Memory Rescue by Dr. Daniel Amen (2017) – Book Review

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I am a geriatric mental health clinician, and frequently I am asked: “How can I improve my memory skills?” The usual recommendations from doctors are, “Exercise and learn new things.” I have been on a quest to find some other tips and tools that people can use to help improve or maintain their brain and memory functions as they age. This need has led me to try to find the perfect book to recommend to those who are looking for more information. “Memory Rescue” has some useful information but it’s not the book I was looking for.

I purchased a copy (Amazon) of psychiatrist Dr. Amen’s book “Memory Rescue: Supercharge your brain, reverse memory loss, and remember what matters most” which has a second subtitle, “The official program of the Amen Clinics.” The Amen Clinics are found all over the USA, and the services and programs offered there are to help people with various mental health and brain health concerns (such as memory loss, ADD, and traumatic brain injury).

This book starts out with 20 testimonials and reviews which is very impressive until I realized they were all from men. The male-dominated view about memory problems and the Amen Clinic program was very strong. The only female presence I felt was from Dr. Amen’s wife, Tana, which was very sparse. There were also a handful of case studies that were about females. As a woman reader and professional, I wish there had been a more balanced perspective.

The overall takeaway of this book, for me, was that this was a big advertisement for his Memory Rescue Program that he offers through his Amen Clinics and the MyBrainFitLife.com website. There were case examples of how his clinics help people, and there were lots of “SPECT” (single photon emission computed tomography) scan photos to “prove” it. Even after looking at numerous SPECT images, I still wasn’t 100% sure what I was looking for. I felt these images were a bit overkill.

Here in Canada, we don’t have access to Amen Clinics, and SPECT scans are reserved for those exceptional cases (which I am still not sure what those cases are.) We tend to favour CT, MRI and PET scans.

Ultimately I was looking for concrete tips on “how to improve memory skills” and “how to improve memory problems.” Amen’s program is intended to enhance your mood and memory skills using the BRIGHT MINDS risk factor approach, with each letter standing for a component of the “ultimate memory formula.” Blood Flow, Retirement and Aging, Inflammation, Genetics, Head Trauma, Toxins, Mental Health, Immunity/Infection Issues, Neurohormone Deficiencies, Diabesity, and Sleep Issues. There was quite a lot of repetition throughout the book, with the main recommendations being: Exercise, Nutrition, Nutraceuticals (and supplements).

On pages 28-30, you can take the “Amen Clinics’ Early Warning Signs Questionnaire.” Your score will provide you with a risk of “significant memory issues,” from low to high. Amen states, if you are at moderate to high risk, it is important to get a thorough medical evaluation.

This book brought up some new terms and concerns. Those including my need for nutraceuticals (which Amen sells on his BrainMD website), getting tested for the APOE gene (related to Alzheimer’s disease), an integrative medicine doctor (but doesn’t say where I can find one). He was heavy on the recommendation of Gingko Biloba (a natural supplement that has limited research evidence to help prevent memory problems, see GEM study). He was anti-marijuana use and wasn’t that clear on what the recommendation was for alcohol use (was it 2-4 servings a week or only 2?).  He suggests coconut oil is good for our brains, but I have read that it is not good for our bodies. There is a lot of reference to the Memory Rescue Diet, but it is not discussed until chapter 16. There are a lot of references to the Bible, which surprised me. He also suggested that “praying to release your worries and to rejoice over the good things around you can help reduce your risk of mental health problems” (p. 337).

Ultimately, as I mentioned earlier, I was looking for specific tips and techniques to help people improve their memory skills. The most helpful part of the book in this regard is found in Chapter 17 “Sharpen Your Memory––Brain Workouts for a Richer Life.” He provides a lot of suggestions of what activities can help strengthen the different areas of the brain such as playing Scrabble, completing crossword puzzles, and learning to play a new musical instrument. He suggests engaging in “map reading” without a GPS device. He’s a big fan of table tennis and other coordination activities, such as dancing, yoga, and tai chi. He says we should travel to new and interesting places and develop relationships with smart people. Music, especially classical, can enhance memory and cognitive function. Surprisingly, I didn’t find the instruction to “pay attention” to what we are doing, which I believe is an essential tip for being able to remember things in the first place. He doesn’t speak to word-finding difficulties, either, which is one thing a lot of older folks are initially concerned about.

The book is well-referenced, and he claims to walk the talk. The index is sub-par, and it could have been enhanced to make finding things a lot easier to find. Some of the reviews online of Amen Clinics state it is a very costly program. There is no mention of costs, but there is mention that the process of improving cognition or mental health often takes months. It’s assumed the program costs thousands of dollars. The MyBrainFitLife.com online program also has a cost, a yearly fee of USD 99. There are some free Brain Assessments (which I completed) which can help one decide on the level of risk one is at. If someone already has memory impairment, a caregiver or loved one will need to read this book as it tends to have some jargon and technical language, and there is lots to read and learn about.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Amen Clinic Memory Rescue Program. For specific information on brain health and tips for improving memory skills, Chapter 17 is where you want to start. If you believe in God or a higher power, this will also confirm your faith in how prayer and scripture can support your mental health. The book is somewhat repetitive, however, it drives home the main message––that having a healthy body means better chances for a healthy brain.

I’ll leave you with this: Amen provides hope––“Yet new research suggests that a ‘memory rescue’ program, like the one presented in this book, can dramatically improve memory and can prevent and sometimes even reverse some forms of dementia. Given how most doctors approach this issue, however, you cannot count on traditional medicine to rescue your memory.” (p. 4).

Angela G. Gentile, MSW, RSW (Specialist in Aging)

 

 

A Story of Cancer Survival That Will Touch Your Heart and Soul (and Funny Bone!) – Book review

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Brown Ribbon by Robbi Woolard

Psychologist Dr. Robbi Woolard is a survivor of a rare form of cancer. She was encouraged by two of her friends to put her experiences and thoughts into a book (eBook for Kindle). “Brown Ribbon” is part memoir, part self-help book and is written with a humorous slant (a story about a doctor and a commode made me laugh out loud!). She has an “incredibly strong faith” and her beliefs in God and heaven are referred to throughout the book. She is clearly not afraid of death and is a very brave and courageous woman. She believes accidents, illnesses such as cancer and other traumas are random events and no one is immune (no matter how well one lives their life).

Woolard writes in an entertaining, yet educational and inspiring tone. The book could have used some editing, however, the reader can forgive this oversight as she speaks in a conversational tone and the stories flow nicely. There are some repetitive themes, but overall it’s an easy and pleasurable read.

The warrior spirit in Woolard spares us the gruesome details of her anal cancer treatment. She gives the reader just enough information which helps one to imagine the suffering she experienced. She writes in a way that reassures the reader that although cancer and it’s treatment are difficult, the alternative is worse.

For those who want closure, they will find the last story of her post-anal cancer treatment to get a “colposcopy” a bit frustrating. The chapter called “Caving” does not provide the reader with the results of her biopsy, but Woolard states she hopes she had experienced the last appointment with that doctor (we can only hope along with her!).

In the final chapter, Woolard shares her own personal growth experience. I found this chapter called “Everything I Have Learned from Cancer” especially inspiring (as I am also affected by anal cancer myself). Many of her insights such as “setting new goals after cancer” and “improving connections with others” are very positive and uplifting. I can definitely identify with her lessons learned. She states, “As I age, I’ve begun to believe something that I’d never pondered in years past. I’ve always assumed that all of both the good and the bad that we experience culminate in who we become. Now, drawing upon many decades of both ends of the experience spectrum, I think all of it should be credited with making us richer, deeper, more complete human beings.”

A recommended read for those affected by cancer, especially newly diagnosed anal cancer patients, their families and survivors of cancer.

Get your copy – Brown Ribbon: A Personal Journey Through Anal Cancer and the Adventure it Entailed (2016) by Robbi Woolard.

Angela G. Gentile

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Angela G. Gentile  MSW, RSW is a clinical social worker and author of the book, “Caring for a Husband with Dementia: The Ultimate Survival Guide”, “A Book About Burnout: One Social Worker’s Tale of Survival” and the “Dementia Caregiver Solutions” app for iPhone and iPad. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba with her husband and has two adult children. She is creator of the Facebook communities – “Aging Well for Women” as well as “God, Cancer and Me.” For more information, visit: www.AngelaGGentile.com

 

 

 

I Kicked Cancer in the Butt!

I kicked cancer in the butt

I kicked cancer in the butt

I have had quite the encounter with cancer. I was diagnosed with anal cancer in May 2017 and went through chemotherapy and radiation treatment for six weeks. At three months post-treatment I am recovering nicely.

The good news is that I received results from my CT Scan and it is clear! I am now cancer-free! I am a survivor of cancer.

I kicked cancer in the butt! Literally and figuratively. It was a brutal and torturous treatment ordeal, but I am on the road to healing.

I started a new open Facebook page called “God, Cancer and Me.” I offer encouraging, motivational and inspiring posts. I share some of my thoughts and feelings, too. Please come join me there.

Blessings to you and yours.

Angela G. Gentile

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Angela G. Gentile  MSW, RSW is a clinical social worker and author of the book, “Caring for a Husband with Dementia: The Ultimate Survival Guide”, “A Book About Burnout: One Social Worker’s Tale of Survival” and the “Dementia Caregiver Solutions” app for iPhone and iPad. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba with her husband and has two adult children. She is creator of the Facebook communities – “Aging Well for Women” as well as “God, Cancer and Me.” For more information, visit: www.AngelaGGentile.com

 

 

 

A Prayer Shawl is a Perfect Gift of Comfort

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“It is a truly helpless feeling when a loved one has a very serious diagnosis, knowing she will have to endure brutal treatment as a result. Creating the prayer shawl was therapeutic for me. Putting my energy into knitting it, and thinking of her, and praying for her while I knit it, helped me feel I was doing something to help.” – Lynda

Early on in my cancer diagnosis, as I was awaiting treatment, I received a beautiful hand-knit blue shawl from a dear friend, Lynda. She packaged it up in a beautiful aqua-coloured gift bag and presented it to me one evening at church after we had attended Novena (a Catholic Church mass).

As I open the gift, I am awestruck by the beauty of the colours and the softness of the yarn. The blues, aqua and white are so heavenly to me. Colours are chosen for a reason. Lynda explained that she hand-knit it for me. In the card she gave me, the colours are explained:

“In Prayer Shawl Ministry, the colour blue signifies healing and spiritually; aqua – courage; and white – peace. Think of it as a hug from me whenever it’s by you.” – Lynda

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I used this shawl a lot at the beginning of my treatment and it comforted me. I felt the love and energy from Lynda, knowing she had put so much effort into it. The little beads at the ends were a pretty touch, too. Now, I keep it near me, and use it when I feel I need a little extra comfort or hug. I plan to use it when I attend church.

The information that came on the card from the parish reads:

“This shawl was made especially for you. It is a gift from the people of St. Paul’s. The crafter prayed for you while making it. When your shawl was completed, the members of the Prayer Shawl Ministry gathered in a circle and blessed it. May you find comfort and solace as you wear it. May it encircle you in God’s love and peace. Blessings” (The Parish Family of St. Paul’s, Fort Garry)

Lynda says that when she saw me “leaning into my faith” during a difficult time of tests, diagnosis, pain and treatment, she felt confident this gift would be well-received. She says not everyone turns to their faith when tragedy strikes. Some people get angry with God and turn away from their faith. That wasn’t the case for me.

Included in my gift was more info on the history and meaning of Prayer Shawls:

For it was you who formed my inward parts. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. Psalm 139:13

The word “shawl” first appears in the English language in 1662, and it is derived from the Persian word shal.

“Shawls have been made for centuries; they are universal and embracing; symbolic of an inclusive, unconditionally loving God. They wrap, enfold, comfort, cover, give solace, mother, hug, shelter and beautify. Those who have received these shawls have been uplifted and affirmed, as if given wings to fly above their troubles.” – Janet Severi Bristow, 1998

In 1998, Janet Bristow and Vicky Galo started the Prayer Shawl Ministry in Hartford, Connecticut. In only 7 years, the ministry had grown to over 900 groups across Canada and the USA, with groups sprouting in Great Britain, Australia, Philippines, South America, Greece, New Zealand and South America,

These mantles are called Prayer Shawls, not because they are to be ceremonially worn during prayer — But because woven into the miles of yarn are prayers for friends and strangers. Blessings are knitted into every shawl through every stitch, as needleworkers invite God’s bountiful blessings for healing, hope, comfort, gentle caregivers and peace of mind for the shawl recipients. Like a calming mantra, they are made of a 3-seed stitch, reminding us of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer; Faith, Hope and Charity; past, present and future; birth, death and re-birth; mind, body and spirit and so on. For those who receive them, the shawls wrap them in the prayer and love that is so much a part of each shawl created.

Information adapted from The Parish Family of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Fort Garry, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

I would highly recommend a Prayer Shawl as a gift to someone who is going through a difficult time. It has meaning way beyond the physical. There are many books written on the subject and if you check the Prayer Shawl Ministry website mentioned above, you will find lots of helpful resources.

Peace, love and hugs,

Angela

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Angela G. Gentile  MSW, RSW is a clinical social worker and author of the book, “Caring for a Husband with Dementia: The Ultimate Survival Guide”, “A Book About Burnout: One Social Worker’s Tale of Survival” and the “Dementia Caregiver Solutions” app for iPhone and iPad. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba with her husband and has two adult children. She is creator of the Facebook communities, Aging Well for Women as well as God, Cancer and Me. For more information, visit: www.AngelaGGentile.com

 

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What a Cancer Diagnosis Taught Me About Hope and Faith

 

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Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A cancer diagnosis in April 2017 has jerked my world. Just hearing the words “You have cancer” changed my whole perception of life. There are no other three words I have ever heard that have impacted me so greatly, in a negative way. My initial reaction was all about How do I tell the kids? Then it moved to I am not ready to die. I want to see Simone graduate. I want to grow old. I want to see my grandchildren. I became very sad and scared. I was mourning the loss of my future. I found myself not only turning to loved ones in my life but God.

My gut instinct was telling me to go to church. I saw the priest and he performed an “Anointing of the sick.” I cried as he did this. I also attended a “Spirit Room” where they pray for people’s healing. I went to Sunday mass. I went to Novena. Most times I had loved ones with me. I bought a Catholic prayer book. I wore a rosary bracelet, gifted to me by a dear friend. I prayed to God. I prayed for strength and courage to get me through. I asked the priest how I will get through this. He said, “Let God carry you.”

As I went through tests and learned about my treatment plan (chemotherapy and radiation), I continued to pray. I found myself questioning why this happened to me. I was a good person. I lived a healthy lifestyle. I read a book called, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” I read all kinds of books and articles on the internet. Articles written by people of faith. People who had cancer. I tried to understand why this happens in God’s world.

I started to question natural disasters. The year of 2017 has been the most tragic I can ever remember in terms of hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes and mass shootings. I questioned why God would allow this to happen. Many people pray for those who are suffering, grieving, ill and forlorn. We pray to God who we expect to make things better.

I have learned throughout my cancer treatment for anal cancer (which was torturous) that God has a plan. He has given us human will. He has not taken this away from us. There are tragic events that will happen due to malicious human will whether it be from mental illness or a criminal mind. As examples, the mass shootings or terrorist massacres are a direct result of human will. In addition, tragic events happen due to human error. God does not “will” these things to happen. But He gives us the strength and courage to come together to aid and comfort one another. He gives us the capacity to love and support one another.

When God creates such a magnificent world in which we live, we have to learn how to live with the natural events that occur. Severe weather patterns, the earth’s shifts, and other disasters such as widespread fires happen which I believe is beyond God’s control. We take the beauty of a rainbow, or a sunset, or in the tiny petals of a flower as signs of God’s creation and love for us. We seek God’s good as He is an all-powerful, loving God.

When illness or suffering strikes, I witness many people praying for God’s healing powers. There are faiths based on the Bible that believe God can heal. In the Bible it says Jesus healed those who were ill.

I believe that God gives the healers in our lives the ability to learn and use their God-given talents to help when one is sick. For example, when I went through radiation, I believe it was God working through the doctor who determined where to aim the destructive beams of radiation. I trust that the specialist did her best and that God helped guide her. I also believe that God was working with all the support staff, such as the radiation therapists, who ensured the proper administration of my treatment. This is an example of my faith.

The way my body responds to the treatment is all part of the bigger plan set out by God. I believe the plan is already designed. Praying for “health and healing” won’t matter because the determination of my fate has already be set. Instead, I HOPE for these things but accept what is meant to be. This belief helps me cope with the unknown. I focus on my day-to-day life and avoid thinking about my unknown future. I think about that infamous line in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done”, and find comfort knowing that my future is in God’s hands.

God helped me through my darkest, most traumatic times during my treatment. I pray for strength, courage, and patience. At times I called out for God to help me. The pain was so severe that one time I asked Jesus to help and I actually saw him standing by my side in his white robe. This was very comforting in the most painful time of my life.

When people pray for God to heal someone or themselves, some will be disappointed. Some people will not be healed, and they will succumb to their ailments. So if someone does not make it, does that mean God did not answer his or her prayers? Does it mean they did not pray hard enough? Maybe their faith wasn’t strong enough? This is where it gets difficult to keep the faith. It may leave people wondering why God did not answer their prayers.

I think the better way to go about praying for healing is to pray that the person has the courage, strength, and patience to get through whatever is happening and they don’t have to suffer too long. If it is God’s will that they suffer, we must remember that the reason for suffering may have an answer, or it may not. A priest I talked to even said sometimes we don’t know why some things happen. It’s a test of our faith, to know that God has a plan, and we need to accept it.

Encouraging people with cancer to “fight the fight” can also create the same kind of outcomes. If they did not “fight” hard enough – if they decide to “give up the fight” – does that mean they were bad or weak? We want to believe we have control over our health and our outcomes. We only have so much control. The rest is in God’s hands.

Hoping for a speedy recovery, hoping for the end of suffering, hoping for a positive outcome is what we all wish for. No one wants to see suffering. No one wants to lose a loved one. But if it is God’s plan that the outcome is other than what we hoped for, we need to accept it. How many times have we heard, “Now she won’t be suffering anymore.” “His pain is gone.”

Faith and hope are two concepts which are very closely related. I now understand the difference. Faith in an all-knowing, all-powerful God with a master plan helps me cope with my circumstances and what is happening to others who are facing adversity. He knows best. We can learn from these adversities. It usually helps us become more compassionate, and loving if we look for the positive in these situations. I actually admitted that having cancer and going through treatment was a gift. It has helped me become more understanding and compassionate towards those suffering or diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. I understand what “torture” is. I understand what depression feels like.

Hope is what we need to keep us going. Hope helps us sort out what is important to us and what we want and need in life. Hope is the belief in positive outcomes. It helps us cope and cling on to what we value and love. Hope is a way to show others that we care.

My faith is strong and will continue to be strong throughout my healing journey. I put my trust in God and will accept whatever His plan is for me. I will continue to hope for the end of suffering and many more years of health and happiness. I hope that I can see my daughter graduate from university, start a career (like my son Lorenzo has) and see my children get married and have children of their own. I hope that I can grow old with my husband, Agapito. God-willing.

Peace, love and hugs,

Angela G. Gentile

 

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Angela G. Gentile  MSW, RSW is a clinical social worker and author of the book, “Caring for a Husband with Dementia: The Ultimate Survival Guide”, “A Book About Burnout: One Social Worker’s Tale of Survival” and the “Dementia Caregiver Solutions” app for iPhone and iPad. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba with her husband and has two adult children. She is passionate about all things related to Aging Well. For more information, visit: www.AngelaGGentile.com

 

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