Celebrating Spring and March | Ask the Nurse: forgetting the life you lived

The pain of forgetting the life you lived

by Christine Hammerlund, President of Assured Healthcare and "Mother"
Part two of a four part series about Christine Hammerlund and her Mom.

One of the obvious effects of even moderate dementia is that a person afflicted by it forgets.

Forgets events. Forgets faces. Forgets names. Forgets facts.

But the deepest fear for a thoughtful, independent person is to lose the memory of everything in life that mattered. To have all the rich events and experiences wiped away. It is a fundamental loss of humanity that dementia inflicts. It is a deep fearsome pain in the soul to confront that future.

There are a few things that really surprise me and continue to baffle me about Mom's dementia.

I can't always anticipate what she clearly remembers and what she forgets. She talks a lot about her life as a child, but can't remember her husband of 40-plus years or her children's names or when her birthday is.

She often asks me if I remember the neighbor down the street when she was growing up.

Most of the time she accepts that her memory is fading, but sometimes she cries because she realizes that she remembers less and less. Dementia is not painless.

Mom often asks me the same thing over and over again. I try to be patient and answer as if it were the first time she asked. I would advise those caregivers out there to never say, “remember you just asked that question and I answered you” because they don't remember. It is painful and depressing for seniors to realize they can't recall or retain new information.

Some of that missing information involves decisions that had been carefully considered and decided.

When she first moved in with me, she constantly talked about going home, and I had to explain to her that she would not be able to return home. She now suggests that infrequently.  She often tells me it is fine to leave her alone and that she'll be OK. But I have caregivers with her during the day, while I work; so she is never alone.  She hasn't totally accepted her functional limitations and often asks me what she can do to help me around the house. She wants to feel useful and helpful, and I struggle to give her small chores such as setting the table for dinner and folding the laundry. Because of her poor eyesight, she is unable to help with any of the cooking.

Look for Part 3 of this special series next month: They're losing enough; don't take their dignity too.


6 Healthy Reasons to Love Spring

Birds are chirping. Flowers are blooming. The good news is that all the things we love about spring are surprisingly good for us!

Extra daylight. Springing forward for daylight saving time feels rough the day after, but once you’re recovered from a night or two of sleep deprivation, the benefits are far-reaching. In addition to giving us more time to spend outdoors and serving as a natural mood booster, that extra hour of light may help reduce traffic accidents and fatalities.

A healthier home. During warmer weather, open your windows and let the sunshine in while you spring clean, declutter, and organize your home.

A spring-cleaned diet. Sweep the cobwebs about of your cold-weather diet with a dose of fresh spring produce.

Outdoor exercise. If winter is too cold and summer is too hot, spring is just right for outdoor exercise.

No more winter skin. Gone are the freezing temps and harsh winds that wreak havoc on your skin and hair.

Spring break! Have you taken a break yet? Whether at home or away a break from routine and daily stresses can reduce risks for diseases such as breast cancer and cardiovascular disease, as well as help manage stress long-term.

* Referenced 6 Healthy Reasons to Love Spring article by Annie Hauser


Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with this healthy green Monster Veggie Burger

Veggie burgers often get a bad rap, but this wholesome recipe will change your mind. Made with chick peas, veggies, and just the right amount of seasoning, these patties are loaded with both flavor and good-for-you perks.

Ingredients:
1 15-oz. can Progresso chick peas (garbanzo beans), drained, rinsed
1 egg
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. coarse (kosher or sea) salt
1 c. chopped fresh spinach
1/2 c. shredded carrot
2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
3/4 c. Progresso panko bread crumbs
2 tbsp. canola oil
Toppings, as desired (avocado halves, cilantro leaves, cucumber slices, tomato slices, sweet pepper strips, lettuce leaves)
Sauces, as desired (spicy mustard, Sriracha, ketchup, citrus vinaigrette)

Directions:
In food processor bowl, place chick peas, egg, garlic, smoked paprika, coriander, cumin, and salt. Cover; process with on-and-off pulses about 45 seconds or until nearly smooth. Stir together bean mixture, spinach, carrot, and cilantro until well combined. Stir in bread crumbs. Shape mixture into 4 patties, about 3 1/2 in. in diameter and 1/2 in. thick. In 10-in. nonstick skillet, heat 2 tbsp. canola oil over medium heat until hot. Cook patties in oil 8 to 10 minutes, turning once, until brown and crisp. Serve veggie burgers stacked with toppings and drizzled with sauce. Makes 4 servings. Recipe provided by Betty Crocker

Can Mom's Voice Heal?

mother-baby

Sometimes science eventually gets around to proving what every sort of knows intuitively. Though research is still in its early stages, it turns out that moms can be one of the great cures for what ails a child. Researchers at Northwestern University are testing whether a mother’s voice can pierce through a coma.  There, voices of family and friends are recorded and then played back to the brain-injured patients through headphones several times a day.

One of those patients, Ryan Schroeder, a 21-year-old college student, was in a coma after being flung from snowmobile into a tree. He started to respond to external stimuli after three weeks of hearing his mother’s voice played over and over.

Coincidence? We’ll see. But a year later, Schroeder is walking with assistance, texting friends and brushing his own teeth.

Lead researcher Theresa Pape, an assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University, suspects repeated exposure to the voices of loved ones could help regenerate the brain’s neural networks. MRI scans of coma patients reveal that parts of the brain light up when they hear family members, but not for unfamiliar voices. 

The new research shows how potent the sound of a familiar voice can be, says Helen Fisher, an anthropologist with Rutgers University in New Jersey and author of “Why Him? Why Her?”.

“It shows why it’s important to have people in our lives that we can call, who will calm us and get our cortisol levels down,” Fisher said.

Ultimately, the study confirms something we instinctively knew all along, Fisher says: “When we call someone we love, we feel better.”   Researchers  from the University of Wisconsin asked 61 girls and their moms to take part in an experiment to determine whether a voice could be as comforting as physical hugs and kisses. The girls, ages 7 to 12, were instructed to give a talk and then solve some math problems in front of a panel of judges. The situation figured to make any kid’s heart pound and blood pressure rise.

Before the girls gave their performances, the researchers measured the levels of two important and powerful hormones: oxytocin and cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that spikes during times of stress. Oxytocin is the bonding, or so-called “love,” hormone.

“It’s generally been assumed that there has to be physical contact for oxytocin to released,” said study co-author Seth Pollak, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin. “We were curious what would happen if the contact was only by phone.”

After their math tests, the girls were sent to one of three rooms. In one, moms were waiting with hugs and kisses and warm reassurances of the girls’ success. “The moms came in and hugged the girls and stroked their hair,” Pollak said. “They’d reassure their daughters with words like ‘I’m sure you did fine. You always perform so well.’ ”

In another room, girls received phone calls from their mothers with verbal reassurances similar to those heard by the first group. A third group of girls didn’t meet up with their moms but were sent to watch the heart-warming movie “March of the Penguins.”

When the researchers later measured hormone levels, they found, not surprisingly, oxytocin rose and cortisol fell in girls who had been in physical contact with their mothers. What was surprising was that the behavior of the hormones was almost identical in girls who had only spoken to their mothers on the phone.

Of course, the study studies relationships, not necessarily love. Pollak allows that when relationships are more complicated and there is tension involved, mom’s voice might not be so soothing.

Pollak says he’d like to explore the effects of a mom’s voice in those complicated relationships in future research.

Copyright © Christine Hammerlund – 2010.Christine Hammerlund is a registered nurse and the owner of Assured Healthcare, a healthcare staffing service headquartered in Gurnee, Illinois.