by Tammera J. Karr, PhD, BCHN, BCIH
Two years ago, we said yes to an elderly family member when they asked if we would help them when the time came. We knew from past experience that this could mean trying times for both our elder family members and us, some of you like us may say – “what was I thinking?” There may be days when you repeat yourself twenty times or days you hear the same stories over and over, deal with tears and anger. These are the days when Gods grace and peace will be your closest friend – that is once you can take a moment to recognize it’s presence.
These are the times sleep may be the most elusive for both you as a caregiver and for your elder family members. The change in environment can bring about increases in insomnia, pain, listlessness, confusion and short tempers. When sleep is in short supply it has an effect on cognitive functions; words may escape you, forgetfulness and spaciness may be your daily or weekly companions. Along with this may come an increase in headaches, blood pressure and cravings for sugar, salt and even alcohol. These are all ways of self-medicating in an effort to relax. The downside is food just like drugs never actually provides the relief hoped for.
There is research available today showing the benefits of L-theanine for the support of sleep architecture. L-theanine comes from green tea; Theanine is a constituent believed to counter-balance the stimulatory effects of the caffeine content in tea. Theanine comprises approximately 1% to 2% of the dry weight of tea leaves; theanine is also present in Xerocomus badius (a type of mushroom).
Theanine lowers blood pressure in hypertension patients, prevent ischemic stroke and minimize memory impairment after the occurrence of stroke. Theanine increases alertness, is used in the prevention and treatment Alzheimer’s and various subgroups of dementia; L-theanine has been found to be useful in the treatment of anxiety; due to its ability to generate (relaxing) alpha waves in the brain and increase attention span.
We can’t overlook the food component of elder care. Food doesn’t have to be bland, but it has to be something our seniors are willing and able to eat. I like spicy food, my Aunts and Uncle do not. For them, simple peasant foods that are flavorful but not spicy are the better choices along with healthy protein sources and vegetables. Most seniors do not require three full meals a day, but rather small snacks and two meals. For those who are diabetic or concerned about memory challenges, selecting low glycemic foods and following a paleo dietary plan reduces inflammation and erratic blood sugar spikes. Don’t overlook the need for healthy fat; the diet should contain 15% saturated fats from real butter, animal and plant sources. With the remaining 15% coming from avocados, olive, nuts, seeds, and fish. Fat is crucial to blood sugar regulation and in maintaining weight for an elder who are borderline sarcopenia. Both fat and protein play key roles in the utilization of neurotransmitters necessary for cognition and memory.
As daytime temperatures increase, pay close attention to water consumption and sodium, low sodium levels and dehydration are common causes of memory loss and confusion. The standard of care is to restrict water for those with low sodium. However, this may be counter-productive and should be discussed with healthcare providers to be sure it is the best option for your senior and their health.
Minimizing inflammation is a huge part of dietary concerns for elder family members. While meat and potatoes may be the foods they want most, they can also be what is causing increases in pain for them. Gout is caused by sugar, processed flour, red meat and some fish like salmon high in purines. Here is when tart cherries come to the rescue for many. Cherries are highly beneficial for those with inflammatory illnesses, in side by side studies with prescription anti-inflammatory medications the cherries outperformed the prescription drugs and had no side effects to cause additional challenges.
While some may have a passionate relationship with the divine, others may be agnostic, or atheist. Often religious beliefs are varied within a family and can be a source of conflict. For me it isn’t about what church you go to but whether you have faith. During my mother-in-law’s final days, we knew she was set in her agnostic beliefs, instead of brow beating her or asking her to change her thoughts we prayed in quiet for a peaceful passing, which she had. A relationship with our maker is a private one; his grace is there for the asking, and you as the caregiver may be in the greatest need.
To a grace-filled elder life transition.