During May 2022, I had to step back because life became a whirlwind of emotional and physical challenges. When life happens in increments of highs and lows, it is easy to ride the waves of highs with smiles and then fight for air as our head dips under when life comes crashing down. My daily routine includes time to meditate, but when life started crashing down, I included even more time to reflect. Those were the moments I could finally see patterns emerge to reveal a caregiver pattern of situational depression which then revealed a health condition and confirmation once and for all that Mom's preventable demise will not become mine someday.
Let me roll back to December 2021 when I had Mom admitted to hospice for the first time. I became laser-focused on her daily changes and tried to work with her current assisted living caregivers, who only made me feel heartbroken by the day. I tried to lessen the heartbreak and advocate for her by staying engaged. The caregivers on staff at this particular community were overwhelmed with an outrageous resident-to-staff ratio of 16:1. All the good caregivers that were worth their weight in gold left to find greener pastures. This type of turnover has become the post-Covid world for professional caregivers and nurses.
Mom's decline suddenly went from every 4 to 6 months to every 3 to 4 weeks. I was shocked and fought it every step of the way. Then as I learned what questions to ask the hospice and community staff, I realized why Mom's decline was progressing. I felt stuck and hopeless once again because I knew the only way to fix this was to move Mom to yet another community. The problem was when I brought it up to Mom in January of 2022, she said, "No, I like my room and don't want to go anywhere." And that is when my situational depression flared back up.
I tried to believe that the owners and staff had her best interest in mind, but their actions repeatedly proved otherwise. I felt betrayed because I had placed my trust in several individuals there. However, the outcome was still the same, Mom was declining, and they were inexperienced, untrained, and unwilling to make the necessary changes. So I convinced myself that a respite vacation would give me an emotional break and possibly a new perspective.
While on vacation in Utah to snowboard for the first time, I fell on my tailbone. I know. I know. I can hear your thoughts already. What was she thinking after back surgery which also replaced her Sacral disc? Don't worry. I asked myself that question for two months while I slowly healed. The good thing is that the titanium in my back is sturdy; however, the muscle, tissue, and ego were bruised significantly. The added physical stress to my existing emotional stress caused my body to gain weight like never before.
I stepped on Taylor (my scale's name) every morning and night before bedtime to see the weight gain by the day. My first thought was fluid retention and family-related heart issues. If freaking out about weight gain and heart problems wasn't enough, I also started to experience hot flashes, night sweats, more depression, a drop in my libido, and insomnia. At this point, I assumed I was in perimenopause, so I went to a hormone therapy doctor instead of my OBG or GP.
As a side note, I understand this kind of therapy works for many women, but I was highly skeptical when the doctor struck through the standard ranges and wrote in a different range so my results would seem more significant. The rest goes like the country song, “If I knew then what I know now…” I would have never agreed to have testosterone pellets placed in my buttock. Long story short, some symptoms improved while new ones emerged, like a raging libido and aggression.
Let's skip ahead to May 2022, when Mom did not play nice with new residents in the community and acted out. The way the staff responded to the situation made Mom so mad that she was finally ready to move out. I was relieved because I never stopped looking for her next home and hopefully last ‘forever’ home. Once I moved Mom into her new community, her health bounced back in the first three weeks. After two months, Mom was all settled in and loving her new home, and she was taken off of hospice. A significant improvement in environment and care made incredible changes in Mom. She was singing, engaging in activities, and losing weight.
I was feeling better and not stressing as much but I still had joint aches and insomnia issues. I did not continue with the hormone therapy treatment because my body was telling me that was not good for me. I want to encourage women to seek a Nutritionist instead of hormone therapy and make that the absolute last resort. This is the approach I took because I believe food is our medicine as much as it can be the root cause of many other health issues. After studying Mom so intently to better understand her mood swings and decline, I knew there could be a holistic approach.
After meeting with my Nutritionist, I finally decided to have genetic testing done. My results confirmed everything I had put in my book and then some. Dementia is not genetic. Dementia is the result of our poor daily habits over a period of time. My tailbone injury and excessive stress caused my body to react to everything I was drinking and eating. My genetic test results revealed I have Celiac Disease. Now Mom's life evolving into mixed Dementia makes sense. Every warning she was given yet ignored created an environment in her body to allow damage to her heart and ultimately the degeneration of her brain.
Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disease that occurs in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. It's estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide, but only 30% of people are diagnosed. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, people with Celiac Disease have 2X greater risk of developing coronary artery disease, and 4X greater risk of developing small bowel cancer.
We were able to pick apart the remainder of my results to find that if I ignored them as my parents and family members did, then I too would have Type 2 & 3 diabetes, heart disease, and some form of early-onset dementia. Knowledge really is power folks! I highly recommend finding a Nutritionist in your area. Not all doctors are the same or bad even, however, most treat symptoms rather than get down to root causes.
I had to allow three months for the testosterone pellets to dissolve and get out of my system. By July I was feeling back to my normal self and my tailbone was fully healed. I take many supplements now to help manage my gut and heart health. I have also adapted to a gluten-free diet which is amazing how much gluten is in our food. I had to even buy gluten-free soy sauce. People living with celiac disease is lifelong adherence to a strict gluten-free diet by avoiding foods with wheat, rye, and barley. So yes, bread, cereals, pasta, and beer!
Now I am body ache-free, lost 10 lbs., and not having any menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes or night sweats. I have learned how important our gut health is in connection to protecting our brains. These past couple of months has also taught me how important estrogen is to my overall heart and brain health too. I believe this is why there are more biological women affected by Dementia than biological men. Although, men produce and need estrogen too.
Here are a few points to keep in mind for managing your hormone levels:
We need estrogen for our reproductive, cardiovascular, and bone health. Too much estrogen can cause irregular periods and worsen conditions like cell overgrowth or tumors in the uterine lining in women.
High levels of stress mean your body is producing the hormone cortisol in response to stress. High amounts of cortisol can deplete your body's ability to produce progesterone, leaving your estrogen levels unchecked.
Too much alcohol can increase your estrogen levels and reduce your body's ability to break down or metabolize estrogen and contribute to even more problems like breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers; endometriosis; polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or tumors on your ovaries and adrenal glands.