Caring for the Caregiver

At Sydney Creek, our staff is trained to care for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Our family members know their loved ones are in good hands. But whether you are caring for your loved one full-time at home, or visiting them in a community like ours, the following 12 guidelines will be helpful, perhaps even life-changing.

From an article by Esther Heerema, MSW, posted on the website    We have edited it for space and specificity to our community.

  1. Don’t argue with someone who has dementia

It’s easy to become frustrated, even angry, with someone who has dementia. The tendency, especially with a family member, is to want to convince him he’s wrong and set him straight. Instead, remember that dementia actually changes brain function, structure, and ability. You will rarely win an argument in dementia; rather, you will almost always increase the frustration levels for both of you. Spending time being angry and argumentative is just not worth it.

  1. Ignoring the symptoms won’t make them go away.

It’s not uncommon to spend valuable time in the early stages and symptoms of dementia hoping that the symptoms will just go away, or trying to convince yourself that it’s just a phase or that you’re overreacting. This attempt to cope by denial may make things better for you in the short term, but it can delay the diagnosis of other conditions that look like dementia but are treatable, as well as delay diagnosis and treatment of true dementia.

Instead, remember that while it can be anxiety-provoking to schedule that appointment with the doctor, it can also be helpful to know what you’re facing. Even having your worries confirmed by getting a diagnosis of dementia can actually be a good thing, since there are many benefits to early detection, including medications that are often more effective in the early stages.

  1. Too many medications can make people feel and act more confused.

While medications are, of course, prescribed to help people, too many drugs can hurt people instead, causing disorientation and memory loss.

Instead, when you go to the doctor, be sure to bring in a list of all of the medications that your loved one is taking and ask if each one is still needed. Include all vitamins and supplements since some of them can affect how medications work, or they can interact with the chemicals in the medications. It’s worth asking for a thorough review of all of the medications to ensure that they’re truly helping, and not hurting, your loved one.

  1. Validation therapy can help us respond gently.

People living with dementia often experience a different reality than we do. They may call out repeatedly for their mother or insist that they have to go to work, even though they’ve been retired for many years.

Instead of being irritated and reminding your loved one of her age, the fact that her mother passed away decades ago or that she hasn’t worked in 20 years, try taking five minutes to ask her to tell you about her mother or about her job. These are examples of using validation therapy, and using this technique can often improve the day for both of you.

The ideas behind validation therapy help us to remember to adjust our focus to see things their way, rather than try unsuccessfully to have them see it from our perspective.

  1. It’s never too late to work on improving brain health.

Sometimes, people feel that after a love one receives a diagnosis of dementia, it’s too late to do anything about it. Part of that response may be related to the normal grieving process after a diagnosis, but many caregivers have expressed that they really didn’t know that brain health strategies can truly make a difference in functioning, whether cognition is normal or already declining.

Instead, remember that while true dementia won’t go away and generally is progressive, there are still a lot of strategies that can be used to maintain and even improve brain health and functioning for a time.

  1. Sharing your struggle and receiving help is important

Millions of family caregivers make every effort to do the task of care giving well, and some end up doing it mostly alone. These caregivers often have no idea how exhausted there are, and if they do, they may feel like their fatigue doesn’t matter anyway because they have a job to do.

Instead of barely hanging on, day after day, seek out home health care services, adult day care facilities, respite care, and support and encouragement groups for caregivers. Communities like ours offer support groups that can help you be a better caregiver by refilling your cup of available energy.

  1. Choose one small thing to do for yourself.

The risk of caregiver burnout is real. Caregivers don’t need to feel guilty or frustrated because they don’t have time or energy to exercise, smile, eat right, and get lots of sleep. Most caregivers are well aware these are things they should do but just don’t have the time. The last thing they need is another list of things they should be doing.

Instead, what caregivers need to remember is that doing even one little thing for themselves is important and beneficial. You may not have time to do the big things, but finding little ways to refill your tank of caregiver energy is critically important.

Practical ideas from dementia caregivers who have been there include a 30 minute visit from a friend, 20 minutes of quiet time where you read a religious passage or listen to your favorite music, 10 minutes to drink your favorite flavored coffee, five minutes of locking yourself in your room to physically stretch your body or call a family member who will understand, and 10 seconds of taking a deep, deep breath and let it out slowly.

  1. Pick and choose your priorities and let the rest go.

Some people have said that dementia picks and chooses its own battles. However, others have shared that initially, they tried to “do everything right,” but as time went on, they learned that letting go of some of these pressures and expectations saved their own sanity and reduced their frustration.

Instead of focusing on meeting your own expectations or those of the people around you, change your focus to what’s important at the moment. You will rarely go wrong if you ask yourself if the momentary challenge will be important in a month from now, or not, and proceed accordingly.

  1. Have the difficult conversations about medical decisions and choices

It can, understandably, be very hard to think about an uncertain future after a dementia diagnosis. You may need some time to absorb and process the information.

However, instead of avoiding the uncomfortable conversation about medical decisions and power of attorney documents, take the time to discuss these important choices. Have that talk with your loved one who has dementia sooner rather than later (or never). Why? Not having to guess about medical decisions and personal preferences can afford you with much more peace of mind, knowing that you are honoring her choices.

  1. Remember that he really can’t control his behavior.

When your family member or friend has dementia, it’s tempting to believe that he’s really not that bad off. This can be a protective tendency so that you don’t have to directly face the changes that dementia is making in your loved one’s life.

Sometimes, caregivers would almost prefer to believe that a loved one is being stubborn, rather than the fact that he has dementia. The problem with that belief is that then, it’s very easy to feel that he’s choosing to dig his heels in and just being difficult You may feel like he has “selective memory problems” or that he’s just trying to provoke you or make your day difficult by not getting dressed to go to his doctor’s appointment, for example.

Instead, remind yourself that dementia can affect personality, behavior, decision-making, and judgment. He’s not just being stubborn or manipulative; he also has a disease that can sometimes control his behavior and emotions. This perspective can make it feel a little less personal when the day is not going well.

  1. Twenty minutes later can feel like a whole new day.

Sometimes, loved ones with dementia can become anxious, agitated, and combative while you’re helping them with their activities of daily life. For example, perhaps you’re trying to encourage your mother to brush her teeth and she’s pushing you away and yelling at you. It’s just not going to happen right now.

Instead of increasing your demands about brushing her teeth, try giving her (and yourself, if necessary) a few minutes to calm down. Ensure her safety and go to a different room for 20 minutes. You might find out that when you return and turn on her favorite music, the task that she was so adamantly opposed to earlier is now much easier and not a big deal. While this won’t always work, it often does, and it’s definitely worth a try.

  1. Quality of life is not impossible in dementia

Coping with a diagnosis of dementia is often not easy. There are losses to grieve, changes to make and many things to learn. However, you don’t need to fall for the lie that life will always be terrible with dementia. This is just not true.

Instead, listen to others who’ve been there, who acknowledge the challenges and don’t deny the pain, but who also strive to continue to enjoy life. According to many people who are living with dementia, there are ways to still enjoy life, to still have a high quality of life, despite their challenges. Take hope from their words when they say that they still enjoy socialization with friends, good food, pet therapy and laughter.


A Bounty of Blogs


A Bounty of Blogs

As you tap into the internet for useful information about understanding and coping with dementia, don’t overlook the bounty of excellent blogs available. One of these is alzheimer’ And below is a recent entry, written by Alissa Sauer, that caught my eye.

Women’s Lifetime Risk for Developing Dementia Is Higher Than Men’s

December 2018 / by Alissa Sauer

There are currently more than 5.5 million Americans living with dementia and that number is expected to triple by 2050. We may never know the full economic and physical effects that the disease has on our nation. However, a new Alzheimer’s Association and Shriver Report is giving us greater insight into developing dementia, including how burdensome it can be, especially for women.

A new report from the Alzheimer’s Association has found that women are at a higher risk of developing dementia than men. The numbers are startling:

  • Out of the 5 million people living with dementia in the United States, 3.2 million are women
  • 1 out of 6 women over the age of 60 will develop the disease compared to 1 out of 11 men
  • Women in their 60s are twice as likely to develop dementia than they are to develop breast cancer

The main reason that women are more likely to develop dementia, is simply that women live longer than men and that age is still the number one risk factor for developing the disease. From that perspective, we are all at risk.

The Society for Women’s Health Research Interdisciplinary Network brought together a panel of experts to review what we know about the differences in dementia rates between genders. Because age is a leading cause of the disease and women live longer, longevity is thought to be a major factor in a woman’s dementia risk. However, longevity alone cannot explain why 2/3 of people with the disease are women. Other dementia risk factors specific to women include:

  1. Decreased educational and occupational opportunities.
  2. The dementia gene is thought to affect women differently than men.
  3. Women are less likely to exercise than men.
  4. Women are two times more likely to have depression than men.
  5. Women have a higher caregiver burden than men, which could lead to a higher risk of cognitive impairment.
  6. Women perform well on dementia diagnosis tests so that by the time the disease is caught, it is often progressed further than when detected in men.

Not only are women facing the brunt of the disease, but women are also bearing the burden of caregiving. There are 2.5 times as many women than men providing 24-hour care for a parent or senior loved one with dementia.

The burden is not just emotional. It is also financial:

  • 60% of unpaid dementia caregivers are women.
  • 20% of women exchanged their full-time job for a part-time job to act as a caregiver
  • 18% of women took a leave of absence of work to provide caregiving
  • 11% of women left work entirely
  • 10% of women lost job benefits due to caregiving responsibilities

Given this information and knowing that dementia is still one of the most misunderstood and underreported diseases, we must take action. The Alzheimer’s Association has launched a national initiative that brings attention to the plight of women against the disease. Called “My Brain,” the initiative strives to include one million women and serve as a resource for female caregivers and patients. For more information, please visit

Talking to Children About Dementia


Talking to Children About Dementia              

By Kristi Beck  

Holidays are a time for reconnecting with loved ones.  For those with Alzheimer’s Disease or other types of dementia, it may be disorienting to be taken out of a familiar setting—especially if they are now living in a care community. Holiday gatherings can look a little different as multiple generations visit the actual community, versus taking a loved one home for the holiday.

One missed opportunity that I have seen over the years is not preparing children before they visit a grandparent or older adult living with dementia.  Parents might think if you don’t discuss this painful disease, you’re protecting your children or that certain behavior can be dismissed as “old age” or forgetfulness.  Parents may forget that children will be observing other residents, in addition to the one they are visiting, and those residents will be drawn to their joy and energy.

Remember that children are very insightful and curious. They will ask questions and worry when a grandparent’s behavior changes or when he or she seems absent from their lives.  Children might feel nervous around the older adult, especially if he or she is having trouble remembering names or can no longer take care of him or herself the way they once did.

Some suggestions for preparing a child for a visit:

  • Be honest and explain the disease. Let them know that Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia does not affect kids and it mostly happens to people over 65 years old. Scientists have discovered medicines that seem to slow the disease down and there’s hope that someday there will be a cure.  Age-appropriate information, explaining the disease can be found on such sites as
  • Encourage children to “go with the flow.” The older adult or grandparent may have an altered sense of reality and arguing or trying to correct him or her might lead to more confusion or agitation.  For example, “Grandma sometimes calls me mother.”  Explain to children it’s an opportunity to pretend or use their imaginations, but not to argue.
  • Prepare ahead of time for “taboo” topics. If you are aware of a particular item of discussion that will elicit emotions, explain it before the visit.   “Aunt May gets sad when we talk about her dog Taffy who lives with us.”     “Grandpop wasn’t safe driving, so we told him his car is getting fixed at the shop, so he isn’t worried every day.”

Consider meeting in the lobby area or reserving a private dining area for your holiday visit.  The Village at Sydney Creek has plenty of space for meeting one-on-one with a resident, including our lobby with fireplace, family room, Activity Room, conference room or one of our lush garden spaces.

Contact Sydney Creek at 805-543-2350 if you are interested in having a staff member visit your child’s schools or club to explain more about Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.

Suggested Resources:

“About my Grandfather, About My Grandmother” an online video produced by the Alzheimer’s Association

“Really and Truly,” by Emilie Rivard

“Grandma and Me: A Kid’s Guide for Alzheimer’s and Dementia,” by Mary Ann Drummond and Beatrice Tauber Prior

On a lighter note: “Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear In The Refrigerator?” Max Wallack, Carolyn Given

Understanding Dementia

Understanding Dementia                             

Following is a list of symptoms, causes, and conditions taken straight from the Mayo Clinic website.


Dementia isn’t a specific disease. Instead, dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning.

Though dementia generally involves memory loss, memory loss has different causes. So memory loss alone doesn’t mean you have dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of a progressive dementia in older adults, but there are a number of causes of dementia. Depending on the cause, some dementia symptoms can be reversed.


Dementia symptoms vary depending on the cause, but common signs and symptoms include:

Cognitive changes

  • Memory loss, which is usually noticed by a spouse or someone else
  • Difficulty communicating or finding words
  • Difficulty reasoning or problem-solving
  • Difficulty handling complex tasks
  • Difficulty with planning and organizing
  • Difficulty with coordination and motor functions
  • Confusion and disorientation

Psychological changes

  • Personality changes
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Paranoia
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations

When to see a doctor

See a doctor if you or a loved one has memory problems or other dementia symptoms. Some treatable medical conditions can cause dementia symptoms, so it’s important to determine the underlying cause.


Dementia involves damage of nerve cells in the brain, which can occur in several areas of the brain. Dementia affects people differently, depending on the area of the brain affected.

Dementias are often grouped by what they have in common, such as the part of the brain that’s affected or whether they worsen over time (progressive dementias). Some dementias, such as those caused by a reaction to medications or vitamin deficiencies, might improve with treatment.

Progressive dementias                              

Types of dementias that progress and aren’t reversible include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease.In people age 65 and older, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia.

Although the cause of Alzheimer’s disease isn’t known, plaques and tangles are often found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Plaques are clumps of a protein called beta-amyloid, and tangles are fibrous tangles made up of tau protein.

Certain genetic factors might make it more likely that people will develop Alzheimer’s.

  • Vascular dementia.This second most common type of dementia occurs as a result of damage to the vessels that supply blood to your brain. Blood vessel problems can be caused by stroke or other blood vessel conditions.
  • Lewy body dementia.Lewy bodies are abnormal clumps of protein that have been found in the brains of people with Lewy body dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. This is one of the more common types of progressive dementia.
  • Frontotemporal dementia.This is a group of diseases characterized by the breakdown (degeneration) of nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, the areas generally associated with personality, behavior and language.

As with other dementias, the cause isn’t known.

  • Mixed dementia.Autopsy studies of the brains of people 80 and older who had dementia indicate that many had a combination of Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia. Studies are ongoing to determine how having mixed dementia affects symptoms and treatments.

Other disorders linked to dementia

  • Huntington’s disease.Caused by a genetic mutation, this disease causes certain nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord to waste away. Signs and symptoms, including a severe decline in thinking (cognitive) skills usually appear around age 30 or 40.
  • Traumatic brain injury.This condition is caused by repetitive head trauma, such as experienced by boxers, football players or soldiers.

Depending on the part of the brain that’s injured, this condition can cause dementia signs and symptoms, such as depression, explosiveness, memory loss, uncoordinated movement and impaired speech, as well as slow movement, tremors and rigidity (parkinsonism). Symptoms might not appear until years after the trauma.

  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.This rare brain disorder usually occurs in people without known risk factors. This condition might be due to an abnormal form of a protein. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease can be inherited or caused by exposure to diseased brain or nervous system tissue.

Signs and symptoms of this fatal condition usually appear around age 60.

  • Parkinson’s disease.Many people with Parkinson’s disease eventually develop dementia symptoms (Parkinson’s disease dementia).

Dementia-like conditions that can be reversed

Some causes of dementia or dementia-like symptoms can be reversed with treatment. They include:

  • Infections and immune disorders.Dementia-like symptoms can result from fever or other side effects of your body’s attempt to fight off an infection. Conditions such as multiple sclerosis that result from the body’s immune system attacking nerve cells also can cause dementia.
  • Metabolic problems and endocrine abnormalities.People with thyroid problems, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), too little or too much sodium or calcium, or an impaired ability to absorb vitamin B-12 can develop dementia-like symptoms or other personality changes.
  • Nutritional deficiencies.Not drinking enough liquids (dehydration); not getting enough thiamin (vitamin B-1), which is common in people with chronic alcoholism; and not getting enough vitamins B-6 and B-12 in your diet can cause dementia-like symptoms.
  • Reactions to medications.A reaction to a medication or an interaction of several medications can cause dementia-like symptoms.
  • Subdural hematomas.Bleeding between the surface of the brain and the covering over the brain, which is common in the elderly after a fall, can cause symptoms similar to dementia.
  • Exposure to heavy metals, such as lead, and other poisons, such as pesticides, as well as alcohol abuse or recreational drug use can lead to symptoms of dementia. Symptoms might resolve with treatment.
  • Brain tumors.Rarely, dementia can result from damage caused by a brain tumor.
  • This condition, also called hypoxia, occurs when organ tissues aren’t getting enough oxygen. Anoxia can occur due to severe asthma, heart attack, carbon monoxide poisoning or other causes.
  • Normal-pressure hydrocephalus.This condition, which is caused by enlarged ventricles in the brain, can cause walking problems, urinary difficulty and memory loss.

Go to for  more information.


It’s a Honey of a Story!

It’s a Honey of a Story

By Kristi Beck

A bountiful “bivouac” of bees came to Sydney Creek Memory Care on the afternoon of September 7th. A visitor alerted us to bees swarming high up in the jacaranda tree located at the front of the building.

Staff members Ann and Mike reached out to the San Luis Obispo County Agriculture Department who provided contact information for the Central Coast Beekeepers Alliance whose members are recognized for relocating bees. Within hours, botanist and beekeeper John Chesnut arrived at Sydney Creek equipped with a bucket pole and a collection box, but surprisingly without a bee protection suit. Chesnut is very comfortable doing what he does and says he is stung almost daily. “Like a lot of allergies, you either get worse or better. I just don’t react to stings,” replied Chesnut. He used lemon balm oil to attract the bees into a collection box and then transport them to his hives. Chesnut estimated that there were approximately 1000 bees.

A “bivouac” is a military term used to describe a temporary camp without tents or cover. In this case, it is when thousands of bees leave their home and set up a temporary location from which they send out scouts to evaluate potential nest sites for the Queen. Bees are generally docile during this process and that can last for 24 to 48 hours. They have neither young nor food to protect, and their defensive instincts are minimal.

Bees and other pollinators play a critical role in producing many of California’s agricultural products and in maintaining a healthy environment. Insecticides, habitat loss and parasites all threaten honey bee populations. Beekeepers are losing bees at higher rates and having to scale back on honey production. For bees to make a comeback, human help is needed. It’s easy to do your part in saving bee populations by planting pollination-friendly plants like the California poppy and using relocation instead of extermination.

The Value of a Robust Activities Program in Dementia Care

Dementia Care Settings Can Enrich Patients’ Lives

By Sandy Morris 

Many Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers feel guilty when making arrangements for a loved one to attend a daycare program or move to a memory care community. It is understandable that they would want to keep their family member in their home, but an important advantage of both of these settings is that they provide life enrichment programs specifically tailored to the needs of people with these diseases. Many of the elements of these programs can also be provided in a home setting, but it can require a lot of dedicated effort.

Gone are the days when treatments for dementia sufferers focused solely on their physical needs. These patients were basically warehoused away to wait for the end of their lives. However, we now know that people with various neurodegereative diseases can benefit from regular exercise, social interaction, creative expression, learning opportunities and spirituality programs.

Reputable care providers and facilities focus on all of these aspects in order to provide patients with the greatest quality of life for as long as possible.

Exercise for mind and body

Exercise is extremely important for individuals with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. People who engage in regular physcial activity ten to develop Alzheimer’s later in life, and a healthy routine can actually help slow the progression of the disease. Exercises are also an excellent way to relax and destress as well.

Adult day programs and assisted living facilities typically feature a wide array of physical activity classes. Options can range from a series of simple stretches and movements coupled with breathing techniques to chair yoga. This seated form of yoga is gentle and promotes physical and mental wellness. Participants can sit in a chair to do the poses or stand while using the chair for stability.

Exercise can also provide relief from many other health issues associated with aging, improve muscle strength and cardiovascular health, and reduce the risk of falls. Improved mood, confidence and self-esteem are psychological benefits of staying active also.

If you are a caregiver creating an in-home activity program for a loved one, try to select one that you can also participate in so you can reap these important benefits too. Be sure to check with your loved one’s doctor to ensure the exercises you would like to engage in are appropriate and beneficial for your loved one and yourself.

Cooking and dining

Cooking and food preparation celebrate the joy and pleasure that can come from making and sharing a meal. Besides the obvious importance of nutrition for older individuals, food provides a chance for socialization and an opportunity to reminisce about favorite foods, special occasions and traditional recipes. It is a wonderful way to stimulate the senses.

Day care centers and long-term care facilities often feature simple projects such as baking cookies or making lemonade. Some board and care homes offer residents the opportunity to help with daily meal preparation to the extent they are able. You can also structure some of your in-home cooking routines and recipes to accommodate the participation of your loved one. Everyone enjoys feeling useful and having a sense of purpose.

Simple kitchen projects and recipes are a wonderful way to help dementia patients stay engaged and participate in their care. Not to mention, a loved one who is a finicky eater is more likely to eat well if they have participated in creating their snack or meal.

Creative expression

Research has established that persons with Alzheimer’s and other dementias often experience a spike in creativity. Activities involving creative expression celebrate and encourage imagination involving the arts, poetry and music. Many adult day centers and care communities have an arts and crafts area with structured projects and regularly provide musical entertainment and even poetry readings.

The part of the brain that processes music remains intact in many individuals with dementia, and their reaction to music can be truly profound. Music is a popular way to calm an aggitated or confused loved one and connect with individuals who have difficulty speaking or communicating.

Educational opportunities

It was previously believed that people with dementia could not learn and retain information. Now we know that is not true and that even those who are severely forgetful can still enjoy the experience of learning. There are organizations like Active Minds, which deliver teaching on-site to senior communities that can be customized to each audience on compelling, timely topics. Other providers also offer adaptive computer technology for seniors that can challenge and stimulate cognition and learning with an easy-to-use interface. There are other ways to inspire and educate including reading to your loved one, providing them with audiobooks, or playing with specially designed flash cards and other modified educational equipment.

Spiritual connection

Spirituality has many different meanings for different people. For some, it is a connection with God, or a higher being. For others, it is an experience of awe, focused attention or mental discipline. Having a way to make a spiritual connection can enable a person to find inner peace as they navigate their journey through life. Identify your loved one’s preference, and help them to engage in life-affirming experiences.

Whether you would like to enrich your loved one’s life while in your home or you are considering adult day care or a memory care community, it is important to understand the programs they offer that are designed to enrich the lives of those with dementia. These options are not merely distractions or a method of entertainment. These facilities are specially designed to help our aging loved ones feel useful and involved in life. Matching your loved one’s needs and interests with offered programs can help you both feel confident in whatever type of care plan you choose.

[reprinted from]

How Smells Affect People with Dementia

Olfactory Stimulation and Dementia

By Kristi Beck, Executive Director, Sydney Creek Memory Care

At Sydney Creek, we recognize the importance of non-pharmacological therapy and person-centered, meaningful activities in the treatment of dementia.  Olfactory stimulation is a useful tool in addressing both goals. Scent, in the form of aromatherapy, can help elevate mood and reduce agitation, lower blood pressure and pulse rate.

Olfactory stimulation can be used to elicit positive memories and provide a sense of well-being.


Lavender is the most popular and widely used scent to calm feelings of anxiety, aggression and agitation.  In addition to lavender, we include Bergamot and Yuzu essential oils in our community.  Bergamot is a mood elevating and calming oil, also used to relieve insomnia. Yuzu essential oil has been used in Japanese culture for centuries.  It is a scent similar to mandarin or grapefruit and its crisp aroma can create an atmosphere that is refreshing, especially during times of worry and tension.

We deliver these oils by placing a few drops in a diffuser or massaging them into the temples of the head or dabbing them on the wrists.

Scents and Memories

Some believe that people with dementia lose their sense of smell or the ability to identify scents.  However, it is possible for a scent to trigger a memory without knowing the specific name of the scent and anything that can elicit a positive memory should be a part of the daily life of anyone living with dementia.  The scent of Coppertone® sunscreen can instantly transport a person to a relaxing day at the beach, without knowing exactly what the scent is.

A woman shared that scent of patchouli oil always brought her husband back to the summer of 1967 in the Haight Asbury neighborhood of San Francisco; a time when they were young and carefree.

In Sydney Creek neighborhood kitchens, or “hearts of the home”, residents experience comforting smells such as clean laundry and cookies baking.

The sense of smell is often overlooked in creating a personal history of a resident with dementia and providing items for their stay in a community.   Families and care providers should consider significant life events of your loved one and scents associated them. Memory Care communities can safely store products, and residents can access them with the assistance of a caregiver.  Follow the link for ideas on creating your own personalized scent library for your loved one living with dementia.




What Should We Feed Our Brains?

What Should We Feed Our Brains?


By Susan Stewart

As more and more Americans and people all over the world—24 million at last count—are affected by Alzheimer’s Disease, the search for a cure continues. And while we wait, we work hard to understand, care for, and reduce the suffering of those we love who have dementia. One of the elements being studied is nutrition, the hope being that what we eat can prevent, lessen, or postpone the onset of dementia, and help those already afflicted to have a higher quality of life.

Happily, the preponderance of research on the subject of nutrition and the dementias supports what most of us already know: that a healthy diet can and does help. As a person keenly interested in food, diet, and their relationship to health, I’ve been studying this topic for years. The literature seems to offer some new revelation every few months, often contradicting what came before it. Today we argue the merits of paleo versus veganism, gluten-free versus whole grains, organic versus processed, dairy-free or calcium-rich. It’s confusing, and frustrating. However, the one constant over many decades and across hundreds of experts is that fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and unprocessed meats and dairy are the mainstay of most healthy diets. The other constant is that we should avoid high sugar, white flour, processed, fast, and junk foods. And the same holds true for what we should be eating (and not eating) to either prevent or cope better with dementia.

A quick Google search revealed the latest studies, three of which provide the newest dietary guidelines for supporting brain health and coping with dementia: The National Center for Biotechnology Information, the Cleveland Clinic, and the National Institutes of Health.

Data from several lines of evidence suggest that the relationship between diet and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is similar to that between diet and coronary disease. Diets containing anti-oxidant nutrients, fish, dietary fats, and B-vitamins may play a protective role. Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oils) may hold the promise of prevention and treatment, though hard proof has yet been found. Diets that emphasize high levels of B vitamins, especially B12, are suggested, since their lack has been found to cause the kind of brain damage found in AD.

Put more simply, a diet like the Japanese or Mediterranean diet, or any diet high in fish, fruits, and vegetables but low in processed meats, white flours, fried and packaged foods are associated with a lower risk of AD. Nuts and seeds are high in the right kind of fats, especially flax and pumpkin seeds, which are easy to add to salads or cereals. Vitamins C and E are also useful. Coffee (in moderation) has been shown to be related to better brain health. That was great news for this coffee lover, especially because this statistic has not been contradicted in many years.

For a more definitive look at nutrition and brain disease, I humbly refer you to the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy, plus a very good book by Patrick Holford: The Alzheimer’s Prevention Plan.  Eat well, worry less, and look for pleasure in the little things!  # # #

Finding Happiness, Not Heartbreak, Among the Demented

Finding Happiness (not heartbreak) Among the Demented

By Susan Stewart

In a recent article (March 2018 issue of Harper’s Magazine) about caring for people with dementia, author and visiting nurse Sally Tisdale delves into the day-to-day world of real people suffering from the various myriad forms of brain disease. Offering us a rare glimpse of the highly individualized (and often mysterious) responses to their demented condition, Tisdale finds “… a world that is far more nuanced than the commentary surrounding it: there is grace here, rare intimacy, moments of startling clarity—and yes, happiness.”

“The stark fact is that dementia is incurable, progressive, and fatal, but … in the company of the demented, one finds peace and unquestioned love in at least as much measure as in the rest of the world,” she continues.

Where others see only loss and embarrassment and tragedy, “I see the riches: the brave, vulnerable, completely human work of figuring things out,” Tisdale explains. “People with dementia sometimes have a rare entrancement with their surroundings, a simplicity of perception, a sense of wonder.”

“The communal response to dementia seems to invite only existential despair,” she says. “Yet people with Alzheimer’s consistently rate their quality of life higher than their family members do. … people with cognitive impairments were no less happy than healthy people.”

Please read Tisdale’s piece in its entirety at  and hear the joy it offers to those affected and those who care for them. I think you’ll agree with her when she concludes: “What a wonder it all is, that we appear and abide and fade away and no one knows what follows.”

Celebrating Our Differences in Memory Care Communities

Celebrating Our Differences! Racial and Cultural Diversity in Memory Care communities

By Susan Stewart


As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day during the month of January, we are reminded of the long way we have come and the long road still ahead in achieving the kind of equality Dr. King dreamed of. A cursory glance at Memory Care communities across the nation tells us that while Alzheimer’s Disease does not discriminate along racial lines, the populations living in these communities remain predominantly white.

A Center for Disease Control (CDC) survey found that 91 percent of those living in Assisted Living Communities (and Memory Care is a specialized type of Assisted Living) were Caucasian. That’s a disproportionate number compared to the general population. As our aging population increases, it will be important to finds ways to mitigate this disparity, and ensure that all Americans have access to quality memory care. This is especially important as current research reveals that minorities may be at greater risk for developing dementia.

“As the population of the U.S. ages and becomes more diverse, the burden of dementia may be falling disproportionately on elderly minorities, both in terms of prevalence and severity.” (from The Impact of Ethnoracial Differences in Alzheimer’s Disease by Chin, Negash, and Hamilton)

The authors of the above study admit that the reasons for this are unclear but could include the following: That sometimes both diagnosis and treatment are delayed for minority populations due to social and cultural factors, beliefs about normal versus abnormal aging, lack of adequate access to medical care, and issues of trust between them and the medical establishment.

“I think the biggest piece of the puzzle for some African Americans and some Hispanics comes down to finances,” says Debra Carter of the National Caucus & Center on Black Aging. The entry fee alone can be prohibitive for many minority families, she says, let alone the often pricey monthly fee.

But economics alone does not explain it. Andrea Doherty, a Massachusetts-based senior living expert suggests that it might be as simple as geography. Many assisted living and memory care communities are being built in regions where most people (predominantly white) can support the monthly price tag of placing a loved one, as opposed to lower income inner cities (where a higher percentage of minorities live).

Perhaps the best place to focus our attention, both as professionals in the memory care industry and as consumers, is on each individual community’s ability to welcome and accommodate the wide variety of cultures, colors, and ethnicities growing old in America.

At Sydney Creek, residents reflect the larger community of San Luis Obispo, which is predominantly Caucasian. In the coming years, that demographic will change. Life Enrichment staff are well trained to be inclusive and welcoming to all colors and backgrounds. Recent surveys confirm that Memory Care as an industry is aware of the need to address its increasingly diverse residents, and is working hard across the board to ensure that its staff and communities can meet their differing social and cultural needs. # # #

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Caring for a loved one with Dementia or Alzheimer's is emotionally challenging—as is the decision to move them to a Memory Care facility. The Village at Sydney Creek is here to assist you with this transition. Our community in San Luis Obispo, California provides a knowledgeable staff and the necessary resources to make this step as smooth as possible—logistically, mentally, and emotionally.

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