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When a loved one becomes ill, it’s often the caregiver that suffers the most. It’s crucial for caregivers to take the time to focus on themselves, not only for their own quality of life, but to help themselves to be better caregivers for their loved ones. In the last episode of a series with TV personality Leeza Gibbons, Dr. Daniel Amen and Leeza discuss the role of the caregiver.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD and addictions.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information visit amenclinics.com.
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information visit brainmdhealth.com. Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We're doing Alzheimer's week with Lisa Gibbons, author, television personality, social entrepreneur, philanthropist and one of my friends who I adore.
Leeza Gibbons: That's my favorite part. Thank you.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I am so grateful that you're spending this time with me. So, as you know personally and your family knows because you've been devastated by Alzheimer's disease.
Leeza Gibbons: Yes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: What are some of the challenges families face and what have you learned personally, and then through your work helping other people? I mean, in The Brain Warriors Way, we actually talk about essence. It's why are we here? What is our passion, our purpose, our deepest sense of meaning? You really took this thing that was incredibly painful and have helped just tens of thousands of people.
Leeza Gibbons: Thank you. It was my lifeline though as you know, it was my salvation and it was a promise I made to my mother who just I didn't know what to do and I was fumbling with this pain. In the early stages she said, "Honey, you're a storyteller, that's what you were trained to do and that's what you're paid to do. All you have to do is tell the story." It was such ... She said, "This is now your story, so tell it. Make it count." That's where I started. Was to not be in such denial, to not be ashamed, to own our family story and that this is a tremendous part of my legacy. Not the getting Alzheimer's part because I have the benefit of knowing things about my brain that I can change the generations before me didn't know perhaps.
But to be able to take this experience and open it up. And I've been so blessed same with you on a much grander scale to be in contact with people who are so resilient and I think that family caregivers has become my calling. I looked at, what can I do? What's my seat at the table? I'm just me, what difference can I make and all those things we tell ourselves, right? While I didn't see a place for me in finding cures, that's up to the medical side of things. I can support research and raise money, which we do, but I thought, here's what we can really do. I looked at our family and I looked at how we fumbled through. We all went to our corners to deal with our pain in our individual way and we created in the world what we wish we'd had.
That was a place where family caregivers, husbands and their wives, the sons, the daughters could feel like they were seeing that somebody gets me, somebody knows what I'm going through. Where we could focus on helping people call on their courage and summoning their strength to know that you can hold on to you even while you're letting go of someone that you love. And that's really hard for people. So we look at education, we look at empowerment, we look at energy. Those three things. How do we connect people to resources in their communities to help with that? How do we connect them to their own strength? Most importantly for what we've been able to do since 2002 is, how do we connect people to each other so they can begin to feel more powerful, more confident, more competent in their journeys.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You get people helping people?
Leeza Gibbons: We do. A lot of people say, well ... Say for example support group, "I'm not the kind to join a support group. That's just not me." Okay, fine. Let's meet you where you are. But support can be an email with an anonymous person, a text with someone that you may never have to see face-to-face. It doesn't mean you have to join a group although when people do, invariably, they benefit from being in community with others who can share their stories and share tips and share things that work. When you're looking at the behaviors of people with Alzheimer's or the other dementias, they're very difficult. Sometimes combative, people can be nasty, they can bring out knives. It's dark and it's very scary at times.
So to know that other people have that experience, to understand what they did to deal with it. I remember being at a party with my mom and she was in the early stages. She was wearing this beautiful sequined gown and I couldn't find her. You know how people will wander and be distracted with dementia and I was panicking now, I couldn't find her. My eyes darted to the corner of the room where my mother had proceeded to take the dress off, and this gown is huddled around her feet at the floor. My mother's standing there in her bra and panties and I'm like, "Oh, my gosh." I swoop in and I'm pulling the dress up going, "Mom, what's the matter?" She goes, "This party is so boring. I'm ready to go to bed."
So there were those finding the humor and realizing that there were so many other people that saw that moment and they weren't shaming and judging and feeling sorry. They were saying, "Gosh, this happened to me. Let me tell you about when dad did this." So you begin to learn strategies and you begin to feel that you're part of the team and not so alone.
Dr. Daniel Amen: When you share from your pain, it's like there's a salve to that.
Leeza Gibbons: It is anointment that heals and soothes and that has full on benefits. You have your warriors with your brain programs and we have warriors of wellness. Because people who are caring are ... They're in the frontline.
Dr. Daniel Amen: They're in a war.
Leeza Gibbons: They're in a war.
Dr. Daniel Amen: There's no question about it.
Leeza Gibbons: Yes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Alzheimer's is clearly a war.
Leeza Gibbons: It is and you want to say, who's in my army? What's in my arsenal? What weapons do I have? And you have a lot of weapons beginning with taking your oxygen first and fulfilling yourself mind, body, soul and spirit and knowing that, that is the way.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You need to say that again.
Leeza Gibbons: Take your oxygen first. So before you put the mask on your child or your honey, no one wants to be that selfish person. It is not selfish. It is the best way to love and care for someone, is to first say, let me make sure that I'm as full as I can be, I'm as well as I can be, I'm nourished mentally, physically, spiritually. I'm taking care of my finances-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Because too often women in particular will not spend the money on themselves, they won't go to the doctor and make sure they're okay because they want to spend all the time, energy and resources but that actually makes everybody worse.
Leeza Gibbons: Better care for caregivers creates better outcomes for care receivers time and time again. And we have to remind each other of that and we have to help change the culture of feeling guilty and turning that into high five for you. That you ask someone, can you sit with mom? I'm at the end of my rope, I need to go take a hike. I need to take a bath, please don't knock on the door for 45 minutes. Can you please come cut the grass this week? Can you pick up the dry cleaning? Can you bring me a casserole? Because when someone says, "How are you doing? Let me know if I can help you." Have an answer for them. Great. Thank you. Here's how you can help. Write it down, give them a list. They want to help but they really don't know how.
Dr. Daniel Amen: They don't know and we have to teach people how to help us. The other thing that's happening with the caregiver is they're also grieving. Because they're losing the person even though they're not passed on, they've lost the person who they know. So there's actually a high incidence of depression among the caregivers. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean you need to take antidepressants, but addressing it is so critical and not being in denial. That it's sad. So having someone to talk to is important and then making sure you're taking fish oil. Because head-to-head studies, fish oil versus Prozac, fish oil is actually a little bit more effective.
You need to learn not to believe every stupid thing you, so we call it killing the ants, the automatic negative thoughts. Head-to-head again, antidepressants are equally effective. Like you said, you need to take a walk. 45 minutes, four times a week. And you need to walk like you are late because that has been shown head-to-head against Zoloft, equally effective at 12 weeks walking at 10 months beat the socks off Zoloft.
Leeza Gibbons: Isn't that amazing? And walking with a buddy, even better.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Even better. As long as you walk like you're late.
Tana Amen: Right. Like you're not having a really relaxed conversation.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, it's interesting. If you only can walk a mile an hour when you're 80, you have a 90% chance you will not live until you're 90. But if you can walk three miles an hour when you're 80, you have a 90% chance you will live until 90, and so move out.
Leeza Gibbons: Look at that. That's really inspiring, really inspiring. We have lots of great programs. Dr. Amen has told me that I need to do more hand-eye coordination as a preventive to help increase blood flow to my brain and grow my cerebellum and all the rest. We do a lot of line dance classes at Lisa's care connection and humor therapy and laugh therapy, and there is something that will make sense in your life that you'll look forward to and begin to put yourself back in the picture. So many times when we'll say, "How are you doing?" The caregiver will respond, "Well, she's had a rough week and we were at the doctor." As though you didn't even ask how you were doing. They don't even see themselves in the scenario at all. So that's a big part of what we tried to accomplish, is giving [crosstalk 00:11:22]
Dr. Daniel Amen: Laughter decreases inflammatory markers.
Leeza Gibbons: Bingo. There you go.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Did you ever read the book the Anatomy of an Illness by Norman Cousins? It's phenomenal.
Leeza Gibbons: Yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: He had an autoimmune disorder ankylosing spondylitis and was in great pain and he actually locked himself in a hotel room for like 500 hours with comedies and ended up not having the disease anymore. Wrote this best-selling book that has really impacted the way I think about patients.
Leeza Gibbons: Interesting. You and have talked before about music and we see a lot of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's who the common reaction will be, she can remember 30 years ago but not 30 minutes ago. Therefore, the music from 30 years ago is very beneficial to calm down the agitated behavior, to help you with those activities of daily living like feeding and bathing and things that are so hard for caregivers. So we started putting together customized playlists that remember that loved one is still a person. They still have preferences, they still have that recess of memories many of which are tied to music that can really help you manage their experience and give everyone better quality of life.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So before I have you tell people about Lisa's Care Connection, I want to tell you one of my beefs. When people go into a home or into a facility, they actually let them choose their own menu. And what they choose is simple carbs-
Leeza Gibbons: Mashed potatoes and gravy?
Dr. Daniel Amen: And spaghetti and dessert. What they're doing is they're actually accelerating the illness. That you can even in the later stages accelerate or decelerate the illness by the healing environment you put the brain in.
Leeza Gibbons: Even in the final stages.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Even in the final stages. Some people are going, I want to accelerate it and I don't blame them because there's just not a quality of life.
Leeza Gibbons: Let dad have the banana pudding for God's sake.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. And at that point, let him have it. If you've decided there's no hope for significant improvement, why fight? But if you're in the mild stages, at least for me, I'm fighting like heck. Even the moderate stages. I'm sorry, because I have to do one more beef.
Leeza Gibbons: I knew you couldn't stick to one beef.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So many people diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease don't have it.
Leeza Gibbons: Don't have it.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And no one's looked at their brain. So, Tana when I first met her, one of those sneaky ways I got her to fall in love with me. I've learned this, if you want a beautiful woman to fall in love with you, do something wonderful for someone they love. Her dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and they were actually estranged. When she found out, she didn't know what to do. And I'm like, "I know what to do. Let me see him." I scanned him and he didn't have it. He had this thing we call pseudo dementia, which is severe depression that masquerades as Alzheimer's disease, and six months later, he gave an all-day seminar at Mariners church.
He completely normalized. He ended up dying seven years later of leukemia in her arms, fully aware and it was just beautiful. You just wonder, I wonder, how many people who get diagnosed with dementia by a paper and pencil test and even they show normal atrophy for age on their MRI, and they've never had a functional scan and they're just operating on the wrong diagnosis? Okay, I'm done.
Leeza Gibbons: Some people are dehydrated, some people their thyroid is out of whack-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Some people are infected like Kris Kristofferson headlines are Lyme disease.
Leeza Gibbons: The Lyme disease. So that's one of my beefs too is people thinking, well, and they throw in the towel. They just say, well-
Dr. Daniel Amen: And they're throwing away lives and I'm not okay with that.
Leeza Gibbons: You say not only can it be delayed but sometimes reversed like changes in your brain that can be reversed, certainly prevented. But focusing on that being able to reverse things, it's very powerful for people.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah. So how can people find out more about Leeza's Care Connection?
Leeza Gibbons: Thank you. Our website is Leeza's, L-E-E-Z-A, leezascareconnection.org. We have a lot of supportive information online, we have communities on both coasts, we have a program that I love called HUGS, which stands for Helping You Grow Strong and it's peer-to-peer. It's what we've been talking about that people always come to us and they need help finding doctors and diagnostics and all the other side, clinical side. But they also need and want to find someone who understands what they're going through. So that's when we hooked them up with a HUG ambassador. So there are lots of ways that I hope we can help whether we have a center near you or not. So it's leezascareconnection.org and there's a toll-free number there too. 888-OK LEEZA.
Dr. Daniel Amen: 888-OK LEEZA.
Leeza Gibbons: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, I adore you.
Leeza Gibbons: I adore you back.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I'm so grateful you did this with me. I know our Brain Warriors will have loved it and I hope they check out Leeza's Care Connection.
Leeza Gibbons: Thanks, Dr. Amen.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Thank you for listening to The Brain Warriors Way Podcast. Go to iTunes and leave a review and you'll automatically be entered into a drawing to get a free signed copy of The Brain Warriors Way and The Brain Warriors Way Cookbook we give away every month.