Dementia Consulting, Coaching & Counseling for Individuals and Families

The Atwood Blog

Helpful Tips

Helpful Tips (2)

Friday, 05 January 2024 13:02

Red Wine, Dark Chocolate & Bach

Written by

When I suggest “brain games” many people cringe and say, “Well, I do the (insert your favorite word game here) every day.” Wouldn’t it be great if there were things we enjoyed doing or consuming that could help our brain health? Seems there are….Red wine, dark chocolate and classical music just for starters.

Red Wine

Resveratrol is an antioxidant found in red grape skins and seeds. It specifically helps brain health: to manage blood pressure and cholesterol reducing vascular dementia; after stroke; and in possible reduced incidence of dementia. Studies show resveratrol itself (which is found in red wine, cranberries, blueberries) has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and lipid-regulating effects. How much wine depends on which study you read. Some suggest one 4-ounce glass daily; another suggests one 5-ounce glass for women and two 5-ounce glasses for men daily.

Please remember that while there are some health benefits to drinking wine, there are also risks from excessive drinking. You should also check with your doctor to see if alcohol is contraindicated with your medications/health conditions.

Dark Chocolate

Over 90% of Americans planned to give chocolate during the holidays. Stats are impressive when it comes to chocolate. Globally, 16 billion pounds of chocolate are consumed annually, with the Swiss being the highest consuming country (25.5 pounds per person annually). Only 34% of Americans prefer dark chocolate, but that may change when people realize the benefits for brain health.

For many years, scientists have studied the flavanols in dark chocolate (although these antioxidants also are found in various fruits and vegetables). Many studies have touted the antioxidant benefits for all sorts of health issues, including brain health. Scientists have compared various levels of cacao in dark, milk and white chocolate. Dark has the most flavanols. But check your labels – 60% dark chocolate is the minimum you should target if you are eating it for the brain health benefits.

And then again, this may not be a regular treat. A more recent study reported by Consumer Reports (but not peer-reviewed) indicates that lead and cadmium levels are high in dark chocolate, with more negative outcomes than potential benefits. They suggest that 60-70%, and specific brands, have lowest heavy metals. Read more of the study here. It seems we should avoid more than 1 ounce per day, but if you’re concerned, definitely speak with your MD.


Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Mozart and Chopin are some of my favorite composers. And they are safe – no heavy metals (I know… ugh). Study after study has found improvements in all kinds of cognitive areas when Baroque music has been enjoyed. These include concentration, language, memory retention and retrieval. In fact, several studies found classical music improves neuroplasticity and neuron regeneration after damage. Furthermore, it also helps reduce stress, improve mood, relaxation and motivation. This one is easy to add to our brain health diets, without italicized fine print! Don’t worry about “in moderation” for this one. Enjoy fearlessly.

For years I have endorsed a combination of brain health strategies. A healthy, balanced diet, at least 80% of the time is the current recommendation from scientists studying the MIND Diet. Exercising 150 minutes a week, including aerobic and strengthening work, is also important. As a rule of thumb, what’s good for your heart is good for your head. Also be aware of environmental risks including smoking, pesticides and excessive noise which threatens hearing. And protect your head by wearing seatbelts, helmets and getting concussions assessed quickly. Adding healthy treats and great music enhances our quality of life as well as adds to our brain health regimen.


For more information, my favorite resources on this topic are the National Institutes of Health, National Institutes on Aging, National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the Alzheimer’s Association, and the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK. Please, for good health, be sure to check with your physician(s) before adding new foods/supplements or drinks to your diet.

Saturday, 11 November 2023 13:20

7 Things to Stop Saying to a Person Living with Dementia

Written by

Dementia can make it hard for people to communicate, and this can be upsetting and frustrating for them and those around them. However, there are many ways to help you support and communicate with each other. In the field of dementia care, we train staff members essential communication strategies for working with clients/residents. Family care partners can reduce negative reactions and improve quality of life by avoiding these 7 common communication gaffs.

  1. "Remember when...?" 

While it can be tempting to try and jog the memory of somebody living with dementia, this kind of question is often a reminder of memories lost. This can be a frustrating or painful experience, and there’s also no evidence that training the brain in this way will help somebody hold on to memories. That’s not to say you should avoid talking about the past, but it’s better to lead the conversation and allow the person to join in. 

Try this instead: 

Instead of posing a question, try leading with ‘I remember when…’ instead. That way the person can search their memory calmly without feeling embarrassed, then join in if they like. 

  1. "I've just told you that" 

Having to answer the same question several times can be frustrating, but repetition happens because the individual with dementia struggles to register new information and recall short term memories. There is little benefit to passing on your frustration to somebody with dementia, and saying ‘I’ve just told you that’ only reminds the person of their condition. 

Try this instead: 

Try to be polite and as patient as possible. It's important for somebody with dementia to feel they're being listened to and understood. Once asked (again) distract and redirect them to something they can focus on other than their question.

  1. "Your brother died 10 years ago" 

It’s very common for a person living with dementia to forget about a past bereavement or ask for somebody who has passed away. Reminding them of a loved one's death can be painful, even causing them to re-live the grief they've already experienced. Care partners’ responses may vary for different circumstances, but it's always good to show sensitivity and to address the underlying emotion. A person asking for a parent (for example) may feel unsure or unsafe.

Try this instead: 

It may be better to come up with another reason for somebody's absence, while at other times a gentle reminder is appropriate. In the later stages of dementia, trying to remind them that the  person has died is unlikely to work and is best avoided. I usually turn the question around to the person asking; “I’m not sure exactly, where do you think they may be?” and then ask them for help to engage in something you’re doing to help them feel safe and needed; “Well, until they get here, why don’t we polish some silverware.”

  1. "What did you do this morning?" 

Avoid asking too many open-ended questions as it could be stressful for a person with dementia and risk making them feel “crazy” or “stupid” if they can’t remember the answer. It’s better to focus on what’s happening in the present. Many of my clients say they are assessing if it’s a good day or bad day, which is fine. For general communication though, avoid these questions and give options based on their preferences.

Try this instead: 

Identify what they did and ask their opinion, such as, “I saw you reading the newspaper. I think the forecast is for rain tonight. Do you think they’re right?” You can also skip “what did you do,” and just tap into their “chit chat” skill, which remains intact until late stage. Rather than ‘what would you like to drink?’ you could ask ‘do you want tea or coffee?’ or more simply, ‘do you want a cup of tea?’

  1. "Do you recognize me?" 

It can be distressing when somebody with dementia doesn’t recognize you, but remember that the feeling is mutual. Asking the person if they know who you are can make them feel guilty if they don't remember, or offended if they do. 

Try this instead: 

The way you greet somebody with dementia might change depending on the stage of their condition – judge for yourself and keep it friendly. A warm hello would suffice, or it may help to say your name and relationship, keeping it light. “Hi grandma, it’s your favorite granddaughter, Pam.”

  1. "Let’s have a cup of tea now, then after that we can go for a nice walk and get lunch in that café you like in town."

Long, complex sentences can be difficult to grasp for somebody with dementia. It's difficult to process several ideas at once as cognitive abilities slow down, so it's better to give directions or instructions one step at a time. 

Try this instead: 

Use short, simple sentences as much as possible. Avoid speaking in loud environments and wait until you have the person’s full attention before you start a conversation. 

  1. "Do you need some help with that, sweetie/honey/dear?" 

Words like ‘sweetie’, ‘honey’ and ‘dear’ can be patronizing for people living with dementia. This is sometimes referred to as ‘elderspeak’ and can cause older people to feel infantilized. Also, research shows that elderspeak hastens the course of dementia – it makes them worse faster.

Try this instead: 

Always remember the person behind dementia. Using their preferred name is best. This helps focus and aids concentration too.

For individualized coaching on communication techniques and avoiding behavioral triggers, please contact Atwood Dementia Group at 860.798.0369.

Sign up for our mailing list to receive a FREE copy of our ebook and monthly newsletter "Alz You Need to Know"

Atwood logo
Atwood Dementia Group / Live Laugh Learn LLC