Alzheimer's and Dementia Caregivers Blog

How Stress Affects Your Brain

Each trauma in life that occurs will have a negative effect on your brain and impair your ability to function over time.

Some life events like a cancer diagnosis or the loss of a loved one may cause changes in your brain function, but even temporary life events, such as an auto accident or job loss affect our emotional awareness. If you add up all of the annoying things that drive you crazy every day, you would be surprised at the damage that you are causing to your brain’s ability to learn and remember.  

 As science gains greater insight into the consequences of stress on the brain, the results are not good.  A chronic reaction to stress overloads the brain with powerful hormones that our body manufactures to help absorb the short-term emergency situations.  When your stress levels do not change over long periods of time eventually you will cause damage to your brain cells.

When researchers analyze brain scans they can distinguish how different types of stress affect different regions of the brain. As these regions begin to shrink, we will tend to lose touch with our emotions, and we will act in inappropriate ways with other people. The mood centers in our brain will also severely distort our ability to regulate pain and pleasure.

Chronic stress can contribute to the brain shrinking gradually as we continue to push through every day, trying to meet deadlines, or manage work and family life.  A sudden significant traumatic event will affect our ability to cope, and over time all of these traumatic events will impair our thinking as our brain is deteriorating. However, anything that puts high demands on you, or forces you to adjust, can be stressful. This includes positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, or receiving a promotion.

It is important to understand what causes your stress. Maybe you can begin to reverse these effects because you are now more aware.  Unfortunately, many people cope with stress in ways that only compound the problem. You might drink too much to unwind at the end of a stressful day, maybe you eat junk food and zone out in front of the TV or computer for hours, perhaps you use pills to relax, or you relieve your stress by lashing out at your children or other people. However, there are many healthier ways to cope with stress and its symptoms.

Relieving stress through exercise or meditation is an important way to diffuse some of the potentially harmful effects stress can have on your brain. Maintaining strong family and social relationships can also help you see the appropriate perception of events or experiences that may be too overwhelming for you to handle on our own. You may also need to seek professional help to learn how to set healthy boundaries as you learn to balance your stress levels.

Once you have mastered these core skills you will have the confidence to face stressful challenges, knowing that you will have the power to bring yourself back into a healthy balance.

It is Time to let Your Inner Child come out to play!

To carry the spirit of childhood into maturity is the secret of genius.”
~T.H. Huxley

As mature adults we often block bad memories and deny our inner child the opportunity to thrive. Do you continue to punish your inner child because you have bad memories of your childhood?  Has your inner child been hiding?

Do you remember how carefree you were as a child? You were probably honest, innocent, and a source of love like most children...  Many adults don’t let the childlike mentality take control so that they can capture that carefree feeling again and grant themselves permission to come out and play.  You will be amazed at how refreshed you will feel when you do.

Society forces us to act grown up and not allow ourselves to play because society will judge our public image and we feel guilt about taking time for ourselves.

Our Inner Child has the wisdom beyond our understanding and it knows what we have not yet learned. It doesn’t worry about what is in our control, it just goes after whatever is so desires.  Make time to play, doing whatever pleases you, writing, and running, traveling, cooking, or swinging on a swing in a park...

Your inner child is calling to you to nurture it by laughing and playing more. If you have forgotten how to play let a child show you how easy it can be to reconnect with your inner child.  You do not stop playing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop playing.

Here are some ways to reconnect with your inner child:

  • Create Joy: Do something that you know will give you that sensation of happiness today.  It's not too late to rediscover those pleasures that you were denied as a child, you may enjoy them even more now that you are an adult.
  • Believe in miracles:  Allow yourself to believe the unbelievable and dream the impossible dream.
  • Play more: Nurture your inner child by being completely silly with friends or by enjoying an activity you have never tried before.
  • Draw outside the lines: It seems so simple, but we spend our days caged in by boundaries and consequences.  Surprise everyone by thinking outside the box.
  • Love unconditionally: It's amazing that we can lose our ability to love as we grow older.  It is time to reclaim your ability to love unconditionally

Our Inner Child knows no boundaries, holds no expectations, and loves unconditionally.  We don't stop having fun when we get old; we get old when we stop having fun. Remember: being a child means having fun, being spontaneous, and being creative. We can’t forget how to be carefree, be happy and spread laughter because we will make the world a better place. 

The Gift of Time

Sara

When 1,500 school children were asked the question, "What do you think makes a happy family?" They frequently answered "doing things together." If you were to ask an older adult what gift would mean the most to them, they would most certainly respond "spending time with family."

Over the years, I've learned that life is not so much about what I do for people that has the impact on them; it is what I do with them. The Christmas season is certainly the busiest season of the year with lots of different gifts to give.  This year take time to consider giving the gift of "time" to those that you love. Time is a concrete expression of love that people can measure.

When I give a gift, I want to say, "I value you," and, "You are important to me." The key to having a strong marriage and good friends is in how we express our feelings. There is no better way to communicate how we feel about someone when we share our time.  We also teach our children how to have healthy relationships when we make an effort to spend quality time with them.

This year, put aside buying the “stuff,” and instead, create experiences. Spend time together and create memories that you will cherish forever and they certainly will be remembered much more than a new sweater.

Give the precious gift of your time and create new experiences together!  May you all have all of the blessings of Christmas and Happy New Year!

What do we do about Mom or Dad at Thanksgiving?

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This question always comes up every year about how to handle mom or dad during the Holiday’s? My first concern is with the person who has Alzheimer’s or dementia. It may surprise you that the older adult with memory loss is living in the moment and they are not sitting around thinking about Thanksgiving or Christmas. Family members feel guilty about excluding their loved one from any Holiday celebration, but the older adult with memory loss may actually be happier not being involved.

Many family gatherings are attended by large numbers of people and children. They are usually filled with confusing sounds while everyone is talking at once. These occasions can sometimes bring about unpleasant memories and emotions associated with certain family members. The meal is often more formal and not at the regularly scheduled time. For “ALL” of these reasons, I want you to think twice about inviting any older adult with memory loss to join your Thanksgiving dinner.

Alzheimer’s patients need a set routine, with peace and quiet. Imagine how you would feel if you could not remember the people who were attending and you could not even find the bathroom. Friends and relatives may ask multiple questions and continue to confuse the older adult even more. Someone with memory loss may forget to use their napkin or even forget to wait for the blessing before they start eating.

Before a big celebration you may want to try some smaller gatherings. It is important to observe any change in behavior on an outing. Watch for signs of restlessness or for the person to look afraid. The older adult may ask the same question over and over which can be troublesome for someone who does not understand Alzheimer’s or dementia. These warning signs suggest that you should carefully consider how often they participate in any outing especially during the Holiday’s.

You can make a “Holiday” out of any day; you just have to add the fun stuff, like favorite foods, flowers, or even decorations. Take a hand written note or card for the older adult to read over and over after you have gone. It helps them to remember you and it can be very meaningful. You would be surprised how special even a one hour visit can be for someone with Alzheimer’s when you visit them in their safe environment. I promise that any parent would be especially proud of their children continuing family traditions that they may have established years ago. May God’s blessings be with each of you this Thanksgiving.


Our DVDs combine images
with high quality music that will engage those with cognitive decline. They are currently utilized by caregivers at multiple dementia units, nursing homes and home care environments.

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