Tag Archives: Health

Giving Thanks Series: Caregivers Need Care, Too

caregiver helping her client

Many people with disabilities rely on the help of dedicated caregivers to lead an active and healthy life. Being a caregiver is rewarding, but the hours can be long and draining. That’s why, as part of our Giving Thanks series, we wanted to dedicate this post to caregivers. Also, we wanted to provide them with some helpful resources. With all that caregivers do for their clients, we wanted to take the opportunity to thank them and encourage them to take care of themselves, too!

There are some basic self-care strategies that caregivers can use to prevent burnout and stress. Further, there are also organizations dedicated to supporting caregivers.

Self-Care for Caregivers

For caregivers, it can sometimes feel like there’s no time for their own self-care, or that they shouldn’t take time away from their client or loved one to attend to their own needs. Instead, taking some time for self-care can help caregivers do a better job of caring for others. Ignoring your own needs can lead to burnout and chronic stress.

Having trouble thinking of ways you can take care of yourself as a caregiver? Here are some tips to get started:

  • Get enough rest. You need good quality sleep to keep up with your daily responsibilities.
  • Stay hydrated and nourished with quality food. Carry a big water bottle to make sure you’re hydrating during the day, and pack a healthy lunch when you can. Try not to skip breakfast.
  • Try meditation and coping mechanisms for stress. You could try a morning meditation practice before your day begins. Alternatively, you could learn some short mantras that you can repeat in stressful moments. For example, “Let it go” or “This will pass” could work.
  • Find a hobby and do something you enjoy on a regular basis. Making time for your own interests can help you avoid caregiver burnout.
  • Ask for help. You can’t do it all alone, whether you need someone to fill in for you so you can get a break, or you just need a supportive friend to listen–it’s not easy to ask for help, but it’s worth it.

Resources for Caregivers

When you need more than basic self-care, there are organizations that are there to help. These groups can provide valuable advice and support, facilitate connections with other caregivers, and help caregivers stay up-to-date on new policies and resources. Thus, here are some of the organizations that caregivers can reach out to for assistance:

National Center on Caregiving: This group can help you with policy issues, caregiver education, and information about the latest research.

Caregiver Action Network: CAN fosters community among caregivers and provides resources tailored to caring for specific types of patients.

National Family Caregiver Support Program: This federal program provides caregivers with access to services, training, and respite care.

Support for ALS Caregivers: The ALS Association provides connections to respite care, an online calendar to help families coordinate care, and educational information specific to ALS caregivers.

National Organization for Rare Disorders Caregiver Resource Center: Caring for someone with a rare disease can feel isolating. Thus, NORD provides resources including educational videos and webinars, connections to resources for specific conditions, and financial support.

Well Spouse Association: This organization supports spousal caregivers by facilitating in-person and online support groups, providing connections to respite care, and hosting conferences and special events.

Taking Care of Yourself

It’s natural for caregivers to feel hesitant or guilty about asking for help. However, we want you to know that taking care of yourself makes you a more effective caregiver. We hope that you find the resources you need to support your own health, happiness, and motivation. Thank you for all that you do! Contact us to learn more.

Stem Cell GABA Neurons May Aid in Huntington’s Disease Cure

a GABA neuron cell, which controls mobility

Over 30,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, which is characterized by uncontrollable muscle spasms. This debilitating congenital neurological disorder has no treatment, and over time takes away muscle coordination and cognitive abilities of the patient. However, new stem cell research using stem cells may give hope to those with the disease.

The cause of Huntington’s disease can be found in GABA neuron cells, which produce a chemical neurotransmitter responsible for the communication network in the brain that coordinates movement. In Huntington’s patients, the GABA neuron cells degrade, causing a disruption in key neural circuitry, and resulting in the loss of motor function.

Neuroscientist Su-Chun Zhang, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison specializes in making various types of brain cells from human embryonic cells. A recent research study co-authored by Zhang used large amounts of GABA neurons made from human embryonic stem cells. The research goal was to see if these cells could integrate into the brain of a mouse with Huntington’s-like symptoms.

lab mice

The success of the trial went much further than this, and to the surprise of Zhang and his colleagues, the cells not only integrated, but projected to the proper target and reestablished the broken communication network. The result was restoration of the motor function in the mouse.

“This circuitry is essential for motor coordination, and it is what is broken in Huntington patients. The GABA neurons exert their influence at a distance through this circuit. Their cell targets are far away,” explained Zhang. “Many in the field feel that successful cell transplants would be impossible because it would require rebuilding the circuitry. But what we’ve shown is that the GABA neurons can remake the circuitry and produce the right neurotransmitter.”

brain scans comparing normal with Huntington's patient

Neuroscientists typically considered the adult brain to be very stable, but this research shows that the adult brain may be more malleable than originally thought. For patients with Huntington’s, which has no effective treatment, this is exciting news. However, Zhang stresses that the research, while promising, will take quite some time to test and perfect in humans.


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Ancient Chinese Herb Could Be New Weapon Against Multiple Sclerosis

variety of hydrangea from Tibet known as chang shan

Researchers at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine in Boston have discovered a potentially effective weapon in the fight against inflammatory diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS) — one that also has anti-aging properties. Tracy Keller, instructor of Developmental Biology, and a team of her colleagues have discovered the way a chemical in a Tibetan shrub blocks immune reactions that can lead to disease.

The chemical, called halofuginone, is found in the roots of the blue evergreen hydrangea (Dichroa febrifuga). The ancient Chinese have used the roots of the shrub, known as chang shan, for centuries as a medicinal treatment for malaria. In fact, it is still used in veterinary medications. Keller’s research team discovered that halofuginone works by suppressing the creation of harmful immune cells called Th17. It does this without suppressing the immune system completely.

Researchers hope to be able to use the drug to create targeted therapies for autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, because halofuginone prevents the development of inflammation, Keller believes it also has the potential of being an effective anti-aging drug. This means a tiny shrub may be an even more powerful tool for medicine in the future.

Researchers Keller and others from Harvard Dental School


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Spine Surgery to Repair Severe Scoliosis Saves Girl’s Life

Salma Suleman Post-Op Scoliosis

Doctors at an Indianapolis hospital recently performed life-saving spine surgery on a young patient with a severe scoliosis. The NuVasive Spine Foundation in San Diego brought Salma Suleman, 12, to the United States from Kenya so she could undergo the surgery at the Peyton Manning’s Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent. It was a charitable surgery the hospital offered to perform for a little girl who desperately needed it.

Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine is curved abnormally. It usually occurs during a child’s growth spurt before puberty. Muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy can also cause scoliosis, but most times there is no known cause. Most cases are mild, but some children, like Salma, develop severe cases that can become disabling and life-threatening as the child gets older. Salma’s scoliosis made it difficult for her to walk more than 10 feet at a time. The severe curvature of her spine threatened to crush her heart and lungs.

Salma Suleman Pre-Op Scoliosis

“Her curve was so severe, when you looked at her from behind, her shoulder blade was actually touching her hip,” said surgeon Dr. David Schwartz with OrthoIndy. Schwartz said that Salma’s case was the worst he’d seen in his 17 years of practice.

“We operate on children when their curves are 45 or 50 degrees. We put them in braces when they’re 25 or 30 degrees,” he said. “She’s 12 years old, and her curve was 170 degrees.”

an image of Salma's spine before surgery

The risky procedure to realign her spine took 12 hours. But within three weeks, Salma was able to stand upright, lift her arms and walk without pain. She now has a new outlook on life, thanks to Dr. Schwartz.

“I feel happy,” she said. “I was losing my hope, but he’s brought my hope back.”

On her release from the hospital, Salma will stay in San Diego for a month while she undergoes rehab. Then she will return home to Nairobi, Kenya, where Dr. Schwartz plans to visit her. Salma now hopes to be a surgeon someday so she can help children the way Dr. Schwartz helped her.


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