Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Keeping Your Brain Working

We can do more for our brains than we realize. And most of what we can do are things that will help our general health as well.

For our brains, and the health of our bodies, it is important to stay hydrated, detoxified and oxygenated. We can do this by drinking plenty of water. Green tea and peppermint tea are also an excellent way to keep hydrated. And smoothies made with fresh fruit and yogurt keeps our brains energized.

Having diets that consist of a sufficient supply of fish oil will boost our brain power. The old adage about an apple a day keeping the doctor away is not just a myth. They really do help our brains and health. Salmon contains omega3 and protein for our bodies and brains; avocados increase blood flow; assorted vegetables, especially those that are brightly coloured, and fruit. Blueberries partiularly are extremely beneficial. Other foods include whole grains, olive oil and cocoa which will be especially good news for chocolate lovers to know. Important also is to eat a hearty breakfast and to avoid fatty and sugary foods.

Simple solutions to jump starting your brain are to keep a journal; try writing poetry even if you think you can't; listen to music and get your body moving. Try learning a foreign language or an instrument. I'm giving the piano another try since my few lessons when I was eight years old. It's amazing what I actually have remembered - at least with my right hand.

Other ideas that are good for your brain and general well-being are to think positively. There's always two ways of looking at something. Why pick the negative way? Smile and laugh often. It will change your perspective on life. Keep socially active and involved. Listen to the ideas of others. They will give your brain a boost. And give chopsticks a try. They are an interesting experience.

Exercise your memory. Spend time with children, perhaps play Wii with them or some other computer game. Take children on excursions, talk to them and really listen to their views on what they see and think. Children can carry on delightful conversations and you may find that it's a whole new way of looking at life. They certainly will make you think faster. Play trivia games and if you don't do well, make it a point to remember trivia facts. Keeping your brain active can include hobbies. What are yours? Reading, knitting, photography, water colours, yoga or meditation?

Physical exercise is good for your brain, your body and your general health. Don't park too close to your destination so that you have a further distance to walk. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, do yard work, walk the dog, swim, dance and play golf.

Most things you do for your brain will also help your body and increase your general sense of well-being. With that, life becomes more enjoyable.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Basics of Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's Disease is the most common kind of dementia. Sadly, it worsens as it progresses and there is no known cure. It is estimated that 5.1 million Americans may currently be living with the disease.

The first symptoms often appear when the person is about sixty years old. The symptoms initially are: inability to remember recent events, confusion, irritability, aggression, mood swings and difficulties with their reasoning abilities. The first warning signs are cognitive loss, however, not everyone with memory problems, or any of the other symptoms, will necessarily have Alzheimer's Disease. Long-term memory loss will also be affected as well as difficulties with word finding, vision/spatial issues. These will indicate the early stages of the disease.

When Alzheimer's is in the moderate stage, memory loss and confusion will become worse and sufferers may even have difficulty recognizing their family and friends. They may have problems getting themselves dressed or have hallucinations and behave impulsively.

In the final stage, brain tissue will have shrunk considerably and eventually their bodily functions will be lost as well. Those with the disease will lose their ability to carry on a conversation or to be able to respond to their environment. They will be completely dependent upon others for their care, likely spending most of their time in bed and their body will eventually shut down.

Alzheimer's Disease can progress without being diagnosed for years. There are no known treatments that will stop or reverse the progression of this terrible disease. Alzheimer's is a degenerative disease and one of the most costly for society. It accounts for fifty to eighty percent of all dementia cases.

It is not considered to be a normal part of aging although the risk does increase with age. Although there is as yet no cure, research is ongoing. It is thought that the disease progresses over two to twenty-five years with most patients experiencing the eight to fifteen year range of the illness.

Most sufferers of Alzheimer's don't usually die from it but rather from their inability to be able to swallow or from pneumonia symptoms. Each sufferer's ability to cope with the disease will depend upon the severity of it and on their own personalities. Such symptoms as depression, paranoia or delusions, as well as some of the other symptoms, can be treated and alleviated in some way, at least until the final stage.

Alzheimer's Disease is dreaded by everyone. Some believe, but don't know for sure, that keeping your brain active, maintaining a physical lifestyle, eating a healthy diet and by keeping involved in activities, may ward off the onset of this disease. At any rate, it certainly can't hurt.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

How Best to Avoid Having a Stroke

Eighty per cent of strokes can be prevented by being aware of controllable risks. A stroke occurs when blood circulation to the brain fails and cells die as a result of lack of oxygen. Controlling risks can help prevent this.

Strokes are caused by either a blockage of blood flow or by bleeding into the brain. The following are things that can be done to help prevent having a stroke:

- Keep high blood pressure under control as it can make you susceptible to developing blood clots. If high blood pressure is left untreated, it can be a precursor for a stroke. It should be checked regularly by your family doctor and if it is higher than it should be there are things that can be done to control it. You can change your diet by eating healthy foods and by exercising. Exercise will make the heart stronger thereby requiring less effort for it to pump blood through the body. It is also important to avoid excessive sodium as it can contribute to high blood pressure. In some cases this may not be enough and medication may be necessary to keep it under control.

- Atrial fibrillation can increase the risk of stroke by five hundred per cent. It is an abnormal heartbeat and can cause blood to pool in the heart. Atrial fibrillation can be very serious and should not be taken lightly. Most times, as in my mother's case, medication is required to control it and constant attention and awareness of it is often required.

- Smoking is something every person has control over and it is wise to avoid as it doubles the risk of stroke. Smoking clogs the arteries, raises the blood pressure, damages blood vessels while narrowing them and causes the heart to work harder. Nicotine and carbon monoxide damage the cardiovascular system which can increase the risk of stroke.

- Over consumption of alcohol has been linked to stroke risk. It has been recommended during various studies than no more than two drinks are advisable for males and one drink for females should be consumed and less is better.

- High cholesterol should be checked regularly also by your family doctor. It can clog the arteries and puts those with it at a higher risk for strokes. High cholesterol can be regulated by diet and exercise but when this doesn't work, medication may be required.

- Diabetes can create a risk for getting a stroke. Diabetes II can sometimes by controlled by diet and exercise but in any case, it is something that should be taken care of and monitored by a family physician.

- Obesity can create a risk of stroke also. However, it can be controlled with a proper diet of fruit and vegetables, grains, nuts and foods low in calories. Regular exercise is also important; at least five times a week is suggested. It doesn't have to be strenuous. Walking and swimming are an excellent way to stay in shape and help your heart to stay healthy.

- Circulation problems can also lead to blocked arteries and can cause a stroke. Medication may be required to control this problem. It will be necessary to follow the advice of your doctor.

- Transient Tschemic Attack (TIA's) should be treated. They are mini strokes lasting usually only a short period of time. It is important that they be treated as they can lead to more serious strokes. My suffered suffered from these and was prescribed medication by her family doctor. She had them for years but because she took medication for them, she fortunately never did have a more serious type of stroke.

Having a risk factor for stroke doesn't necessarily mean you'll have a stroke. My mother has been proof of this. But it does mean that a particular effort should be made to control the controllable risk factors.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Can Anyone Have a Stroke?

Anyone can have a stroke. About one quarter of all strokes happen to younger people and children. Babies have even had strokes. But almost eighty percent of all strokes can be prevented.

There are many risk factors. Men are at higher risk for stroke than women but women are one and a half times more likely to die than a man will. However, middle aged women are more at risk than middle aged men. People of South Asian, African-American or Hispanic have an increased risk than those of European origin and usually they have strokes at a younger age.

Controllable risk factors are: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, poor circulation, smoking, alcohol, obesity, poor diet and inactivity. Uncontrollable risk factors are: age, gender, race, family history, being aged 55 or older or being male. Also those suffering from atrial fibrilation or TIA's (transient ischemic attack which are mini strokes) are more likely to experience a stroke.

Other uncontrollable risk factors are a genetic predisposition/genetic disorder which may be a gene mutation leading to damage of blood vessel walls in the brain, blocking the blood flow. Each child of a parent with a family history of this disorder has a fifty percent chance of inheriting the disease.

Your stroke risk is also higher if a parent, grandparent, sister or brother have already had a stroke. Also, those who have previously had strokes, TIA's or heart attacks are at a far greater risk of suffering from a stroke than those who have not.

Strokes are considered to be more common in the southeastern part of the United States than in other areas. There is also evidence that strokes are more common among low-income people than those who are more affluent. Alcohol and drug abuse are also considered to be high risk factors.

One in six people will have a stroke some time in their lifetime. Based on this information and the fact that there are so many risk factors involved pertaining to what is controllable and what isn't, we now know, as many people have long held to be true, that the risk is not only in being over sixty-five years of age.

And because thee are so many risk factors, and because younger as well as older people can have strokes, it is important to remember the following warning signs: F.A.S.T.: F. - Face drooping; A. - Arm weakness; S. - Speech difficulty; T. - Time to call 9-1-1.

So can anyone have a stroke? Technically almost anyone can but it's important to remember that there is much we can do to prevent a stroke from happening. But it is also important to remember that much of what happens concerning our health can be controlled by how we treat our bodies.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Strokes and Emotions Following a Stroke

Emotions and behaviour can change following a stroke. Approximately one third of all stroke survivors experience some emotional problems.

Emotional problems can result in depression, anger, frustration, feelings of loss and denial. There may be communication disorders which will include aphasia - to do with verbal abilities and auditory comprehension where they are unable to speak or read, write or comprehend numbers. Or there may be motor speech disorders with slurred or garbled speech. All of these difficulties will affect the emotions creating sadness and possibly depression.

Extreme emotions will interfere with the rehabilitation process. Emotions are hard to control, partly because of chemical changes within the brain caused by the stroke. It is also a reaction to the challenges of dealing with the effects of a stroke. There can be rapid mood changes also causing crying or laughing that may not be appropriate, feelings of hopelessness, changes in eating and sleeping, anger, anxiety and apathy.

Anxiety causes sleep disturbances and can cause difficulty with concentration. The stroke sufferer may avoid going out in public or even seeing friends. Irritability, another problem, can also cause problems with concentration and the sufferer may tire more quickly.

Apathy is a dangerous emotion for a stroke survivor. Its symptoms can be lack of enthusiasm, motivation, listlessness and they may exhibit no interest in anything. For the stroke sufferer, if they have apathy they will likely not wish to work diligently at their rehabilitation. This is detrimental to their long-term health and their chances of having fewer disabilities.

It is important for a stroke-impaired person to find ways to relax, i.e.: soak in a warm bath, listen to calm music, meditate or go for a walk. Writing down worries or talking to a friend or family member may also help. However, if it continues for quite a while and all else has failed, it may be necessary for them to see their family doctor. Medications may also be necessary.

Stroke recovery groups are also good for the stroke survivor because often talking about the effects of their stroke with others who are going through the same thing can help. Acknowledging their feelings will likely help them deal with their emotions also. It is also important for a stroke sufferer to be informed. The more they know, the more able they can help themselves.

Emotions following a stroke are often closer to the surface and may possibly intensify reactions to situations that may not have bothered them prior to their stroke. As upsetting as it is for the stroke survivor when their emotions are chaotic, it is good to know that in almost all cases, these intense feelings will go and eventually they will feel more like themselves.

Problems with emotions following a stroke can result in personality changes. But as the stroke-impaired person begins to feel more like themselves, these changes often will cease to exist.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Learning to Adjust to Life Following a Stroke

Statistics indicate that strokes are often life-altering. Sadly, fifteen percent will die, twenty-five percent will recover with only minor impairment and ten percent will almost completely recover. But the rest, fifty percent, will require some type of care.

There are huge challenges in adjusting to the effects of a stroke. There will likely be fear, apprehension, uncertainty and usually life changes. It will be important for the stroke sufferer to gain some control over his/her life and to work towards independence. They will need to work diligently to improve their emotional and physical well-being by thinking positively. It will be important for them to remain positive as expectations, by necessity, will be altered.

Adaptations will have to be made to overcome limitations. Practicing daily will be necessary as continual effort will have a cumulative effect on their abilities. It will be important to set goals, to do things they enjoy, to be social and to try new things. It will be important also to accept the many changes in their life and to adjust to how their stroke affects other people. It will be natural to initially fear the future because strokes affect the body, mind and emotions.

Following a stroke there may be paralysis, weakness in the limbs, difficulties with balance or language, pain or vague sensations of feelings in their body, cognitive and memory problems, feelings of frustration, feeling a sense of loss, difficulties with bowel or bladder control, fatigue, trouble swallowing or difficulty maintaining their hygiene. There may also be depression. It will be important to seek help if depression is suspected.

In some cases, brain cells may be only temporarily damaged. In other cases, different areas of the brain will take over from the damaged areas. Rehabilitation will play a large part in helping the brain sufferer. Goal setting will also be important. And as with everything, a proper diet is necessary.

It will be important for either the stroke-impaired person or his/her caregiver to ask questions regarding their care, to allow him/her to express their wishes and opinions and to be made a partner in their own health care. It will be important to keep them informed and to encourage them to join a stroke support group.

Special equipment may also be required following a stroke, i.e.: a cane, walker, wheelchair, orthotic devices or communication aids. There are also services available such as meals on wheels and transportation services.

Adjusting to the effects of a stroke will be different for each stroke survivor because, like every brain injury, each stroke is different also. A lot will depend on the attitude of the survivor and how hard he/she is willing to work at rehabilitation. It will also depend on the severity of the stroke and where it was. Whether there is a family member and/or caregiver available to assist with follow-up care and rehabilitation will make a difference too in both physical recovery and in a positive attitude.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Helping Victims of Strokes

More than 700,000 people suffer from a stroke each year in the United States. Strokes are the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and the most common cause of long-term disability. One American dies of a stroke every four minutes.

It is thought that sensory stimulation, i.e.: gentle touching of the face and hands, etc. or talking in a soft voice to the person who is suspected of having a stroke may reroute the brain's blood supply while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. By doing this, it is hoped that the stimulation may assist in keeping cells from dying while a person is experiencing a stroke.

There is also a drug available that breaks up blood clots if it is administered within three hours following a stroke. However, it doesn't work for everyone and of course, getting help quickly is of paramount importance.

But what is required after someone has had a stroke? A person who has suffered from a stroke should begin rehabilitation no longer than 24 to 48 hours following their stroke because most will require at least some rehabilitation in order to become as independent as possible in the future.

It may be necessary to relearn some skills that may have been lost, i.e.: walking or talking. They may have to learn new ways of doing things, i.e.: how to bath, dress themselves or to eat. They may only be able to use one hand. If that is the case, they will have to practice repetitive exercises to strengthen the stroke-impaired limbs. If there is some weakness or paralysis on one side of their body, they should use those limbs to do basic activities for their daily living. Once begun, it may be an ongoing process to maintain and refine these skills.

Strokes can affect both speaking or understanding; motor control, i.e.: their face, arm or leg usually on one side of their body; sensory disturbance problems; memory and cognitive problems; emotional disturbances, i.e.: psychological trauma as a result of the stroke, and depression. As in other brain injuries, stroke victims will not usually experience all of these problems and the fortunate ones will have only mild limitations that may require little rehabilitation.

Many people are involved in stroke rehabilitation: the patient, family member, caregivers, doctors, rehabilitation nurses, physical therapists, occupational and recreational therapists, speech therapists, and vocational therapists.

As a family member, if you have been there when the stroke happened, your most important task is to get your loved one to the hospital as quickly as possible because early intervention will mean there will be a more positive outcome.

It is important if a family member has had a stroke that he/she and/or his family members/caregivers do all they can to work towards rehabilitation so they are not one of the more negatively impacted.