Heightened awareness can be a bitch.
You know that feeling, right? A topic starts trending, everyone is talking about it, and before long, it’s “top of mind” in your own little world. It’s like… well, as one example, you might notice that all young women are growing out their hair and wearing it long and straight. You start thinking – should I do that, too? It’s just human nature. We’re very tribal and we favour assimilation, good or bad. Unfortunately, when you spend enough time in Alzheimer’s World, it works overtime. You start thinking: Am I losing it, too?
That’s a fear which can plague family caregivers, who are on the front lines and witnessing the collateral damage to their loved ones, day by day and year by year. And while there’s no evidence to prove conclusively that you will get Alzheimer’s “just because” it’s in your family, there is good evidence to show that being a family caregiver can add to the risk, simply because you are putting yourself in a highly stressful situation… and stress is bad for both body and brain.
How do caregivers look after themselves?
There’s lots of advice on self-care for caregivers, and it’s all important. Eating well, sleeping well, exercising, having supportive friends, taking time off when necessary… it’s basic common sense, for the most part.
The bottom line? You can’t help others if you’re in bad shape yourself. But as caregivers like the Amazing Susan will attest (and, I’m sure, many mothers), when your loved one needs you, your own needs come second. She remembers going three days without a change of clothes, too busy with her mother’s immediate needs to care for herself.
And I know what she means – I’m writing this from a low-level depression, keenly aware that the past three years have taken a toll. My friends have noticed and commented; it’s obvious to them that I’m drained and less positive than I used to be; they might understand to some degree what I’m going through, but I don’t expect them to truly get it, nor do I want them to!
But I do want to stay healthy while on this journey, and so my research into preventative care and self-care continues. Yoga and meditation have become daily necessities in my life; if I start the day with these activities, it makes a huge difference. Huge. I’m not saying it will work for everyone, but don’t dismiss it until you try it. Even 10 minutes of each daily will help, so “not having time” should not be an excuse that you allow yourself. Energy begets energy.
And speaking of eating well….
The other good news out there is that we can all benefit from what’s being learned by other caregivers, such as Dr. Mary Newport, whose video interview and TED talk are being shared by thousands of people. Dr. Newport speaks of supplementing her husband’s diet with MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) coconut oil and coconut products, with very positive results. Her husband actually told her:
“It felt like a lightbulb went on and the fog went away.”
We have had both my parents on MCT oil (one tablespoon a day, but we will be increasing) for just over two months now. Both of my parents have told me, separately and unprompted, that they “feel better” since we started this simple regimen. My Dad, who normally forgets within an hour whether or not he has had lunch, has started to retain his memories for over 24 hours. When I arrived one morning, he began to tell me all about his golf adventure with my brother the day before.
My mother picked up the paper last week and started reading an article about a windstorm that had hit her old neighbourhood. I hadn’t seen her reading in almost a year, so this was extremely encouraging. Possibly the MCT oil is helping reduce her visual processing problems. She certainly seems more “present” and clear-headed.
Dr. Bredesen is another proponent of simple solutions to combat cognitive decline; he has put together a very comprehensive lifestyle approach for individuals who want to decrease the likelihood of getting dementia; his extensive work led to inclusion of Alzheimer’s into the Radical Remission project by Dr. Kelly Turner, a frequent guest of TV’s Dr. Oz. For my readers’ convenience, this is the published summary of the Bredeson Protocol by a user who found out that he was genetically predisposed to dementia:
- Exercise: 5-6 days per week for 30-60 minutes each day (if 30 minutes, then must be vigorous)
- Sleep 7-8 Hours (ideally 8), using melatonin and L-Tryptophan if night awakening.
- Fast (autophagy): 13-15 hours per day (between dinner and breakfast), including at least 2-3 hours before bed.
- Diet: I am following the MIND diet (which is similar to Dr. Bredesen’s version of the diet):
- No processed foods
- Nothing “white”: white flour, white sugars etc. (simple carbohydrates)…just whole grains
- Leafy grains daily
- Other vegetables daily
- Berries (esp. blueberries)
- Coffee daily (but stay consistent with the amount)
- Nuts and seeds daily
- Coconut oil/MCT oil daily (I put it in my coffee)
- Olive oil daily
- Avocados regularly
- 1 glass of wine per day, red or white
- Dark chocolate is ok
- Limited red meat
- Fish/poultry is ok – fish at least once per week
- Limit/eliminate fast foods, pastries, sweets, cheese, butter and cream
I encourage everyone to be responsible for their own health, physical and mental, and to possibly avoid taking any pharmaceutical drugs that might exacerbate the condition. If you know of or have experienced any success with MCT/coconut oil, we would love to hear from you. Scroll down and let us know in the comments section!
“I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent.
Caring for myself is an act of survival.”
– Audre Lord