4 Ways to Help a Loved One Adjust After a Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s

September 29th, 2015 by Doris Bersing

Prepared for Living Well Assisted Living at Home by Patricia Sarmiento (*)

Alzheimer’s disease is a diagnosis that has heartbreaking impact on sufferers and their loved ones. Symptoms increase in severity as the disease progresses, from mild memory loss in the early stages of the illness to extreme confusion and even loss of identity as time goes on. Although Alzheimer’s changes the way those ailing from it live day to day, there are many ways caregivers, family members, and friends can make the transition a little easier. Here are a few ways to help a loved one adjust after receiving this diagnosis:


Make necessary home modifications.

Identifying issues that your loved one may have immediately or sometime down the road can prevent stress for everyone by helping to reduce the risk of injury or confusion. The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation has a list on tweaks you can make around the home to help with safety issues and daily tasks. For example, installing hand rails and eliminating clutter will help prevent falls, while labeling the contents of drawers and cabinets can make daily tasks more manageable.


Plan ahead.

There may come a point when Alzheimer’s sufferers can no longer care for themselves, or even make decisions regarding finances or healthcare. Taking care of these details before an individual becomes severely impaired will prevent their loved ones from burden. The Alzheimer’s Association suggestsupdating legal documents like living wills, trusts and power of attorney documents, as well as having a plan for future living assistance needs.


Consider a fuzzy companion.

Most people have heard of service dogs for the blind and deaf, but man’s best friend is now taking on a new role by providing support to those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. These four-legged assistants are trained to prevent patients from wandering off and having panic episodes that result from disorientation and confusion, and even to bring medication in bite-proof packaging at the same time each day.This guide provides information on the many benefits of Alzheimer’s service dogs, as well as resources for bringing one home.


Put yourself in your loved one’s shoes.

Alzheimer’s is a complex degenerative cognitive disease, and it’s nearly impossible for those not suffering from it to completely understand what these individuals go through every day. As caregivers, trying our best to empathize with the struggles of Alzheimer’s patients can help us remain calm in frustrating situations. This video from ABC News sheds light on just how much this illness can affect an individual by creating an Alzheimer’s experience for two people without the disease.


Alzheimer’s is indeed a disease that impacts not only those with the diagnosis, but also those closest to them. That’s why it’s so important that we do all we can to show our support to our ailing loved ones by helping to simplify daily life as much as possible for them. Making the adjustment to life post-diagnosis benefits everyone, and allows us to focus our time making the most of each day.


(*) Patricia Sarmiento loves swimming and running. She channels her love of fitness and wellness into blogging about health and health-related topics. She played sports in high school and college and continues to make living an active lifestyle a goal for her and her family. She lives with her husband, two children, and their shih tzu in Maryland.

5th Annual Legacy Film Festival on Aging, San Francisco, September 18-20

August 27th, 2015 by Doris Bersing

Living Well is pleased to once again sponsor the Legacy Film Festival on Aging, to be held September 18-20 2015 in San Francisco. The festival’s programs showcase shorts, features, and documentaries from around the world.

Friday, September 18, 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, September 19, 11:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Sunday, September 20, 11:30 a.m. – 6:30 pm

1746 Post Street (at Webster)
Japantown, San Francisco

For descriptions of the films as well as ticket information, schedule, location and parking, go to www.legacyfilmfestivalonaging.org/films.

A Cure for Alzheimer’s? The Noise Around Coconut Oil

July 29th, 2015 by Doris Bersing

12353888_mIt is common to hear of new ‘miracle cures’ being discovered, this is particularly true now that the internet is capable of spreading any story around the world in mere moments. Of course, many of these miraculous cures turn out to be impossible to confirm using current medical science.

One such claim was made by Dr. Mary Newport who seemed to have reversed the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in her husband by simply adding coconut oil to his diet for two weeks. The difference with this claim is that subsequent research appears to confirm this finding. (see an interview with Dr. Newport). It is true that MCT fats and their power to boost brain function

The majority of fats you consume are processed through the lymphatic system; however MCT fats are not, they go directly to the liver and are converted into energy which is instantly usable by the body. These MCT fats have been found to improve brain function after just one dose.

Neurodegenerative conditions

Alzheimer’s is one of several diseases which slowly destroy the neurological functions of the body, and in particular, the brain. The research conducted by the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada focused on the effects of coconut oil and the survival of neurons in the body. Coconut oil was found to be incredibly good at protecting these neurons from destruction and that the neurons were healthier with better mitochondria function than before the treatment. This was an essential finding as mitochondria function has been shown to be compromised in the brains of those suffering from Alzheimer’s.

It is understood that this is possible as the MCT fats provide an alternative energy source to for these neurons. This allows them to function when they would otherwise die as they are unable to access the normal, glucose based energy available in the body. More research is planned to investigate and substantiate these findings further.

Rescuing the Brain

Coconut oil works by addressing the metabolic derangement in the brain, it provides an alternative energy source which allows the cells to heal and function normally again. The derangement of the brain is also known as Type 3 Diabetes. This is the naturally occurring resistance to insulin which makes the brain incapable of absorbing glucose properly. As the brain require a huge amount of energy on a daily basis an inability to obtain enough of this will have a detrimental effect on the brain cells; starting with the less vital ones.

Coconut oil appears to not only provide instantly usable energy to the brain but it can also provide the basis of new brain cells allowing the brain not only to repair itself but to grow and accept new information. Those who suffer from Alzheimer’s and have taken coconut oil have shown significant improvement in cognitive function and memory.

Poetic license

Alongside the research and gradual increase in positive results from this natural substance it may be of interest to note that the coconut is actually composed in a similar way to the human head. A coconut has an extremely hard outer shell, much like the human skull. Inside is a fatty acid-rich ‘meat’, this is the food source for the organ (brain) that they resemble. Walnuts have a similar look and have also been attributed with a variety of health benefits. It suggests that Mother Nature is prompting the use of coconuts and other natural foods by associating them with the part of the body they help.

Of course, this is subjective and it will probably take many years and many millions or billions of dollars before this is proved by scientists. In the meantime you will need to draw your own conclusions as to whether to incorporate this ‘food as medicine’ approach to health. Many would say that coconut oil for Alzheimer’s is a holistic type of treatment. Even though actual physicians managed to connect the oil to the diseases, numerous other related studies are still trying to prove that the connection is real, and that coconut could stop the formation of plaques in Alzheimer’s.

As Edward Francis from Supplemented.co.uk  says “…there’s no cure for dementia. Nevertheless, scientists are not losing hope…Dr. Newport was determined to help her husband, and apparently she managed to reserve the severe symptoms with coconut oil…” It is important though to ask the advice of a professional in the domain before starting a treatment. We will continue trying anything that can be of help to alleviate if not to stop such a cruel disease.

How being a caregiver for aging parents can be one of the most challenging realities in life

July 1st, 2015 by Doris Bersing

The Center for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC)  states that more than 34 million unpaid caregivers provide care to someone age 18 and older who is ill or has a disability; an estimated 21% of households in the United States are impacted by caregiving responsibilities; and unpaid caregivers provide an estimated 90% of the long-term care (IOM, 2008).

It is estimated that one in eight people are now official caring for an aging parent. Edward Francis, a Living Well collaborator, at Forest Health Care estimates that this is a result of the baby boom years combining with improved healthcare and an increase in the average life expectancy. This responsibility may come to these caregivers suddenly or it may become a gradual, progressive path of commitment. It requires a change to your mindset, no longer are you the child, you now need to take care of your parents as they have always done for you.


It can be a challenging experience to be a caregiver for a parent dealing with memory loss that eventually materializes in dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Role change

Illness can cause a gentle shift in roles but it is a lot moiré difficult when an accident changes the situation dramatically in moments. This is often the case as elder people are more prone to injury and a broken hip can have a serious impact on their ability to care for themselves. The role reversal can be exceptionally difficult for those who were never that close to their parents but do feel the need to care for them.

It can be very difficult to make the right decision in either your own eyes or your parent’s eyes and you may bear the brunt of a parent’s frustration. For your role as caregiver to work you need to accept that you are now responsible for the decisions and care of your parent.


It can be tempting to visit your parent every day or even multiple times during the day. In reality this will make the process far more difficult. You will end up physically and emotionally exhausted whilst emphasizing your parent’s dependence on you. It can be very difficult to find the right balance between being there and making the best decisions whilst providing them some space to be as independent as possible. It is essential for your own survival to maintain a balance between caring, time for yourself and your own family commitments.

Planning ahead

From the moment you start caring for your parent you will have to start thinking about the future. If their condition deteriorates will they need additional caregivers, professional homecare, or perhaps assisted living facilities are the way to go; after all one size does not fit all.

The harsh reality of knowing your parents have a finite amount of time left will combine with concerns over the future, this can become a serious burden and it is essential you share the responsibility as much as possible.

Strengths and weaknesses

Like anyone you have areas of expertise and areas which you are not so knowledgeable or good at. You may be more sympathetic than your siblings or more financially orientated and it is important to utilize the skills you have. Knowing your areas of weakness and accepting that someone else can do that part better is a better way of caring for your parent and yourself than attempting to do it all on your own.

Dealing with a parent experiencing memory loss

One of the most challenging and draining aspects of being a caregiver is when your parent starts to lose their memory. It can feel that day by day they are drifting away from you and you are losing one of the people who have always inspired you and have always been there for you. It is essential to focus on the positives; a memory problem is probably more of an issue to you than to them. Encourage them to visualize their past by using photographs and talking to them, cherish the moments you have and the experience will be rewarding instead of challenging.


Both the caregiver and the parent need to have a good network of support. You need to be able to vent your frustrations and gain advice from others to ensure you know you are doing the best possible for your parent. Your parent needs to remain in contact with as many people as possible to avoid loneliness and frustration building up and making the situation worse.

Every situation will be slightly different but it will always be a challenging time and a difficult journey. Your feelings and emotions will be tested to the limit but the ultimate reward will be worth it; knowing that you were there for your parents when needed and did the best you could, after exploring all the alternatives you could have. Look for consultation with the experts in the field, even if it is a long journey, you are not alone.

Empathy Plays an Important Role in Care Giving

June 10th, 2015 by Doris Bersing

Empathy and caregivingBe kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle   ~ Plato

Many of our elders who had reached the golden years, find difficult to see the golden part of aging and at least, initially, they are aware of the transitions and respond with a myriad of emotions from shame and anger to depression, anxiety, and fear. Let’s remember theirs was the generation that survived the Great Depression and fought the last “good war.” Aging was not on their agenda, not for this long, not with so many medical issues, and with so little resources for retirement; to care for them we need knowledge, skills but overall empathy.

What is Empathy?

The simplest definition is the feeling of understanding you get when you stop and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. For caregivers this can mean imagining what it must be like to be in constant pain, or to be facing your own death. It could even be picturing oneself as constantly dependent on others, without any privacy. Once you understand what this would feel like you are able to relate better to the patient and will be much less likely to be frustrated by their actions.

Understanding their pain is only the first part of the job. You will also need to overlook your own feelings regarding how they may have arrived at their situation. It is imperative to accept people as they are and help them in any way you can. Emphasizing with them will make your job easier as you understand why they need the care and the best way of approaching it.

Edward Francis with Foresthc.com shared with us some of the important points about how relevant empathy s when caring for our elders. He says, “…There are an increasing number of care givers in the world. This is a combination of people living longer and the steady increase of people in the world. Many caregivers fall into the role and can be excellent at taking care of someone’s needs; however this does not mean that they emphasize with them; a good caregiver can simply treat others, as they would like to be treated.

Understanding the Patient

Some patients can seem incredibly rude and make it very difficult to either help them or emphasize with them. In fact these are the ones that need your empathy more than any other. The rudeness is generally a result of severe frustration with the situation they find themselves in. Part of the role of a good caregiver is to understand how the family and friends are coping and to emphasize with them as well.

They may need a break or be struggling with dealing with the issue and a supportive shoulder can work wonders. Understanding their needs and fears can also provide you with the opportunity to help a family member deal with their own emotions and offer a better care giving experience to their loved one. Embarrassment is a common feeling in patients, like all of us they have been used to looking after themselves and doing what they like when they want to.

To have this all taken away and be completely dependent on others is difficult for anyone to adapt to. This often shows as rudeness or aggression but once you understand the patient you will be able to see it for what it is and react accordingly. Be patient and whatever you do make sure you don’t lose your temper in front of them; you certainly don’t want to make them worse, not to mention that it is unprofessional.

Listening can help caregivers empathize more with the patient

It can be very difficult when you are in constant pain and dependent on others to assist you. This can become much worse if you are not able to share your fears with anyone. A good caregiver will see these fears and will listen. Talking to someone allows a patient to lighten the load and this will help them to cope with the situation. It will also prevent either the patient or their family from getting wound up when there are so many factors, which are beyond their control.

Level of care

Caregivers who take the time to understand their patient’s personalities, needs and situation can offer a far better service. You will be able to relate to the patient and this will trigger a better response from them as they register your intentions. A caregiver who can emphasize with their patient will automatically look for ways to improve both the level of care and the general care experience. The best caregivers have empathy, sympathy and integrity, a difficult mix to balance.

Empathy is vital when caregiving for someone with dementia, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. You must find a way to control your negative emotions and focus on the positive. This will help you get a better response from the patient, not to mention that you’ll be more relaxed and willing to help them out too.

Lower the Risk of Dementia with these 6 foods

May 12th, 2015 by Doris Bersing

Diet and Alzheimer's diseaseDementia can be a scary prospect, especially if it runs in your family. Whilst there’s no fix for it yet, there are lots of methods to reduce your risk via lifestyle changes – such as adding exercise, or changing your diet. Although there are many theories defending the properties of some food as anti-aging or anti-dementia ones, our collaborator, Edward Francis compiled an easy list for us, suggesting top 6 foods are well known to help prevent dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Here are the top 6 foods for lowering the risk of developing dementia.


Berries have a lot of benefits when it comes to lowering your risk of dementia, and they’re easier to add into your diet – whether as dessert or daily snacks. Firstly, they contain vitamin C and E, both of which are shown in studies to reduce the risk of developing dementia. It’s theorized that part of what causes issues like dementia is damage to the brain, caused by something known as ‘free radicals’. Vitamins C and E can reduce the effect of these free radicals, as well as actively protecting against some in particular (for instance, vitamin E can help defend against amyloid proteins in patients with Alzheimer’s). These benefits by themselves would be great, but they also contain anthocyanin – another chemical which specifically targets free radicals. These are found most in blue and purple fruits, so blackberries and blueberries are the ones to watch.


Another great one to add as a snack alongside berries is almonds. Also high in vitamin E, they have the added benefit of being low in saturated fats, meaning you don’t need to be too careful about how many you eat. They’re also high in biotin, a complex b-vitamin. Whilst research into B-vitamins and dementia is still in early stages, its being thought that they may have an effect (and, even if they don’t, they keep your skin healthy!). Almonds are great for lowering your risk of dementia, as well as reducing the risk of developing gallstones and heart disease. You may as well try them, right?

Fish (or a vegetarian alternative)

Fish is packed with omega-3, one of the key things to ensure you’ve got in your diet if you want to reduce your risk of dementia. People with low omega-3 have higher amounts of brain shrinkage, and do worse in memory tests so this is one backed by quite a lot of evidence! If you eat fish, then you want cold-water fish mostly – salmon, tuna, and so on. You could also take fish oil supplements instead. But don’t worry – if you’re a vegetarian (or simply not a fan of fish) you can get vegetarian omega 3. It’s possible to get vegetarian supplements, but our favorite sources are walnuts, flax seeds and cabbage.


Finally, turmeric. Turmeric is a spice that we in the west don’t eat so much of – but if you’re a fan of Indian food you may well do. It contains something called curcumin, and antioxidant that can break down amyloid-beta plaques. These plaques are one of the key signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Whilst the research on turmeric is variable, one thing that is clear is that curcumin definitely has a great effect. We recommend eating adding turmeric to your meals or adding a supplement since the research is still underway, but it’s looking hopeful.


Regularly called a superfood, in this case it’s true. Kale contains a lot of things essential for reducing your risk of dementia. As mentioned earlier, B-vitamins are a potential source of reduction, and kale contains b9 – known to reduce depression and increase cognition. The main thing we’re interested in here though is folate (or folic acid). A study from 2008 shows that dementia is three times as common in people whose blood has low levels of folates. This is a huge amount, and kale is a great source of it. Whilst the reasons behind this link aren’t yet known, it’s clear that it exists. Another bonus to Kale is that it has cartenoids which lower homocysteine. If this doesn’t mean much, let’s phrase it another way: homocysteine is an amino acid which is linked to cognitive impairment (the thing we want to avoid!) and kale contains things that reduce that. Well worth adding in to your diet.


For once, something telling you coffee is good, not bad! A study in Florida showed that those with caffeine in their blood had a much lower risk of dementia. This is just one study, but it’s a good start. There are others that seem to back the results, and some that disagree. However, when looking into the specifics with mice, scientists found that caffeine reduces the brains ability to recognize adenosine.  Adenosine causes the brain to become inflamed (a huge part of what we see in issues like dementia). It seems that caffeine may well have beneficial effects, so why not have at least one cup a day? You’ll feel more awake and can justify it by saying you’re reducing your future risks. That is just perfect.



Aging in Place: Technology and Human Touch to Solve the Caregiving Issue

May 4th, 2015 by Doris Bersing

Aging in PlaceWe all know those smart and dynamic elders, who used to be professionals, hard workers, homemakers, very engaged in their communities, who slowly but surely, are aging with aches and pains and diminishing faculties, with some times chronic and debilitating diseases rising in the horizon. We all try to help them to little (or no) avail, since the response is: “I do not need help …I am not moving from my home…I am not going to one of those places full of old people”… Does it sound familiar? If you have an elderly parent or loved one in need of care and help, I am sure you have.

Many studies since 2007 have focused on Aging in Place and what seniors and baby boomers want. Besides being in denial of needing help, elders fear moving into a nursing home and losing their independence more than they fear death, according to a study, “Aging in Place in America,” commissioned by Clarity and The EAR Foundation, which also found that the Baby Boomer children of seniors also fear for their parents. Boomers express particular concern about their parents’ emotional and physical well being should they have to enter a nursing home, finds the study, which examines the attitudes and anxieties of the nation’s elderly population. Although since 1997 AARP survey, we know (89%) of the interviewees answer they wanted to stay at home, and age in place – or live independently, but more than half of those surveyed (53%) are concerned with their ability to do so.

Some of the issues that force older adults out of their homes is not only illness and frailty but houses that do not accommodate their needs, isolation, and lack of support –we know our communities, sad to say, are not equipped with volunteerism enough to help some of these seniors or systems that protect not only the low income ones but the middle class, as well.

Projects like Capable in Baltimore, where volunteers come helping seniors run errands and reach the next community even that day while retrofitting their houses has proven to keep seniors at home longer. The project started as a major research effort in the Baltimore area called the CAPABLE project – it stands for Community Aging in Place, Advancing Better Living for Elders – is sending handymen, nurses and occupational therapists into the homes of hundreds of low-income seniors aging in place to see how far $4,000 can go in preserving people’s independence. The project’s initial success has captured nationwide media attention and piqued the interest of federal officials straining to hold down Medicaid costs. If it can be scaled up and tried nationwide, it could potentially save U.S. taxpayers millions of dollars. The average cost of nursing home care in the U.S. is $6,700 a month, much of it paid through Medicaid, so even postponing a move to a nursing facility by just a few months can have a major impact.

Another well known solution but difficult to implement, on one hand because seniors resistance to technology, and on another because of baby boomers not turning their parents into it, is Gero-technology that can lower the cost of home care when needed and/or help keep seniors independently but safely at home. Aging in a high tech world is not easy for these seniors but there are agencies and resources in the community to help them and their families navigate through the maze of options and what is really needed.

These technologies go from the safety ones to guarantee people are safe at home, and monitor their comes-and-goes, as needed without invasion, to the tablets to communicate with loved ones, receive medication reminders, or access services in the community. Organizations like Living Well use leading-edge technologies to evaluate their members’ health and mental status, reduce the cost of care, communicate medical and other information to physicians and relatives, provide cognitive vitality programming and monitor personal safety. When needed, they will evaluate the layout of the home and undertake modifications to ensure mobility, access, and security. In addition, our professional housekeeping and maintenance staff keep our members’ homes updated, clean, and impeccably maintained.

Just today, May 4, 2015 California Health launched a report discussing the caregiving issue and if really this technology involving social networking and technology will “…save the day for one of America’s most intractable social problems — caring for the country’s aging population? The article proposes a different way of hiring caregivers but still posits the issue of just having a caregiver. One size does not fit all and for some of our loved ones just low-tech or high tech intervention can save the day. Now if in need of home care, options are there with agencies as the article states charging more than what a privately hired caregiver could cost but no- back up, or services that will monitor the process for you, and more. Read the article.

In reality, the high tech and high touch is a better answer. It is not only technology but the human connection what makes a real answer: personal services and advanced assistive technology can add a strong measure of comfort, convenience and control to those that desire to remain at home but have conditions that may limit their ability to move freely, communicate effectively or otherwise navigate their environment. Together they can ensure and encourage those that desire to age in place the opportunity to do so with safety and choices for the seniors and peace of mind for family members and friends. Check all the options and remember one size-does-not-fit all.