something like dementia.

A friend to remember

With a troubled countenance, she quietly asked me what happens next, and if she would know that she was remembering less and less. Big questions that I have no answers for. I replied that everyone is different, but there might be things she could do to strengthen what remains.  Since she had a pretty pink laptop with her, I suggested that she use it as much as possible. Also, I’ve read that being social and visiting with others is good for the brain. 

My heart was sad for my new friend when we said our goodbyes today. The knowledge that you are losing bits and pieces of yourself throughout each day could be quite the struggle.

While reading through various news and research articles tonight, I came across a bright spot of hope for my friend and others in the same situation. It was an article in Science World Report that reported on a new vaccine: “Scientists in the US and Australia are now testing a new vaccine that can supposedly prevent and in some cases, reverse the onset of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases related to it.”

Wouldn’t that be fantastic! In the meantime, I will be praying for my new friend and hope to see her again during future visits with Mama.

Swimming through life

My Mama has always loved the water – she was born in Duluth, Minnesota. The state motto on their license plate is: “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” so needless to say, there was plenty of water available for swimming.finishing_well-in-life-fish
Even after the onset of dementia, Mama loved to be in the water. We had a membership at the local wellness center that offered an indoor pool, so we took her there as often as possible. However, since we couldn’t trust her to always remember how to swim, we had Mama wear floatation devices on her arms and restricted her water activity to walking back and forth in the pool. Since Mama had diabetes, I also had to keep in mind that her activity could cause her blood sugar levels to drop, so I carried small packets of honey with me at all times.

I was happy to read a wonderful article recently that seemed to confirm the benefits of swimming in spite of dementia – Dementia Friendly Swimming Lessons make a difference  It tells about an  86-year-old man who swims regularly to help him live well with dementia. His wife Jean says,  “It’s made a big difference. He likes being in the water, it seems to relax Fred. He’s happier and it makes a difference in his temper not only while he’s swimming but for the rest of the day.”

That observation agrees with a research article in the ©Journal of Sports Science and Medicine that suggests people swim every day to keep dementia away.

Prevention Magazine includes swimming as part of an overall strategy to help prevent dementia. They outline a variety of steps, their motto is: “Do ’em every day, keep memory loss at bay”

If someone is a swimmer prior to a diagnosis of dementia, it should still be a viable option for them as long as proper precautions are taken to ensure their safety.
As an additional benefit, swimming or walking in the water can help with maintaining balance.

Sometimes, when suggesting an activity, your loved one might indicate that they do not want to participate, but by responding with sensitivity to their feelings and encouragement, you might just help them to have a very pleasant experience in the water. Here is a video of a 94 Year Old Alzheimer’s Patient, Dotty, who goes to the Swimming Pool (VIDEO)

Mama’s trips to the pool lasted until the day came when she was no longer able to walk. I believe that they added to her quality of life and general well-being. If swimming or walking are options at all, they may be worth exploring.

The 3 R’s

Back in the old days, getting an education was often referred to as “learning the 3 R’s: reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic”. In light of the significant losses connected with the progression of dementia as well as the fact that we are all steadily getting older, I would like to suggest a second set of 3R’s for this season of our lives: Remember, Record and Reconnect

finishing_well-in-life-3Rs

REMEMBER:

We all have a story. It may not begin with ‘Once upon a time’…or end with ‘Happily ever after’, but each person on the planet has a life narrative – our own ‘Who, What, When, Whys and Hows’. If you were asked where you were born and why your folks lived in that particular place, would you be able to answer? If you have children, do they know why you lived where you did when they were born? Family history is a precious thing. It’s never too early to ask some basic questions in order to fill in the blanks—but it can be too late!

In my own search to fill in some of the blanks of my life, I emailed, called and used Facebook to try to get those answers. I knew I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but had no idea why my parents lived there at the time. Since my Dad has already passed away, and my Mama is in the end stage of dementia, I can’t ask them. Thankfully, an older relative was able to fill in that particular blank for me. Though I wish my parents had written more down, or that I had asked more questions, it’s not too late for me to remember and write a basic outline of my life for those who come after me. Remembering who they are, hinge upon who I am.

RECORD:

After writing down geographic locations and interesting tidbits, the second important R would be ‘Record’. Read it into the mic—any recording device will do. Most phones have a record app that can be emailed to a computer. Don’t wait until you have your narrative perfect. The important thing here is the sound of your voice, not even the content. I wish I had a recording of my Mama’s voice from when she could talk. Even if you don’t do the ‘Remember’ part, do the ‘Record’. Our voices are the gifts that we leave for others. Even reading a favorite poem or story would be appreciated by some who come after you.

RECONNECT:

Is there someone in your life with whom you haven’t connected with in a while? Are there any family member who might like to hear from you? Who have you lost contact with? Perhaps there is someone you need to forgive.  Facebook is a wonderful way to find folks to make an initial contact, however meeting in person may be a better way to catch up with an old friend.

Take a lesson from the 3 R’s and do a bit of homework today.

Finally finished

Have you ever noticed that the longer something takes to complete, the less likely it gets accomplished? I am a project person. Perhaps I get bored easily, but it seems to me that I always have something I’m working on. I can usually finish my short-term projects before I run out of steam or interest, but those that take longer….well, all kinds of things can crop up to interfere with my best intentions.

There are a host of reasons for not completing a task. Plans get canceled, seasons change and people pass away. I’ve begun some things (usually a craft project) only to  discover that I don’t have quite enough talent or ability.

So it came as a nice surprise, that I happen to come across a notebook– my ‘Grateful Journal’ that I had begun keeping back in 2012. It was in response to a book I had just finished reading titled: “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are” By Ann Voskampfinishing_well-in-life-1000

According to her website, Ann Voskamp’s story is not happily ever after. As a child, her sister was crushed under a truck in front of her and her mother. Consequently, her mother checked herself into a psychiatric hospital and her father couldn’t find God. As an adult, she stood beside her brother-in-law as he buried his first two sons. Voskamp is a wife and mother who does not grin through the pain but battles to believe that in God is joy, and that there are as many gifts amid the grittiness of life as in the moments of celebration.

It’s a compelling narrative that challenged me to develop a more grateful heart in my everyday life. I began keeping a journal to create a list of 1000 things on my own journey towards a more grateful heart. Somewhere along the way life got busy, the journal got misplaced, and I didn’t even notice.

So as mentioned, I came across my journal. I sat down and began a trip back through time by way of short numbered entries:

  1. A warm shower
  2. Putting Aria’s letter in the mailbox
  3. Playing chess with Bambi

….there were also entries that had a star scribbled on the line, those were the ones where I chose to be grateful:

  1. Brian’s funeral *
  2. Didn’t get to Skype with Lillie & Zuri*
  3. Found lots of tomato worms*

As I read through the entries and scribbles, my heart began to melt. I remembered the various moments of joy, gratefulness and sorrow. Reading on, I realized that through it all, a picture was emerging from these pages – a picture of God’s faithfulness. It struck me that I needed to pick it back up and finish – all the way to 1000 entries.

Many, many months later, I’m happy to report that I have finally arrived at number 1000! Interesting thing though – now that I’m there, I can’t stop. I have discovered that life will move on with or without our noting, but the simple act of recording moments of gratefulness does something to our hearts as we move on with life.

Give it a try. Either read the book first to get a better idea, or grab a notebook and begin your own journey of gratefulness.