Parkinson’s Disease & Nutrition

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Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic movement disorder. PD involves the failure and death of vital nerve cells in the brain, called neurons. Some of these neurons produce dopamine, a chemical involved in bodily movements and coordination. As PD progresses, the amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases, leaving a person unable to control movement normally.

Primary motor signs of Parkinson’s disease include the following:

  • Tremor of the hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face
  • Bradykinesia or slowness of movement
  • Rigidity or stiffness of the limbs and trunk
  • Postural instability or impaired balance and coordination

Common nutritional concerns for people with Parkinson’s disease are:

  • Unplanned weight loss
  • Difficulty eating due to uncontrollable movements
  • Swallowing dysfunction
  • Constipation
  • Medication side effects (e.g., dry mouth)

Nutritional concerns vary by individual based on signs and symptoms and stages of disease. It is important to work closely with a doctor or dietitian to determine specific recommendations.

When it comes to nutrition, what matters most?

  • Increase calories. If a tremor is present, calorie needs are much higher. Adding sources of fat to foods (e.g., oil and cheese) is one way to do this.
  • Maintain a balanced diet. Eating properly involves eating regularly. If uncontrollable movements or swallowing difficulties are making it hard to eat, seek the advice of an occupational or speech therapist.
  • Maintain bowel regularity. Do so with foods high in fiber (whole grain bread, bran cereals or muffins, fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes) and drinking plenty of fluids.
  • Balance medications and food. Individuals taking carvidopa-levadopa may need to adjust the amount of protein eaten and the time of day it is eaten, or take their medication with orange juice. If side effects such as dry mouth are making it difficult to eat, work with a health care professional to help manage these.
  • Adjust nutritional priorities for your situation and stage of disease.

Check with a dietitian or doctor for your specific dietary needs.

Cancer and Nutrition

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Cancer begins when cells in the body become abnormal. As these cells duplicate, a mass of tissue made of abnormal cells forms and is called a tumor. Normal cells grow and divide and know to stop growing. Over time, they also die. Unlike these normal cells, cancer cells continue to multiply and do not die when they are supposed to. If the tumor gets bigger, it can damage nearby tissues and organs. Cancer cells can also break away and spread to other parts of the body.
Nutrition is important for both cancer prevention and treatment. If diagnosed with cancer, there are numerous treatments that can be utilized, all of which can cause side effects capable of affecting nutrition. Some effects of cancer treatments include:

  • Fatigue: Get plenty of rest, and if unable to eat large amounts, choose calorie-dense foods (e.g., butter, cheese, ice cream, and milkshakes)
  • Nausea and vomiting: Avoid excessive exposure to the smell of food, and take medications with food if able
  • Taste changes: Stay well hydrated (this can be linked to dry mouth) and eat citrus foods to stimulate saliva production
  • Dry mouth or thick saliva: Stay well hydrated and try sucking on ice chips
  • Sore mouth or sore throat: Pick soft, easy-to-chew foods; add gravy and sauce to food
  • Diarrhea: Drink plenty of fluids, choose low-fiber foods, and avoid irritating foods (e.g., dairy, sugar, and spicy foods)
  • Constipation: Eat fiber-rich foods and stay well hydrated
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss: Choose calorie-dense foods (e.g., butter, cheese, ice cream, and milkshakes)

There are also unique side effects that can vary depending on the location of the
cancer. For example:

  • Head and neck cancer may lead to chewing difficulties
  • Colon cancer may be associated with more gastrointestinal-related side effects (e.g., diarrhea)
  • Lung cancer may lead to an increase in shortness of breath, which can make eating more difficult

Nutrition is also important for cancer survivors, as well as those looking to prevent cancer. The following guidelines can help minimize the risk for cancer:

  • Eat plant-based foods (e.g., fruits, vegetables, and whole grains).
  • Be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Avoid sugary drinks and excessive energy-dense foods (e.g., chips, cookies, and candy).
  • Limit consumption of red meats (e.g., beef, pork, and lamb)
  • Limit consumption of processed meats (e.g., bacon, sausage, and salami)
  • If consuming alcohol, keep it to 2 drinks/day for men and 1 for woman
  • Avoid excessive salt consumption

Check with a dietitian or doctor for your specific dietary needs.

Staying Cool: When it’s Hot, Hot, Hot!

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Our aging population is more active today.  Experts tell us that as we age our bodies can’t handle the heat as when we were younger.  A senior body often doesn’t detect the heat, and will not begin sweating until body temperature has skyrocketed.  What’s more, our body’s cooling devices don’t operate as efficiently as we age.

Summer’s scorching temperatures don’t have to wilt a senior’s ability to enjoy the season.  By taking some common-sense approaches to staying cool and hydrated, seniors can spend quality time with family and friends outdoors.

*Staying hydrated is essential.  When the temperature soars, the body keeps cool naturally through perspiring, which results in a loss of water.  Be sure to keep drinking all day long, even if you don’t feel thirsty.  Recommended amounts for everyone, not just seniors, are at least 8-10 8-ounce cups per day.  Water is best, but fruit juice will also hydrate.

*Take care of how you dress.  Try to wear loose-fitting clothing made of breathable fabrics like cotton.  Light colors reflect the sun’s rays, whereas dark colors absorb the heat of the sun.

*Be sure to protect your skin with sunblock.  Use any and all means to keep the sun from directly hitting your skin.  You can wear a hat, sunglasses, and especially important is sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30.

*When the day is really hot, avoid being outside between 11am and 3pm, which is generally the hottest part of the day.  If you live in a climate with high humidity, the heat can be especially dangerous, and it is harder for your body to cool down naturally through perspiring.

In the heat, try to check on your loved one at least twice a day.  If your senior begins to experience dizziness, breathing problems, rapid heartbeat, headache, nausea, or fainting, call 911, or if they reside in an assisted living community, press the emergency call button for immediate help.

Don’t let the heat of summer rule your days.  Implement the tips listed above into your daily routine during the dog days of summer to help keep cool.

From Chronic to Deadly: Prescription Pain Meds

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A couple of weeks ago I watched a documentary produced by the FBI about the heroin epidemic in this country, in our city, entitled “Chasing the Dragon.”   It is an epidemic, and it is heightened by the ongoing use of prescription opiates. Many of the prescriptions were prescribed by doctors for pain management following an accident or surgery or diagnosis of chronic pain.

According to AARP, some seventeen percent of adults age 60 and older struggle with alcohol or drug addiction. In reports following the death of music icon Prince, prescription opiates were identified as the alleged cause. My sister, who is in her early 50’s, was prescribed Vicodin and Oxycodone for what was described as chronic pain. She now cannot live without these drugs. Until I watched the above documentary I was not educated about the growing problem.  I wonder what situations other individuals may be experiencing, for example, surgeries and old sports injuries, and what has been prescribed by their doctors.  What should we be looking for in their behaviors?

If you suspect someone you love is overusing medications, you will want to take some action. First and foremost, be on the alert. What health conditions are they being treated for? Are they still taking heavy meds months after a surgery? Look at the labels on the prescription bottles. Who is prescribing them? What is the dosage, refill amount, etc?

Behavior. Is your loved one’s behavior erratic? Are they more depressed, anxious, angry, secretive or just want to be left alone? Do they fall asleep during a visit or conversation? Do they take more than the prescribed amount? Watch them and write down any odd or out of sync moments.

For older adults, especially if they live alone, it is important to monitor intake of prescription meds. When my mother went from one prescription to seven following her heart attack, we purchased a seven-day pillbox and broke out the distribution per day to help her keep track of what meds she was taking and what day. We made sure we were comfortable with her taking the meds, and also accompanied her to several doctors’ visits to discuss her meds and long-term plans for taking.

Of course, I could not talk about monitoring without addressing some form of recordkeeping. I have kept a record of all medications prescribed to me over the years for various ailments, from dental procedures to back pain caused by a car accident. List all of your medications, dosages, and why they were prescribed for you. Also include any over-the-counter medications you take. Be sure to share with your doctor.

Prescription opioids are powerful, and can be harmful with long-term use. If you have concerns, talk to your doctor and ask about alternative ways to address chronic pain and/or new methods for pain management. Be most aware of the synthetic opioids that are coming into the market. If it involves someone close to you, look for warning signs. Either way, it is important to find or get help.

To watch “Chasing the Dragon” go to

Common Types of Memory Lapses

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It’s normal to forget things from time to time, and it’s normal to become somewhat forgetful as we age.  But how much forgetfulness is too much?  How can you tell if your memory lapses are part of the aging process, or if they are a symptom of something more serious?

We’ve all misplaced keys, blanked on an acquaintance’s name, or forgotten a phone number. When we’re young, we do not pay attention to these lapses, but as we age, sometimes we worry about what they mean.  While it’s true that certain brain changes are inevitable when it comes to aging, major memory problems are not one of them.  That’s why it’s important to know the differences between normal age-related forgetfulness and the symptoms that may indicate a developing cognitive problem.

People with some forgetfulness can use a variety of techniques that may help them stay healthy and maintain their memory and mental skills.  Here are some tips:

  • Plan tasks, make “to do” lists, and use memory aids, like notes and calendars. Some people find they remember things better if they mentally connect them to other meaningful things, such as a familiar name, song, book or TV show.
  • Develop interests or hobbies and stay involved in activities that can help the mind and body.
  • Engage in physical activity and exercise. Several studies have associated exercise (such as walking) with better brain function, although more research is needed to say for sure whether exercise can help to maintain brain function or prevent or delay symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
  • Limit alcohol use. Although some studies suggest that moderate alcohol use has health benefits, heavy or binge drinking over time can cause memory loss and permanent brain damage.
  • Find activities, such as exercise or a hobby, to relieve feelings of stress, anxiety or depression. If these feelings last for a long time, talk with your doctor.

If you’re concerned that you or someone you know has a serious memory problem, talk with your doctor.  He or she may be able to diagnose the problem or refer you to a specialist, such as a neurologist or geriatric psychiatrist.  When it comes to memory, it’s “use it or lose it.”  Just as physical exercise can make and keep your body stronger, mental exercise can make your brain work better and lower risks of mental decline.

Get Moving: A Workout for Wherever

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Finding time to work out is probably the biggest deterrent for most people. Some people are not morning people, and some are just too tired at the end of the day to stop by the gym. During these sunny days and extended daylight hours, getting in a few minutes here or there is absolutely doable. And guess what? You don’t need a trainer. You just need a little motivation and these simple exercises to get you started.

Heading to the pool? A quick little exercise you can do to work those abs is as simple as supporting yourself by the pool’s edge and crunching your legs toward your chest. Pull up and extend your legs down. Do as many repetitions as you can. Rest in between and start over.

Take the first step, then a few more. One easy exercise is taking the steps. You can boost that stamina by taking two to three steps at a time if you can. Walking up a hill? Stretch those legs in front of you and go!

Knee pain? Many of us have that, but there is a way to exercise in reverse. If you are out on a stroll, stop and take a few steps backwards to take the pressure off of your knees. You will be surprised how it makes you feel. Plus, this little trick also builds quad triceps while putting less stress on your joints.

Walking in a metro park? Use some of the installations as a weight bearing, weight-training source. For instance, work your back, shoulders and arms by doing a few light push-ups against a park bench. Lean forward, and lean in, or face forward and squat down using your arms to do backwards push-ups and work those triceps. Many parks now have built-in workout support systems on the grounds. Check them out!

The beach is your buddy. Take a morning stroll and hit a nice stride. You are sure to pass many like-minded people, plus using the sand provides a cushion for your feet and joints. It is a great place to do lunges, jumps and stretches.

Wherever, whenever…get moving for your health!

Fresh Options that Hydrate

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Summer has officially arrived, and boy, has it been hot! I sat out by my pool in my condominium complex this weekend and simply could not digest enough liquids. With the heat and humidity, it is very important to get in those recommended eight glasses of water a day. This is especially true during this time of year when we tend to be out and about more, attending events, like art festivals, farmer’s markets or just going for a walk in our local metro park.

One thing people tend to forget is the amount of heat contained in cement. Sidewalks, paths and roadways become heat conductors, radiating heat upwards and through the soles of our shoes. If you ever wondered why you feel especially drained or thirsty after walking around a festival or on a 5K, that would be the reason.

I am a water lover. I drink it all day long. I actually pour a 32 oz. cup in the morning and drink it while I am getting ready for work, summer or winter. My mother, on the other hand, prefers to pour her eight 8 oz. glasses of water throughout the day. She wills herself to drink one roughly every hour until she is done. And she drinks them straight down. “I don’t like drinking water,” she said.

If you are like her, you may want to seek out alternatives from drinking water to eating it instead. Yes, you heard me. You can eat water. There are loads of fresh fruits and veggies readily available during the summer and they are packed with nutrients and….water. Double whammy!

Here is a list of the top choices and their water equivalents:

  • Watermelon – ah, one of my favorites. One tasty wedge serves up 10 ounces of water. Yes, please!
  • Like peaches? And yes, I am talking about a fresh peach. These little gems have 5 ounces. Let the juice flow.
  • Just one cup of these sliced little red berries also serves up 5 ounces of hydration.
  • How about those vegetables? Cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini and corn on the cob—so good for you and best picked fresh—have four and three ounces, respectively. Water done right the easy and healthy way. Sign me up!

Speaking of corn on the cob, don’t shuck and run. Keeping corn in their little husks also keep the nutrients IN. Think about that the next time you are grilling, steaming or microwaving. Do it after.

Hmmm….now, what’s for dinner?

How to Sleep Better as We Age

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There’s no “right” amount of sleep. What you consider a good amount can be entirely different than what your neighbor needs. Still experts recommend adults get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.

As with other bodily functions, the efficiency of the brain in carrying out its sleep-related duties begins to decline over time, and this may lead to sleep problems. Such a decline in normal sleep probably begins in our 40s, though it may not be until years later, when we reach our 50s or 60s, that we finally become aware of a problem.

The brain produces less and less melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep at night and alertness during the day. As adults enter their senior years, sleep patterns may naturally shift to earlier in the day. If you feel rundown because of it, here are some ways to get better rest.

Tips to Sleep Tight

  • Stick to a regular bedtime. Go to sleep and get up at the same time each day, even on weekends. Your body will get used to the routine.
  • Take a warm bath. When you get out of the tub, the drop in body temperature may help you feel tired. It can also help you relax and slow down, so you’re more ready to go to bed.
  • Take time to calm down before you turn out the lights. Turn off your electronic devices and TV an hour before bedtime. You can read a book, listen to music — whatever helps you unwind.
  • Make the bedroom a sleep zone. If you’re still awake 20 minutes after you hit the sack, get up. Train yourself to think of the bed as a place for sleeping only.
  • Avoid afternoon naps. If you sleep during the day, you’re more likely to stay awake at night.
  • Don’t drink alcohol close to bedtime. Even small amounts can make it harder to stay asleep. It can make you wake up in the middle of the night when the effects of alcohol have worn off.
  • Drink less fluid at night. Trips to the bathroom break up your sleep.
  • Wear yourself out. Exercise at regular times each day, but not within 3 hours of your bedtime.

If you still find you are having problems sleeping at night, schedule an appointment with your doctor. He or she may be able to help narrow down the reasons why you’re having problems getting a good night’s rest. Your doctor can check any medications you’re taking to see if they’re interfering with your zzz’s. If need be, you can get a referral to a sleep specialist.

Clean it Up and Toss It Out

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The stylish formal cocktail dress you wore in 1987. That growing stack of Christmas, birthday and thank you notes that, well, keeps growing. Those Beanie Babies, comic books and dolls your children played with twenty-five years ago. Yes, there are some things that we hate to part with, and, frankly, they really do need to go. If you are downsizing or moving out-of-state, it’s time to take stock of those things gathering dust.

Most individual’s favorite things are most often aligned with special memories and moments. I am one of those people who has been guilty of keeping holiday cards and birthday cards, year in and year out, to remember a special gift or note from someone close to me. Truth is, I put them in a container and didn’t touch them again. I moved them from one house to another. As I look ahead to my next home, somewhere in a little sleepy beach town, I have been on a mission to clean things up and toss them out, and simplify my stacks.

What are the common items people keep? One of the biggest keepsakes for women is their wedding dress. Many have them dry-cleaned and professionally stored. Question: are you going to wear it again? Probably not. Will your daughter? Highly unlikely. Some ideas to keep the memory alive: have the dress made into a christening dress for your grandchild or into a special pillow, or as a piece of something “old” that you can use to wrap a gift for your child’s wedding.

Love letters. Yes, I admit I have some of those along with cards from old boyfriends. My mother still has a stack from my father when he was traveling. If they are yours, keep them. If they belonged to your parents, think about doing something sentimental, such as burn them and distribute those ashes in their favorite place. Send that love into the atmosphere!

Photos. No, boxes of old photos. We all have them. I found a group on photos my father took of a lake. Lots of lake pictures.  They do not mean a thing to me. They found the trash can. If there are duplicates, share them with your siblings. Save the ones that are unique, memorable, and personal: your parents’ wedding picture, a group shot of a family reunion, that photo of your grandma at Ellis Island. The rest you can pick and choose and put into an online document or photo album.

Do you still have many of your kids’ toys stored in the attic? Do what my mother did: she told us to pick what we wanted or she was sending to charity. It worked. Some things were favorites. Others we decided were in bad shape and not what any of our kids wanted to play with.

Books. Okay, so I still have a library stored at my mother’s house. I collected books. First editions and a complete library of Nancy Drew Mysteries, along with classics. Plowing through those and moving them is a monumental task. Many local libraries are happy to take books off of your hands and there is always EBay and Craig’s List. Sell your heart out.

I think everyone I graduated from high school with received a full set of luggage. I did…baby blue, heavy, cumbersome and now out-of-date. I have donated mine to Goodwill and Faith Mission. Everything was in good shape, but not conducive to how I travel now. I need those rollers!

Other items, such as fine china (who uses this anymore), antiques, various appliances, and even your wardrobe, can all be taking up excess space. It’s time to clean house and live simply and efficiently. Think of it in the grand scheme of things: less is definitely more! Happy Cleaning!

Home Remedies to Try

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As the popularity rises for home remedies, it’s becoming more evident that your local drug store isn’t the only place providing comfort and relief for the common illness. Take a look in your cupboard, even your garden, to create a one-of-a-kind remedy.

I’ve always been one to create cool beauty remedies for my face, but recently I have discovered there are numerous at-home items I can use to cure things such as a common cold, body aches, and even stain removal. Before heading out to grab medicine or a body rub, try out some of these at-home remedies. Below I have listed a few ideas to try:

Sore Feet Soother: Get your green intake up while soothing your sore feet. Steam asparagus and it will act as a natural diuretic, helping to flush excess fluid out of your system, thereby reducing inflammation. Epsom salt in warm water is also amazing for your feet and whole body aches. Fill your bathtub with warm water and add ½ cup of Epsom salt. Light a candle, play relaxing music and soak for about 20 minutes.

Bug Removal: Summertime is approaching rapidly and so will gnats and fruit flies. Try filling a mason jar or a recycled jelly jar with apple cider vinegar, covering the top with its original lid and poking tiny holes with a toothpick.  (Alternate Lid: try saran wrap sealed off with a rubber band). As the days go by check the jar to see how many gnats you have collected.

Stain Removal: Baby Powder works wonders on stains like curry or oil spills. Sprinkle a sufficient amount of the powder onto the stain (preferably immediately) and wait for the powder to soak up the oil. Once the stain reaches the surface of the fabric, it’s much easier to remove.

Lemon is also a great stain remover for stains on white items. Simply squeeze lemon juice on the stain and place item out in direct sun light. Let sit for about 30 minutes and wash as usual.

Sore Throat: Got a scratchy throat from the weather change or allergies? You may be able to skip the antibiotics. Honey mixed in tea or simply taken straight up has long been a home remedy for a sore throat.   In a study done on 139 children, it was proven more effective then the common cough suppressants. Warm salt water has always been a family go to. Gargle at least once each hour with 1 tsp. (5 g) of salt dissolved in 8 fl oz. (240 mL) of warm water.

Allergies: Spice cabinet friendly. Turmeric contains curcumin that acts as a decongestant and hence helps reduce allergy symptoms. Also, turmeric is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory substance. Try adding turmeric into your liquids, including tea, water, and juice. Want a little stronger remedy? Try six tablespoons of turmeric mixed with raw honey.

Skin Rash: Itchy skin getting out of control? Reach in your cupboard and pull out the extra virgin olive oil ( great for moisturizer during those skin drying months also). Rub the olive oil and honey on your rash a few times a day until the rash is gone completely. Also try castor oil or coconut oil.

The above remedies can be created from items pulled from your home. If your symptoms are not lifting, I suggest reaching out to your doctor or pharmacist.