Information and Support for family caregivers

Types of long-term care

Types of long-term care

While “aging in place” has its benefits, it is expensive to get such individualized care. Plus, it’s rather isolating. Group options require a move, but are more social and cost effective.

  • Assisted living. People move to assisted living when they are ready to stop cooking, cleaning, and maybe even driving. They enjoy social activities but need more help than an independent retirement community might offer. Though not a setting for people with advanced dementia, a portion of assisted living residents may have memory problems.
  • Memory care. With activities specifically for people with significant dementia, memory care may be housed in a wing of assisted living or operate as an independent facility.
  • Skilled nursing or “rehab.” Geared for short stays—several days to several weeks—a skilled nursing facility can be thought of as a place to get stronger or learn to do things in new ways after a setback. Then you move to a more homelike environment.
  • Nursing home. This setting is a long-term version of rehab but for those with complex conditions who don’t need a hospital, yet aren’t independent enough for assisted living.
  • Continuing care retirement community (CCRC). This large “campus” offers all of the above and more. Move in while fully independent and able to enjoy the pool, golf course, etc. As care needs change, residents move to the different care buildings yet stay on the same property. Ideal for a couple when one needs more support than the other.

Let us help you understand the different options.
Give us a call at (208) 321-5567

Learn more about our aging life care planning services.

Home care

Home Care

Support is available for those who wish to stay at home. However, one-on-one care is expensive. And it’s not always easy to find caregivers. Community services can sometimes be patched together.

To stay at home, it helps to have a knowledgeable person check in periodically who knows eligibility requirements and can supervise and coordinate all the players.

  • Home care. People who do not need medical attention, but simply help with household activities, running errands, or light companionship, benefit from home care. The key to success is finding a good match between the caregiver’s personality and your own.
  • Adult day care. If someone is available for nighttime care of a person with dementia or light medical needs, then adult day care can provide engaging daytime activities, meals, and relief for the caregiver. Ideal for working families or a spouse who needs a break.
  • Home health. Patients are able to leave a skilled nursing facility yet continue receiving needed therapy through visits at home. This is a short-term service, ending when the patient has improved as much as can be expected.
  • Hospice at home. Hospice is for people with a life expectancy of up to six months who opt for improved quality of life over the hardships of treatment. Nurses visit at home a few times a week to monitor pain and comfort and to support families as nature takes its course.

Call us at (208) 321-5567 to start
the planning process for aging in place.

Learn more about our aging life care planning services.

Social Security and the newly single

Social Security and the newly single

Life has a way of throwing us curveballs.

The unexpected death of a spouse—or a divorce—can certainly wreak havoc on your emotions. It can also throw a wrench in your finances.

If you are age 62 or older, here are some Social Security basics to bear in mind as you regain your financial footing or make contingency plans.

Survivor benefits. If you find yourself widowed after at least one year of marriage, then you are eligible to receive monthly survivor payments.

Did you also work outside the home? If so, you can choose the higher of the two benefits: yours personally; or as a surviving spouse.

Before deciding, confirm the amount for each one for three points in time: collecting now; waiting until age 70; or at your designated retirement age (as determined by Social Security). While you cannot receive both benefits at the same time, you can strategically claim the highest one now and then switch to the one that becomes higher later.

Spousal benefits. A divorce does not erase the contribution you made to the household. As a formerly married spouse, you are eligible for Social Security benefits based on the earnings of your breadwinning partner. As long as you were married for 10 years or more, you have earned spousal benefits.

Receiving spousal benefits does not affect what your ex will receive from Social Security. What’s more, your ex does not need to know, give permission, or sign any papers. All you need to provide is the marriage certificate, divorce papers, and your ex’s full name.

If you were also employed and are eligible for your own Social Security benefits, investigate which benefit will pay more: now; when you turn 70; or at your designated retirement age. Unlike survivor benefits, you cannot switch benefits at a later date. Decide when is the best time to apply, and choose the larger amount.

It’s important to make a fact-based decision. The difference in monthly payments, added up over many years, could mean there are thousands of dollars at stake. There are many more details than we can cover here, including information about benefits in same-sex marriages. Consider working with a certified financial planner who can run the various calculations for you and suggest the wisest strategy. There’s too much to lose to depend on Social Security staff for detailed guidance.

Find yourself suddenly single?
Let us help you get reoriented. Give us a call: (208) 321-5567.

Learn more about our services for aging well.

What Services Do In-Home Caregivers Provide?

What Services Do In-Home Caregivers Provide?

In-home caregivers come to the home to help with activities daily living, such as light housekeeping, grocery shopping, meal preparation, medication reminders, and grooming. And while home health care aides can also provide personal care assistance, the opposite is not true (personal care assistants can not provide in-home health care).

Some of the options for in-home care and home health care services can be found below. 

Home Care Services

Personal care assistants do not provide medical care, but otherwise, care can be tailored specifically for each individual’s needs. Available services include: 

  • Assistance with ADLs
  • Assistance with mobility
  • Grocery shopping and meal preparation
  • Housekeeping and cleaning services, including laundry
  • Transportation to doctor’s appointments, social activities, and more
  • Companionship, social engagement, and cognitive stimulation 
  • Medication management (but not administration)
  • Respite for family caregivers

Home Health Care Services

Home health care aides provide more skilled medical care than personal care assistants. The care one receives will depend on their own medical needs, but available services include: 

  • Skilled nursing, first aid, and wound care 
  • Post-surgery recovery care
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Respiratory therapy and assistance with oxygen tanks and tubing
  • Assistance with maintaining and cleaning feeding tubes, catheters, and other medical devices
  • Medication administration, including injections 
  • Assistance managing and monitoring chronic conditions
  • Blood withdrawals

How Much Does Home Care Cost? 

According to the Genworth Financial Cost of Care Survey, in-home care costs about $24 an hour. That comes out to $1,950 per month for 20 hours of care a week, or $3,900 per month for 40 hours of care per week. Home health care is slightly more expensive at an average rate of $25 an hour. 

These figures are the national average, so average costs in your state or city may be quite different. For example, in Vermont, where senior care tends to be more expensive than the national average, 20 hours per week of in-home care costs an average of $2,362 per month, about $400 higher than the U.S. average. Meanwhile, in Louisiana, the same amount of in-home care costs just $1,463 per month, on average.

Financial Assistance for In-Home Care

It’s always an option to pay out-of-pocket for in-home care, but many people utilize some form of financial assistance to make the cost more manageable. Below are some of the most commonly used resources available to pay for home care. 

  • Long-Term Care Insurance: Standard health insurance will not pay for personal care assistance, but some long-term care insurance policies may. While long-term care (LTC) insurance policies are specifically designed to cover senior care, the exact coverage details can vary depending on several factors, most notably the age of the beneficiary when they signed up for their policy. LTC insurance oftentimes will not cover in-home care until the client needs help with at least two ADLs. Check the details of your loved one’s policy to see if in-home personal care assistance is a covered benefit.

  • Medicare: Original Medicare does not cover standard in-home care as it is considered “custodial care” and not medical. However, it may cover personal care assistance if it is delivered with home health care services from the same provider. Additionally, some Medicare Advantage and Medicare Supplement plans may cover in-home care services.

  • Medicaid: Medicaid does not cover custodial care, which includes standard in-home care. However, many states have some form of Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) waiver, designed to expand the state’s Medicaid benefits to cover additional services such as personal care assistance. Medicaid does always cover home health care for those who meet both medical and financial eligibility requirements.

  • Life Insurance: Though one’s life insurance benefit is intended to be accessed after they pass, in some cases it makes more financial sense to access the funds early and use the life insurance payment to finance long-term care. This may be in the form of an “accelerated death benefit” from the insurance provider, or you may look into selling the policy to a third-party for a cash payment. Look into the specifics of your loved one’s policy to see if this option makes sense for your situation.

  • Veterans Benefits: In addition to a VA pension, some veterans are eligible for the Aid and Attendance (A&A) benefit, an additional monthly payment intended to be used towards paying for long-term care. One of the eligibility terms is needing help with one or more ADLs, so most veterans in need of in-home care will likely qualify. You can learn more about the benefit and apply directly on the VA website, or apply in person at your local VA office.

  • Reverse Mortgage Loans: Reverse mortgages are a loan that one can take against the value of their home, essentially converting part of their home’s value into a cash payment while they continue to live there. The only federally-insured, and thus most reliable, form of a reverse mortgage is the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), available to adults age 62 and over to help finance long-term care or other expenses. No matter which type of reverse mortgage one chooses, the loan will need to be repaid with interest once the home is eventually sold. 

Source: Caring.com

THE ART OF ACHIEVING BALANCE

While we all know there is no such thing as a unicorn, that does not stop us from writing stories, creating cartoons, and other fairy tales about them.  Nor is there concrete evidence that the Loch Ness Monster exists, and yet that tale persists. I have a friend who believes that he has seen Sasquatch. I would also add the concept of Time Management to this list of things that do not exist, yet people continue to dwell on it.

I firmly believe that time management is an illusion that a great many people pursue, but like a cloud in the sky, can be seen but never touched. I state this as an affirmation because I know that time simply cannot be managed. We can prioritize and micro-schedule, but we all receive the same 24 hours each day, the same 168 hours each week. Sixty seconds to each minute, sixty minutes to each hour. It is a law, and like all laws of nature and man, needs to be respected. Success follows when we are obedient to laws over which we have no control.

I recently had a conversation with a producer who spent twenty five minutes lamenting at how poor he is at time management. After listening to him ramble (his choice of words) for those twenty five minutes, he ceased, and it was my turn. I immediately pointed out to him that he had referenced ‘time management’ some seven times in those twenty five minutes, and that he should not be so self-deprecating because of an inability to manage something as illusory as time. I shared with him that we have as much chance of managing time as we do of touching a cloud. Just last week, I sat on the modern miracle of jet planes, looked out the window at approaching cloud banks, and realized that as we were flying into them and through them, that there is never any tangible contact. Yes, there is condensation on the outer surface of the plane, but for the passengers, it is largely an illusion.

At the conclusion of my agent session, I made that suggestion to him that rather than attempting to manage something that is simply unmanageable, that he would be better served if he focused his efforts to achieve happiness and success by attaining balance in his life, and being proactive rather than unbalanced and reactive.

A series of conversations with this same producer as well as several others led me to share that achieving balance in one’s life is really a series of choices that we must make every day, to wit:

  • It is about organization, not about making excuses.
  • It is about exercising discipline and being diligent.
  • It is about avoiding a state of inertia and rising above it.
  • It is about prioritizing our activities, not managing the time.
  • It is about never uttering “I’m sorry” when it comes to owning your business.

A long term care advocate can be successful by working an honest 40 hours per week. Yes, you heard it right. Not sixty or eighty hours, but only 40. An honest, yes, there is that word again, forty hours WILL make an advocate successful at the Leading Producer level if he or she employs the above tools.

  • It is about working smarter not harder.
  • It is about creating and maintaining balance in the various spheres that comprise our lives — family, professional, personal, spiritual, physical, recreational.
  • It is about maximizing — not managing — the 168 hours that we are granted each week.
  • It is about focus.

Some life lessons gleaned over the years.
More than a few years ago, I learned “Focus on everything is focus on nothing.” You simply cannot spread yourself so thin and expect to remain focused enough to accomplish anything at a level equating to success. That is a formula for mediocrity.

Second, what is your time worth? Only you can assess this and assign a value. It is important to remember and to discipline yourself so as not to chase meaningless opportunities.

Third, it is about answering the question: “Am I investing my time, or merely spending it?” Time invested in an activity such as reading to your grandchildren or family history and genealogy would surely trump the time spent playing Fortnight or spending hours on Facebook or Pinterest. Sorry, I am neither a gamer nor a social media junkie.

Simple math:

  • 40 hours of work (five 8-hour days or 4 10-hour days — it does not matter) broken down as follows:
    • 4 hours education (workshops, webinars, conference calls, self-study)
    • 5 hours marketing
    • 8 hours scheduling appoints
    • -20 hours of appointments
    • 3 hours of administration
  • 49 hours of sleep (achieving the optimal 7 hours per night)
  • 6 hours of physical exercise (six 1-hour sessions Monday-Saturday)
  • 7 hours of personal spiritual time (1 hour daily – scriptures, prayers)
  • 3 hours of church worship
  • 7 hours of service (extended family, neighbors, friends,)
  • 14 hours of recreation (2 hours daily).
  • 8 hours date night with significant other (Friday and Saturday)
  • 21 hours of family time (for those who do not have immediate family, this could be phone, Skype, FaceTime, letter writing, etc.)
  • 4 hours of maintenance and housekeeping

Leaves a reserve reservoir of 9 hours, and we were generous with some of the above allocations.

These categories can be combined; a family activity that involves hiking or skiing would encompass family time, recreation, physical exercise, etc.

You work for yourself, which means that you are primarily accountable to yourself. To this end, the first question that you must ask, and answer is “Would you have hired you in the first place?” Follow up questions should then include, “Are you measuring up?” “Would you not fire you based on your current performance if it was coming from someone else?”

Remember that when performance is measured it improves. When it is measured consistently, it improves exponentially. So, stop managing something that is not manageable and focus on the greatest resource you have in your possession: YOU.

“All good performance starts with clear goals.” – Ken Blanchard.

Source: Age Gracefully America  Written by: Don Levin

Getting the most from video chat

There is no doubt that video chat tools such as Zoom, FaceTime and Amazon Echo Show have made the isolation of older adults much more bearable. While not the same as an in-person visit, video chatting has been demonstrated to reduce depression in older adults by 50% when compared with other forms of connecting.

Video chatting with grandchildren is an art. Keeping their attention is a challenge, along with finding a “good time” to talk. Here are some tips you may want to go over with your loved one to help make video visits a positive exchange for all involved:

The physical environment. Pick a spot where the lighting is in front, not behind. “Backlighting” creates more of a silhouette, making it harder to see faces. Reduce background noise. (Turn off televisions. Move to a quiet room.) Mount phones or tablets on a tripod to free up both hands for gestures or showing off objects.

Create a routine. Make storytime with grandpa a regular activity before bed. Or maybe have grandma call while you are cooking dinner so the kids are entertained while you prepare the meal. Agree on a mutually convenient time that works for all three of you.

Prepare for the call. As the parent, ask your child what they want to share with grandma or grandpa and bring it to the phone station. Before handing the phone over to your child, give your parent a quick run down of interests in the last hour or day so they can be sure to inquire about activities that are top of mind. As the grandparent, have a favorite book or object at the ready that you want to share in return.

Bring out the inner hambone. The joy of video chats comes in the ability to interact. Kids love movement, silly faces and gestures that can be done together. Babies enjoy patty cake and peek-a-boo on video. And blowing kisses. Older children enjoy activities such as “Freeze Dance”—like musical chairs except the players freeze like statues until the music starts again.

Start with short, 5 minute visits. Work up gradually to longer visits as you all get used to this new medium.

Will we ever hug again?

Hugs are more than a symbolic display of affection.

They have actually been shown to release oxytocin, the bonding hormone, which calms our nerves and reassures us that we are loved and we belong. Like everyone, older adults have a basic need to hug and be hugged. And grandchildren are often the joyful purveyors of sweet, soul nurturing embraces. One reason hugging is so dangerous now is that close proximity means we breathe into each other’s air space. Since the virus is spread by tiny droplets in aerosol form, face-to-face hugs are especially risky.

Imagine that every exhale is like smoke. It wafts in the air, even from children, dissipating gradually over time. You can see why we wear masks! According to aerosol specialists at Virginia Tech, there are things adults can do—and teach children to do—so that grandma and grandpa may feel safe enough to be back on the hug circuit.

  • Always wear masks. They seem to protect both the wearer and the person on the receiving end of the hug.
  • Keep your hugs brief. 10 seconds, and then step away to a six-foot distance.
  • Look away from each other. Head-on or cheek-tocheek hugs put you right in each other’s jet stream. Instead, turn your heads so you are facing different directions.
  • Hold your breath. From the time you approach to the time you step back. Another reason or cue to keep the hug short.

A hug around the knees or waist from a little one is fine. The adult should turn their head away so they aren’t breathing down on the child.

An affectionate kiss on the back of the head is also relatively safe. Hold your breath and try not to exhale until you are appropriately distanced again.

Source: Dee Childers, Life Changes Elder Care, LLC

Grandparenting in the time of COVID

“COVID EXILE”

The “COVID exile” has hit older adults particularly hard, adding isolation and depression to their high risk of dying from the virus.

This is especially so for the 70 million grandparents who have suddenly been cut off from their grandchildren, a major source of joy and affection.

Not only are daily lives diminished, but time is ticking. Children grow and change. No contact means missing out. And many older adults, especially those already in frail health, fear they could never see their grandchildren again.

If quality of life—having access to true delight—is more important to your loved one than safety, consider together the relative risks of in-person contact. Here are some guidelines:

Maximize safety. The safest are short visits, preferably outdoors, with masks, handwashing, and maintaining a six-foot distance. As bad weather increases, indoor visiting may be necessary. But it increases the risk. The fewer the number of people and the larger and more ventilated the room, the safer the visit.

 Health and age of the older adult. Those over 85 are most at risk. The CDC reports added risk for those with cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, diabetes (Type 2), heart disease, obesity, sickle cell anemia, and compromised immune systems. Asthma and high blood pressure also increase the risk of getting sicker with COVID.

Health and exposure of the child. What makes interacting with grandchildren risky is that they can be infected without showing symptoms. Absolutely forego a visit if the child has a fever, sore throat, cough, runny nose, headache, diarrhea, vomiting, or body aches. Children can bring other illnesses, such as cold or flu. Make sure they are current on their immunizations. Children are typically exposed to more people. If a child is attending in person school or day care, a visit is riskier than if a child has had little to no outside contact in the previous 14 days. Children are also less able to follow guidelines. Social distancing is hard for all ages, especially teens. Masks are impractical with children younger than two years.

Is travel required for a visit? If so, check out the viral transmission rates in both communities. If one is high, reconsider the visit. Avoiding airports is wise. Car trips are safer. But hotels, restaurants, and public restrooms require extra care. Consider quarantining for 14 days before the journey so everyone’s exposure is low. A negative test before a visit may ease anxiety, but a test is only a snapshot in time. A person can get infected an hour later.

Source: Dee Childers, Life Changes Elder Care, LLC

BALANCING FEAR WITH KINDNESS

BALANCING FEAR WITH KINDNESSThere are many things to fear in our world today, the most recent being the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus around the world.  But, recent events in my neighborhood completely unrelated to coronavirus reminded me how just easily our fears and biases can cause us to overlook concern for the welfare of others.

I live in a community that is known for kindness and a history of taking care on one another.  Unfortunately, a few criminal events rooted in domestic violence over the span of several months had our very close-knit neighborhood on edge (and the neighborhood Facebook page on fire).  Every “stranger” in the environment became a suspect with unusual sightings reported (and commented on) in great detail.

With this as background, it is no surprise that when doorbells rang unexpectedly at 1:30 in the morning, people responded with fear.  Most people admitted to not opening the door to a stranger in the middle of the night.  The few people who did open the door reported that a menacing-looking middle-aged man dressed all in black said he had lost his phone and asked to come in to use a phone.   He was turned away from multiple houses who reported a fear for the safety of their family.

As it turns out, the man ringing the doorbell was the mentally challenged father of a family who had just moved into the neighborhood.  He had left the house without his cell phone, had gotten lost, and he was himself panicked and afraid.  Gratefully, his daughter found him and was able to return him safely home – but not with the help of our usually kind and generous neighborhood.  Part of the reason people responded as they did was because this man did not “look like” the typical person in need.

I like to believe that had he been a young child or an obviously senile older adult that we would have been more responsive as a community. But, it WAS the middle of the night, and I have still instructed my teenage daughter to NEVER open the door in the middle of the night to a stranger no matter what the circumstance.  So, as a family, we have also discussed that we should have called the non-emergency number for our local sheriff’s department to request a welfare check on the stranger.

We immediately jumped to the fear-based conclusion that the stranger was up to no good when, actually, he was a fellow human in need.  We overlooked the fact that there are options available to safely balance the concern for our own welfare with the responsibility to extend kindness to a stranger.  It never occurred to us to request a welfare check in this kind of a situation, but I have been assured by several local law enforcement agencies that they would have viewed this as an appropriate use of services and would have been happy to come out to ensure the well-being of everyone in our neighborhood as well as the stranger in our midst.

So, whatever your position on the necessity to stock up on toilet paper and bottled water in the face of the current coronavirus pandemic, I hope we all remember to stock up on an extra supply of human kindness.  I have no idea what unexpected needs might present themselves in the coming days, but I plan to do what I can to help my friends, my neighbors and strangers as we navigate this uncharted territory together.  After all, I didn’t stock up on extra toilet paper, and now the store shelves are empty.  So, I hope that one of my neighbors will come to my rescue if we have a toilet paper emergency at my house.  Be safe and be kind!

Written by: Darra Wray

Darra Wray is a Care Consultant and Certified Senior Advisor with My Care Companions in Boise, Idaho, a company she founded to streamline and simplify the administrative side of care.  You can learn more about My Care Companions and the My Data Diary+ family information management software tool at www.mycarecompanions.com.

 

Alzheimer’s and Dementia Research: Five Things We Learned in 2019

It has been a remarkable year in the field of Alzheimer’s and dementia research. As 2019 comes to a close, let’s look back at the innovative and meaningful insights we gained into the causes, risk factors and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. 
Alzheimer’s and Dementia Research: Five Things We Learned in 2019Here are our five takeaways:

Blood Tests = A New Reality On the Horizon
Ten years ago, a blood test for Alzheimer’s was wishful thinking, but not so today. Researchers are actively working to develop a simple blood test that can detect signs of Alzheimer’s both early and accurately. We learned that blood tests are easier to administer, less invasive and more accessible and affordable than many technologies currently available for Alzheimer’s research and diagnosis. 
 
Once these tests become available in doctors’ offices, they may also play a role in early detection. This would give families affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia more time to plan for the future and get needed care and support services.
 
Lifestyle Matters
Research reported at the 2019 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC), where researchers gather to share learnings and knowledge, suggested that making multiple healthy lifestyle choices may decrease dementia risk. This includes eating a low-fat, high vegetable diet, not smoking, getting regular exercise and engaging in cognitive stimulation.
 
Researchers also learned that intensive high blood pressure treatment can significantly reduce the occurrence of mild cognitive impairment, which often leads to dementia. Learn more about lifestyle research reported at AAIC 2019.
 
Sensory Impairments in Older Adults May Increase Risk

New research suggests that vision and/or hearing loss, common in older adults, may increase risk for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s, especially when someone experiences both. While more research is needed, sensory impairment screening by clinicians may help identify older adults at higher risk of developing dementia, which could mean that preventing or correcting these common impairments may help to reduce risk. 
 
Alzheimer’s Differs in Men and Women
Although two-thirds of people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States are women, scientists still aren’t exactly sure why. This year, researchers uncovered more learnings, including a number of differences in risk and progression of Alzheimer’s between women and men, which include specific sex-based differences in how Alzheimer’s may spread in the brain. Learn more about this research out of AAIC 2019.
 
Researchers Are Looking at New Alzheimer’s Drug Targets
As of 2019, more than 500 new potential drug targets have been identified, which address everything from reducing inflammation in the brain to protecting nerve cell health. The Alzheimer’s Association’s Part the Cloud initiative awards scientists with grants that help fund this type of cutting-edge research. This allows new findings to move from labs through clinical trials and into possible therapies for the millions affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Thanks to increased research funding, researchers are poised to uncover even more findings in the years to come. Stay tuned for our look at where research is heading in a new post in early 2020.
 
As the largest, private, non-profit funder of Alzheimer’s and dementia research, the Alzheimer’s Association leads, convenes and accelerates research in order to create a world without Alzheimer’s and other dementias. 

Source: Alzheimer’s Association

5 COMMON CAUSES OF BRAIN FOG

5 COMMON CAUSES OF BRAIN FOGYou need to stop by the grocery on the way home from work for two gotta-have items. One of the items is coffee, but you can’t think of the other one to save your life.

Every time you sit down to do that report for work, you can’t seem to focus and make any real progress.

Better wait to walk to the end of the driveway to get the mail because your neighbor, that you’ve only lived beside for five years, is in his yard, and you don’t remember his name.  You know you know it, but your brain can’t seem to reach it.

Sound familiar?
Even though you may feel like you’re losing your mind, it could just be a bit of brain fog. Thankfully, you can take steps to clear up the haze after you figure out what’s causing it.

What Is Brain Fog?
Brain fog is not a medically recognized term or diagnosable condition. It’s a common phrase used for a myriad of symptoms affecting your ability to think. Brain fog can include things like memory problems, lack of mental clarity, and an inability to focus, and put thoughts into words. Some people describe it as mental fatigue.

You know – the kind of mental exhaustion where you tell yourself if you can just make it to the weekend, you’ll get some rest. That should help. Next week will be easier. The problem is that when the weekend rolls around, there are a gazillion more things to do and stress about. So, you end up not getting the much-needed rest. Or if you do, it doesn’t seem to help the problem in the slightest.

That’s because to resolve brain fog, you have to figure out and address what’s causing it. 

On a cellular level, brain fog is believed to be associated with high levels inflammation and changes to three primary hormones: dopamine, serotonin, and cortisol. One theory behind the underlying reason for brain fog symptoms is that higher levels of inflammatory molecules, including adipocytokines and histamines, stimulate microglia activation.

Five Common Causes of Brain Fog
According to one study, the most commonly reported brain fog triggers were fatigue, lack of sleep, prolonged periods of standing, dehydration and feeling faint. Sometimes, a trigger can’t be avoided. However, if brain fog is an ongoing issue for you, taking a look at and adjusting your lifestyle habits might be warranted.  Let’s look at some common causes:

1. Stress
In the short-term, stress can make you irritable, anxious,  distracted and forgetful. Over time, elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, can chip away at your physical, mental and emotional healthChronic stress actually damages your brain.  Stress shrinks dendrites, kills neurons, and prevents new cell growth in the hippocampus – essential to memory. While it’s doing all that, it causes your amygdala, the fear and emotional center of the brain, to increase size and activity. This makes it harder for your brain to learn new information and remember it.

2. Lack of sleep
Sleep deprivation can have serious short-term and long-term consequences for your overall and brain health. After just one night of skimping on sleep, the results can be seen in delayed reaction times, glucose levels, mood, headache, impaired memory, and hormone balances. Recent research shows that not getting enough sleep may even shrink your brain. You’ll want to aim for eight to nine hours of sleep per night. But don’t forget, quality matters too.

3. Diet
Diet can also play a role in brain fog. When it comes to your brain, you literally are what you eat. What goes into your mouth has everything to do with what goes on in your head. You have a “second brain,” the enteric nervous system, in your gut which communicates with the brain in your head.

To get the most brainpower out of your diet, you will want to include fatty fishes, foods with probiotics, whole grains, leafy greens and lots of lean protein. If you’re missing essential vitamins and minerals, your brain function will reflect it. For example, a vitamin B-12 deficiency can bring about brain fog.

Also, food allergies and sensitivities can make your thinking fuzzy. The most common culprits are:

  • Processed meat (sodium nitrates)
  • Dairy
  • MSG
  • Alcohol
  • Artificial sweeteners

Dehydration can also contribute to sluggish thinking.

4. Hormonal Changes
Hormonal changes can also trigger brain fog. The brain and entire body rely on a complex symphony of hormones that work to keep one another in check. So, when levels of one hormone fall too low or climb too high, your whole system, including brain function, can be thrown off.

For example, levels of the hormones progesterone and estrogen increase drastically during pregnancy. This change can affect memory and cause short-term cognitive impairment. Similarly, a drop in estrogen level during menopause can cause forgetfulness, poor concentration, and cloudy thinking.

5. Medications and Medical Conditions
Brain fog is a common side effect of many drugs. If you notice symptoms upon taking a medication, talk with your doctor. Lowering your dosage or switching to another drug may alleviate the problem. Brain fog is a well-known side effect of chemo and is referred to as chemo brain.

Medical conditions associated with inflammation, fatigue, or changes in blood glucose level can also be the cause of mental fatigue. For example, brain fog is a symptom of:

  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • fibromyalgia
  • anemia
  • depression
  • diabetes
  • hypothyroidism
  • autoimmune diseases such as lupus, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis

Diagnosis and Treatment of Brain Fog
No matter what you think is causing your brain fog, it’d be a good idea to get checked out by your doctor. However, there isn’t one test specifically for the condition. When you get to your doctor’s appointment, you can expect to have a regular physical examination with some follow-up questions.

Your doctor may feel additional blood work is necessary to rule out the brain fog being a symptom of a more serious issue. Blood work can identify the basic health markers, glucose levels, nutritional deficiencies, organ function, hydration, and more.

Your doctor can then suggest possible solutions to implement based on the exam, questions, and tests. Treatments are different depending on the determined cause. Your physician may advise you to get more sleep, switch medications, start taking nutritional supplements, or something else. You may need to try out different treatments before you find one that works for you.

Conclusion
Brain fog is an annoying symptom that can arise for a wide variety of reasons. It may feel like you’re going to be stuck in that sleepy mindset forever, but there are plenty of ways to wake your brain up. Try out different treatments until you find one that works. Then, make adjustments as necessary to prevent the condition from returning. One day, you’ll clear away the fog, and the sun will shine again!

Contributing Author: Kayla Matthews writes about wellness, productivity and stress in the modern world for websites like Make Use Of, BioMed Central, and The Huffington Post. To read more posts from Kayla, subscribe to her blog, Productivity Theory.

Source: The Best Brain Possible with Debbie Hampton, Author | Writer | Online Marketer, at: CLICK HERE.

Debbie Hampton recovered from a suicide attempt and resulting brain injury to become an inspirational and educational writer. She is the author of Beat Depression And Anxiety By Changing Your Brain and a memoir, Sex, Suicide, and Serotonin, being re-released next month. Debbie writes for The Huffington Post, MindBodyGreen, and more. On her website, The Best Brain Possible, she shares information and inspiration on how to better your brain and life.