Self-Care Promotes Brain Health

Self-care activities are something talked about a lot but often times we preach about using them for others or we recommend others to use them. Well, what about us? We are just as important to that puzzle as the person we are preaching to about using them. 

Picture yourself on an airplane. Before every departure, a flight attendant walks you through the safety features and rules of the airplane. One of those instructions are about the oxygen masks that may drop down if the cabin loses air pressure. The instructions explicitly say, "Secure your mask before securing others." Let's apply that to life, folks!

"If you do not take care of yourself, you will not be able to show up for others," says Dr. Stelter. Self-care activities allow you to replenish, unwind, recharge...all of the above. Popular self-care activities include journaling, using essential oils, exercising, gardening, cooking, deep breathing techniques, and meditation. Which ones help relieve your stress, anxiety,...

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The Power of Coping Skills and Non-pharmacological Techniques

The obvious about using coping tools and non-pharmacological techniques for mood issues or behavioral concerns is that the person receiving these are not faced with experiencing many side effects with the potential to cause more problems when taking medications instead. For example, if I'm anxious and I take an anti-anxiety medication, sure I might feel less anxious, however, I may also become unproductive that day, sleep more than usual, and then feel irritable and even more anxious as it wears off. Reason being, I haven't actually dealt with what caused my anxiety in the first place! Now, in the event the person is taking medications, even reaching for coping tools or the caregiver using non-pharmacological approaches will reduce the amount of or chances for side effects if PRN, or as needed, medication was being used on top of their routine medication regimen.

However, there are two other bonuses to regularly using coping tools and non-pharmacological techniques:

1. It...

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Everyone Wins when Healing Clean

Using non-pharmacological techniques, whether in dementia care, mental health treatment, or practicing self-care, is a step to thinking, feeling, treating, and eventually healing clean. When we heal clean, everyone wins on both sides of those non-pharmacological techniques. How does that happen?

When using non-pharmacological techniques, we have control of what we are doing, when we do it, and how we do it. The 'what' is important to know that the things we are using are healthy for us or with whom we are treating; that we aren't filling our bodies, minds, and brains with toxins, minute killers, carcinogens, or contamination or that we won't have to deal with all these negative side effects. Actually, often times when we use non-pharmacological techniques, there are side benefits to the 'what' we are using. For example, maybe filling out crossword puzzles is stimulating and invigorating, leaving you feeling productive and ready to start the day. But a side benefit is that it is also...

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Clean Faster

What if we told you that you can treat clean faster? This means that non-pharmacological tools can work faster than most as needed, oral medications used to treat anxiety, excessive agitation, and more. 

In long-term care, and most other treating entities, CMS requires that healthcare providers attempt to use non-pharmacological interventions first before giving medications to treat symptoms of dementia and mental health concerns - anxiety, depression, agitation, wandering, repetitive behaviors, hoarding, aggression, and so on. Treating clean in this fashion is a Win, Win! Your organization is in compliance, it helps your 5-star rating and increases your reimbursement, while the resident or patient is not dealing with the negative side effects of these medications, like falls, confusion, irritability, and upset stomach. 

The other advantage is that you can treat clean faster. Did you know that it can take minimally 30 minutes for as needed medications to start working, and...

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Stay Positive

As we all navigate through our "new normal", changes continue as we struggle to stay present and positive. This past week brought a whole new meaning to that for me as a parent to a teenager. Quarantine has meant different changes for each, but this past week created quite a struggle to practice what I preach. 
 
My son's childhood friend committed suicide. An Instagram post stuck out as he scrolled on a lazy Sunday, as most teens are doing early afternoon. His face was awe struck as he reached out for me, like he did when he was little. I had no idea in that moment what a new reality I faced as a mom. A conversation that I had with countless students 20 years ago when I taught high school but not as a mom! I wanted to wish it all away, after all, had we not been discussing the mental state of our children with this quarantine; no school, no sports, no family, no friends....how are they supposed to survive without each other or their outlets?
 
I had a choice. I...
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The Road to Recovery - "Got Tools?"

“It’s going to be ok. I am here for you. You will be at peace. Hail Mary full of grace…” I’m examining her face. She has such a beautiful glow to her skin, as if she aged in reverse in a matter of hours. She appears at peace, but she has shallow breathing. Her mouth open; eyes open but focused on heaven. Although she has had dementia for several years, the coronavirus has chosen her. I wish her life didn’t have to end this way. I rub her hand with my plastic covered thumb as it’s cupped in hers. As she’s passing, there is nothing I can do, as these were her wishes. All of sudden, I wake up drenched in sweat, breathing heavy. Within a few seconds, I realized I was just dreaming, but was I really?

Working with individuals with dementia who have contracted COVID-19 has been rewarding yet incredibly challenging. After a few of these nightmares, I realized quite quickly, I don’t want to go down this road again. I experienced PTSD...

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Practicing Gratitude

Through all the loss that people have experienced recently (loved ones, jobs, money, etc.), at some point, if not frequently, you stop to think about what you're grateful for. Your mind wants to shift gears from being trapped in  the negativity, reaching for something more. 

I've talked in the past about one coping skill in my toolbox is practicing gratitude. Gratitude is a reflection on what you are thankful for, what you can and should appreciate, a moment for you to stop and be in the moment with your thoughts.

Practicing gratitude might look different for you than me, and that's ok. This is how I do it. Every morning, right after I wake up, I write down in my journal 5 things I'm grateful for. I then envision me practicing that gratitude by either thanking someone if that is what I am grateful for or giving back to what I am thankful for. Lastly, I carry out that act sometime that day or week. 

Notice that it's not just about writing it down but actually...

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The COVID Trauma Through My Eyes: A Look into the Temporary Stay-at-Home Parent

It’s been a solid 13 weeks since the insurance company I work for sent us home to work remotely due to the pandemic. I thought, “Holy cow, this is a dream come true!! Roll out of bed and just log on to my computer to work, wear pajamas all day, have no one breathing down my neck, this will be a cake walk.”  As they say, ‘the grass is always greener on the other side.’ Or is it?

My wife works in corporate healthcare and quickly her flexibility was gone. She was pulled to the front lines to help as other workers got sick or absent due to fears of catching the Coronavirus.

Now she is gone 12 hours a day working in a COVID unit at a nursing home. It's scary enough that she could contract the virus, get sick and die, but also bring it home, possibly infecting myself or our two children (4 and 5 years old). That’s pretty stressful in itself as we all live in the same home, touch the same door handles, eat at the same table, and sleep in the same...

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The Next Pandemic: Post-Traumatic Stress

From the beeping of machines to patients gasping for air, from seeing your loved one for the last time on FaceTime to making funeral arrangements, from working in your office at work to filling your full-time hours at home while homeschooling your children, from socializing in your community groups to being isolated at home, from working on the frontlines to then developing symptoms and isolating from your family, from going to regular Tuesday BINGO group to being in your room all the time in a nursing home  and watching through the window young kids playing in their pool across the street, this pandemic has affected all of us in some way. All of our experiences might be different but what is common is the realization that this has been a traumatic, trying time etched in all of our minds. 

I believe our next pandemic will be suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Trauma is experienced differently from one person to the next. Someone may be coping well while another may feel...

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What is Aromatherapy?

     Aromatherapy is an intervention that I not only use personally for myself and my family but also for my patients and clients. I wanted to share an excerpt from my new book that will launch an innovative dementia care model in Spring 2021, being published by Johns Hopkins University.

    ‘Aromatherapy is a relatively safe, all-natural use of essential oils to provide healing of the mind, body, and spirit. Essential oil use can be a form of olfactory, gustatory (taste), and tactile (touch) stimulation. Although research has shown that smell may decrease as Alzheimer disease progresses, the nose is still an entry way for the sensory stimuli of essential oils because the nasal cavity and nerve cells in the nasal lining are the closest entry to the limbic system. This connection between the sense of smell and the limbic system accounts for influence of essential oils on mood and memory. When using essential oils, they want to restore the body back to...

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