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Essential Strategies for Brain Health as a Dementia Caregiver

Have you ever wondered if dementia is preventable?

In today's myth-busting episode, we explore how caregivers can keep their brains healthy. As a dementia caregiver, your well-being is crucial. Let's discover some lesser-known tips and strategies to stay sharp and positive.

The Importance of Movement

Move for Success

Many caregivers overlook the magic of movement. Our bodies were made to move. In the past, people walked more and exercised naturally. Today, especially in the U.S., we lead more sedentary lives. This change affects our brain health.

Four types of exercises are beneficial:

Aerobic Exercise: Activities like cycling, running, or rowing boost heart health. Just 30 minutes a day can make a significant difference.
Resistance Training: Weight training helps build muscles and prevents falls.
Balance and Flexibility: Exercises like Tai Chi and yoga improve balance and brain health.
Open Skill Exercises: Activities like dancing and tennis engage both the mind and body.

Nutrition Matters

Eat for Success

Diet plays a crucial role in brain health. Here are four effective diets:
MIND Diet: Combines Mediterranean and DASH diets, focusing on green leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, and olive oil.
Mediterranean Diet: Rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. It helps control blood sugar.
Ketogenic Diet: High in fats, moderate in protein, and low in carbohydrates. It includes intermittent fasting, which benefits brain health.
DASH Diet: Aimed at stopping hypertension, it's high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Engaging the Mind

Think for Success

Keeping your brain active is vital. Here are some tips:
Daily Brain Training: Engage in activities that challenge your brain. Use apps or puzzles to keep your mind sharp.
Learn Something New: Pick up a new hobby, language, or instrument. This stimulates different parts of your brain.
Socialize: Join groups or clubs. Interacting with others keeps your mind active and reduces isolation.
Prayer and Journaling: Reflecting and praying daily can help maintain mental clarity.

Importance of Sleep and Stress Reduction

Unwind for Success

Sleep and stress management are often underappreciated. Here are four strategies:
Maintain a Sleep Routine: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
Limit Blue Light: Reduce screen time before bed to improve sleep quality.
Art and Music Therapy: Engage in creative activities to relax and reduce stress.
Outdoor Activities: Spend time in nature. It helps reduce stress and provides vitamin D.

Final Thoughts

These four steps can help you maintain your brain health as a dementia caregiver. Remember, your well-being is just as important as the person you care for. Implement these tips, and you'll find a positive difference in your life.

Join our next free workshop on June 8th at 10 AM Eastern time. It's interactive and provides practical tips for managing challenging behaviors.

Home care insights with lizette cloete
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The Myth of Dementia Prevention

[0:00] Have you ever wondered whether dementia is preventable? There are two totally different camps related to whether or not dementia is preventable or whether or not dementia is absolutely irreversible. In today's myth-busting episode 125, we're going to unpack how to keep your brain healthy as a dementia caregiver in four basic easy steps.

[0:36] Have you recently found out someone you love has dementia? Struggling to wrap your head around how to be a Christian caregiver? Searching for answers by joining countless Facebook groups but find them toxic? Learning how to cope with dementia feels difficult but learning a Christian caregiving worldview can be easy. Hey, brother and sister in Christ, I'm Lizette, occupational therapist, pastor's wife, turned dementia coach, and a daughter of dementia. In this podcast, you will learn the truth that the way to make dementia care easy is your faith. Knowing that a loving God has decreed this hard providence in your life makes all the difference. Here you will gain skills. You will be challenged by what God says in His Word about caregiving and you will learn exactly what dementia is and is not. Find clarity and certainty from God's Word so you have perseverance for this journey. Use science-backed solutions and biblical principles to redeem your time. Praying this blesses you as we dive into dementia from a Christian perspective. Let's glorify God despite dementia.

Unpacking Dementia Care from a Christian Perspective

[2:03] Hey, Christian caregiver. It's Lizette, your dementia mentor, and you are listening to Dementia Caregiving for Families. It's the show where I teach Bible-believing Christians how to navigate Alzheimer's and dementia care by decreasing your stress, planning ahead, and getting back your time despite a dementia diagnosis. In today's episode 125, we are going to talk about how to keep your brain healthy as a dementia caregiver in four basic, easy steps. Now, why is this topic so important to me? Because this is a myth-busting episode. The question is, is dementia preventable?

[2:57] 1 Timothy 4 verses 7 through 9 talks about having nothing to do with irreverent silly myths. Rather, train yourself for godliness, for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life, and also for the life to come. This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. So I call this a myth-busting episode because really there are two schools of thought related to is dementia preventable. The one school of thought is the medical model that says Because no, dementia isn't preventable. Even though there are more doctors starting to maybe consider it, but up until very recently, there has been a tremendous increase.

Debunking the Two Schools of Thought on Dementia Prevention

[4:05] Discourse that says, if you get dementia, under all circumstances, it is not preventable. It is going to decline, and the person is going to have all of these things happen with them, that it is an irreversible process. So that's the one school of thought. There is another school of thought that is a lot more measured, a lot more holistic, and recognizes that in certain situations and certain circumstances, it may be preventable.

[4:43] And so I wanted to unpack that a little bit today because one of the biggest things that I really want to stand for is the changing of how we think and do dementia differently, Which is one of the reasons my company is called Think Different Dementia, because I want people to think differently and do dementia care differently. But back to the episode today. Yes, some dementias are hereditary. Not all dementia is hereditary, which means that some dementia is caused by a physical change in a person's body, whether it's a genetic mutation. Genetics play a very big role in whether or not a person will actually develop dementia that is the hereditary kind. But did you know that almost 40% of dementias are preventable? That is a lot. The problem is that in order to prevent dementia, we have to start now.

[6:09] And some of the changes that are occurring in a person who is living with dementia started 10 to 20 years.

[6:21] Before their symptoms, which means that when you start to show symptoms of cognitive loss, the time to start is now or yesterday. It's never too late to change some of what you're doing, but the earlier we start, the better it is. So if you're a Gen X person, daughter or son of a person living with dementia, then the time to start is now. If you're a grandchild of a person who has dementia, then the time is to start now. And so lifestyle plays a significant, significant role in whether or not we can keep our brain healthy as a dementia caregiver.

[7:12] So in today's episode, we're going to look at it under four mistakes, four big mistakes that people tend to make in believing or not believing that dementia is preventable.

The Magic of Movement for Brain Health

[7:30] So here's the myth-busting part. The first big mistake that we make is ignoring the magic of moving. And so we need to move for success. We were born, we were created to move. We were not created to sit. We were not created to be sedentary. When we were living in significantly different times, people walked, people exercised, people rode bicycles. Certain parts of the world still do a lot of that. Here in the United States, people are significantly more sedentary. I'm definitely noticing that in my own life since I have transitioned out of working for an employer. A lot of the work I do now is a lot more sedentary and sitting and I really need to work on moving, moving more. So ignoring the magic of movement.

[8:39] The reason I say that it is magic is because moving has so many positive benefits to it. There are four different types of exercises that have been shown in the research to be effective in helping a person's brain stay healthy. The first one is aerobic movement or things like cycling or running or a rowing machine or anything that gets your heart rate up. And so the book, The End of Alzheimer's, speaks significantly to exercise, physical exercise, as being a wonderful way to stave off dementia.

[9:35] And they have found that 30 minutes of physical exercise per day is enough to help your brain stay healthy. So 30 minutes, 150 minutes a week, so that's 30 minutes, five days a week, will help to decrease your risk for developing dementia and keeping your own brain healthy. So that's the first one, aerobic exercise. The second one is resistance training. That is actual weight training. As we get older, we think about weight training in light of the gym rats who are all going and picking up the bodybuilding type of weight training. But weight training as an older adult and as a person who is wanting to prevent dementia has actually been shown to be significantly beneficial, bulking up your muscles and doing those kinds of resistance training exercises. And as an occupational therapist.

[10:44] I can tell you that resistance training is one of the biggest things that you can do to help yourself prevent falls and stay stronger as you're getting older. The third type of exercise that has proven research behind it that shows benefit for a person's brain to keep your brain healthy is balance and flexibility exercises.

[11:09] Things like Tai Chi and yoga. And there is so much research out there on both Tai Chi and yoga as a benefit for brain health. So that is the third type of exercise that is tremendously beneficial from a moving perspective to help keep your brain healthy. Did you know that caring for a person with dementia doesn't have to be this hard? If you are struggling and you would like to join our next free workshop, the topic of the workshop is three tips how to avoid challenging dementia behaviors without stress, anxiety, or burnout. I invite you to walk away with science-backed dementia caregiving skills that many professionals don't even know after attending this free workshop on Saturday. If you'd like to register, sister, message me the word workshop on Instagram or check out the link in the show notes below.

[12:30] But the one that's my favorite is what's called open skill exercises. So what on earth are open skill exercises? Open skill exercises are exercises that there is an outside force that you are needing to respond to. And what I mean by force is not a, you know, a weight or something like that. I mean that you have to use more than just your muscles in doing the exercise. There's a sense of not uncontrolled, but a sense of spontaneity or response to another stimulus. So what kind of activities would fall underneath that? Think about dancing. So dancing where you have to work with the music and a partner. And you have to adjust and move yourself constantly and be thinking while you're exercising. That is an open skill exercise.

[13:36] Other open skill exercises could be things like skiing, where you have to really be able to navigate the terrain. You have to be watching for other people coming into your line of direction where you're going, or playing tennis where you have to respond to a ball going in a different direction. Those are all types of exercise that are open skill, and they're extremely beneficial for brain health. So that's the first mistake that we tend to make is not moving enough. So the takeaway from that is exercise. But like anything, if you haven't exercised for a while, if you feel...

[14:23] That you have some medical comorbidities that need to be checked out. Check with your physician about how to go about starting an exercise routine. But for most people, starting gentle exercises is not contraindicated. I'm not talking about you if you've just had a heart attack or anything like that. Please use common sense. But what I am talking about is go for a walk, talk, start to move, start to implement some of these strategies in order to help keep your brain

Overlooking Easy Nutritional Tweaks for Brain Health

[14:54] healthy as a dementia caregiver. The second big mistake that we frequently make when we are trying to keep our brain healthy is we overlook easy nutritional tweaks. We need to eat for success. And so, yet again, the research is significantly out there that changing lifestyle, and one of those things is your diet, can significantly improve your brain health. So the four big diets that have been shown in the research to truly have some bones to them, some meat to them related to diets, the first one is the MIND diet. So the MIND diet, M-I-N-D, stands for the Mediterranean plus DASH diet.

[15:51] So what the Mediterranean and the DASH diet is, they're two diets combined that has shown significant promise for helping decrease cognitive decline or increase a person's brain health. And the types of food that are included in the MIND diet include green leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, and things like olive oil. So that's one diet. A second diet that has shown significant promise related to brain health is the Mediterranean diet. So a Mediterranean diet is rich in fruit and veggies, whole healthy grains, healthy fats, and really work on controlling a person's blood sugar. And as an aside, one of the things that truly has been shown in a lot of the medical research related to a dementia process is there's a strong correlation between blood sugar and diabetes and certain types of dementia. So anything we can do to to control our blood sugar will help to protect our brain.

[17:13] Third diet that has shown tremendous potential related to cognitive health is a ketogenic diet. The end of Alzheimer's book by Dr. Dale Bredesen talks about the keto flex diet, which is a little bit different than just a straight up ketogenic diet. But a keto diet is typically high in fat, moderate in protein, and low in carbohydrates. What the keto flex diet includes is intermittent fasting. But what both of these diets do, both of these keto type diets do, is they control blood sugar. So it is, coming back to the previous point, the Mediterranean diet, diet. All these diets are bringing people's blood sugar down, which helps people to remain healthy. The Ketoflex diet by Dr. Dale Bredesen from the end of Alzheimer's includes intermittent fasting, which has been proven to show effectiveness in brain health and preventing the onset of dementia. Then the fourth diet that has research attached to it from a brain health perspective.

[18:41] Is the DASH diet. So at the beginning, we talked about the MIND, which is the Mediterranean plus the DASH diet. The DASH diet stands for the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension. And that diet is very interesting to me because there was a research study done in Finland. As several years ago, I did a two-hour presentation on how to prevent dementia for physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists. And so I really researched it at that time. And I read through the end of Alzheimer's and all sorts of other books on preventing cognitive loss and preventing cognitive decline. And one of the studies that came out that was highlighted is a study called the, it was the Corellia Project in Finland. And this study was a longitudinal study. It was one of the first ways that really proved that lifestyle changes can impact a difference in a person.

[19:47] Whether it be cardiovascular issues or whether it be cognitive decline or liver, you know, all these types of diseases that when we change our lifestyle impacts our abilities, impacts our life. And this Karelia project in Finland was a study that was done in the 1970s, where this specific geographic area had a tremendously high incidence of cardiovascular disease and people dying very early and very suddenly of cardiovascular issues and heart attack.

[20:26] And so what they did was they did a several-pronged approach. The first one was they changed the person's diet. They changed the whole diet. The second one is people stopped smoking in the community. And the third one was that they put them on a cholesterol medication.

The Impact of Sleep and Stress on Brain Health

[20:45] Now, there's a two-sided conversation to this, so I want you to just hang with me. What was found after that study related to the cardiovascular disease was that the people who followed those recommendations, the incidence of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular death significantly decreased. The flip side of that coin, and this is my opinion and not a fact, but something that I know from teaching multiple, multiple dementia certifications, is that Finland is one of the top 10 countries in the world with high incidence of dementia. And one of the changes in the Corellia project that they did was the diet that they implemented, that they put people on, was actually a very, was a diet high in grains.

[21:48] Low in fat, low in protein. So it was almost exactly the opposite diet that has now been proven to be be neuroprotective of your brain. And now, 40 years later, we know more, 50 years later, we know more about how cholesterol impacts our brain. And I do not want anybody here who is listening to today's program to stop taking cholesterol-lowering medication. That is not what I'm saying. I am not a physician. I am not recommending anybody stop taking their medication.

[22:27] But what I want to highlight is that there is a lot of research out there indicating and showing that cholesterol inhibiting or cholesterol lowering medications do impact people's cognitive abilities. Our brain is made up of cholesterol and we need to have the cholesterol in our brain in order for us to function. But yet again, please do not stop taking your cholesterol medication just based off of a podcast, but do research it further and speak with your physician specifically if you are concerned about your brain health as a family caregiver of somebody living with dementia. But back to the DASH diet, the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension. It is high in fruits, vegetable, and whole grain. So it's a combination of these four different diets, and I'm very sure that we can find more diets, but these were the four that...

[23:26] When I did a research on it, showed it has the most body of evidence behind it related to preventing dementia or keeping your brain healthy as a dementia caregiver. So yet again, please, related to the research project that we just talked about, I just highlight that project to bring out that yes, cardiovascular disease was lowered in that community, but 50 years later.

[23:56] Finland is one of the countries with the highest incidence of dementia. And so I do not believe it's a one-factor type of a deal. I believe it is multifactorial, what goes on with dementia. Dr. Bredesen speaks about 36 holes in a roof or 36 contributing factors to a person developing dementia. So therefore, it's not just one thing that necessarily causes it, but all these things work together. And so diet is definitely something that we all need to look at in any case to stay healthy. So the third mistake that we make as we are trying to keep our brain healthy is we dismiss the playful mind challenges. Now, what on earth do you mean by that, Lizette? Well, we need to think for success. And so when we, our brain is a highly efficient machine.

[25:04] For lack of a better word, it's a highly efficient organ that is designed to conserve energy. Energy and we conserve energy by doing things routinely and familiar. The more we can create habit, good or bad, bad habits or habits, but the more things we do habitually, the more brain power we have to do other things that we need to be thinking about. The flip side of that is oftentimes as we are retiring or as we're slowing down in our lives, we're not working anymore, we're not coming around as many people, we're not raising our children, we're not having to help them with their school. Those things that we would naturally be using our brain for, we stop and we just start to do very automatic and routine kinds of activities. So we do need to think for success. We literally need to think to keep our brain healthy. So I'm.

[26:10] Don't dismiss some very easy strategies like daily brain training activities. And if you're a words person, you want to do math. If you're a math person, you want to do words. We want to do a variety of brain training games, and there are lots of different resources out there related to computer-based training, exercises.

[26:38] There are cognitive apps that you can download on your phone and do some brain games to actually think. Because we have to kind of, our brain is very used to taking a very well-worn path. And our job when we're learning some, or what happens when we're learning something, is we have to take a different path. So as long as we're doing things that are routine, we're taking the same well-worn path. We need to do things that are not routine to actually engage our brain. What's another thing that you can do to think for success is learn something new. Learn a new language. We have Duolingo on our phones. Now we have all of these different types of apps related to learning something new. Think about picking up an instrument and learning to play a musical instrument or going and combining learning a how to dance with the physical mobility and the moving so learn something new so that you can think for success.

[27:45] Third one is don't stop socializing. Socialize through activity. Socialize through games.

[27:53] Here in Greenville, where I live, South Carolina, we have a very active senior action, senior center. I love going there. I speak a lot at the senior action about brain and brain health. And one of the reasons I love going there is because they have so many activities for seniors. They have art activities. They have language activities. They have computer training activities. They have dance. They have a gym. They have everything you need to keep your brain healthy right there at the fingertips of the people. But better than that, they have the socialization aspect of it too. They do murder mysteries and all sorts of fun things for older adults to stay engaged. So check out your local senior center and see what kind of action they have there that you can engage with. And if you're not a senior, then you need to consider joining some groups where you're learning things, where you're socializing with other people. One of the biggest challenges as a family caregiver is oftentimes we become isolated, and that is very detrimental to our own health and our own brain. And the fourth strategy for thinking for success is prayer.

[29:18] Oh, go to the Lord in prayer. Prayer is so valuable to be able to use and actively use your brain. journal.

[29:29] My morning routine is I read, I have a really well-developed Bible reading program that I've developed for myself over the years. And if you guys are ever interested, I'd be happy to share. But I read the Bible in the morning and then I jot down in a journal verses that speak to me that day, and then I reread them as I am going to pray, and then I journal about them as that's my prayer. That's my prayer journal in the morning. And another good opportunity for you to develop a skill if you haven't been doing this is scripture memorization. You're never told to memorize scripture or memorizing a catechism like the Westminster Shorter Catechism or any kind of a way of memorizing and internalizing the knowledge from the scriptures can also be a way to really engage your brain as well as improve your relationship with the Lord.

[30:40] Now, the fourth mistake that we make is we underappreciate sleep and stress reduction. Sleep and stress reduction are vitally, vitally important to keep your brain healthy. So we underappreciate unwinding for success. And this plays a significant role for us as we are family caregivers who are stressed in any case because of all of the responsibilities and the things that we are juggling as a family caregiver. And I recognize that there are some of these barriers and I'm not minimizing them, not at all. But a mistake that we make is that we do not realize how vitally important sleep Sleep and stress management is for our own brain health. We have to unwind for success. So here are four quick strategies for you related to sleep and stress. Number one is have a very, very, very strict sleep routine.

[31:49] It has been shown and proven time and time again in the research that the most effective way to manage your sleep is to go to bed at the same time every day and get up at the same time every single day. Sleep hygiene includes things like having a very well set out evening routine that makes you, that gives your body the cue, the signal that it's time to go to bed. My husband has had insomnia ever since we've been married and we will have been married 31 years in September. And I can tell you that if we waiver off of our evening routine, our normal sleep hygiene routine.

[32:36] He does not sleep well at all. So we have to follow a very strict routine. You can come up with your own routine. Every person has things that work better for them. But the best, when we come to point number two, we'll talk about blue light. But switch off your computer about an hour before you need to go to bed. Put away your phone, all of those kinds of things. And we'll talk about that in point number two here. But your sleep routine is extremely vitally important. What's even more important than going to bed at the same time every night is getting up at the same time every morning.

[33:17] And this is significantly challenging for us sometimes when we're family caregivers and the person we're taking care of does not sleep well at night. The risk that we take then is they are up until 1 or 2 a.m., and so then we go to bed, and then we're tired, so we don't want to get up the next morning at 10 a.m., but the more you can stay in a routine, the better everybody will actually sleep, and this is one of my, I'm not a significant proponent for a skilled nursing facility or an assisted living facility or a memory care, but I do recognize that one of the benefits of a memory care or a skilled nursing facility or an assisted living facility is that people who live there are in a very strict routine because of the routine of the facility. They can't sleep until four o'clock in the afternoon and then get up and stay up until two o'clock in the morning.

[34:15] People are gotten up every single day at around the same time. They follow a very structured routine in when meals are, when meds are, when showers are, etc., which makes the fabric of the day be easier. Whereas at home, if things are harder, it's easier to let a person sleep because I didn't sleep last night. So maintaining a good sleep routine and a sleep hygiene is vitally important for your brain. The second point under this is blue light is terrible for you. You need to limit, especially at nighttime, the blue light. So you either need to get blue light blocking eyeglasses if you're going to read on a tablet or put your...

[35:04] Your computer or your device on a blue light blocking setting, because blue light actually inhibits our own natural production of melatonin, which is the hormone that we make about 90 minutes before we go to bed. So when we don't limit the blue light coming at us specifically at night, then we are less likely to be sleeping well. The third way that we can unwind for success is art or music. Art or music therapy. Learning something new. This ties back into the previous one where we were talking about what you can do to think for success. And so you can go take art lessons so that you can unwind. You can go learn music instruments or just do some art therapy or music therapy. There are actually therapists who do art therapy and music therapy. So that's something that you can do to help you relax and de-stress. And then the fourth one, and this is one of my favorite, I call this my chicken therapy, and that is being outside in creation.

[36:22] One of my ways when I'm stressed that I unwind, if you guys don't know me super well, but I have, right now we have 20 chickens in our backyard. I'm the chicken lady. I love my chickens. It's one of my most favorite activities to go do. We live in a city, but we live in a city outside of city limits that we can have chickens. And so we actually live in the middle of a built-up area and a very busy road in the front, but in the back, I have a lovely backyard with my chickens. And my husband and I will go sit in the backyard and I will just sit and watch my chickens for a long time. They give me so much joy. but being outside in creation. That can help you to decrease your stress. And an added benefit of being outside in creation is the sun is vitally important for us to create vitamin D. That's a bonus point for today. That's a bonus tip. So this was a quick little episode on how to keep your brain healthy as a dementia caregiver in four basic steps and what we looked at today was moving for success so physical exercise.

[37:43] We looked at eating for success, changing your diet and how diet impacts your brain's ability to function. We looked at thinking for success, actually engaging your brain and using it to do something new. And then the fourth one is unwinding for success, sleep and stress relief and stress reduction. So I really hope you enjoyed today's myth-busting episode. A little bit different than what I've been doing, but I really have noticed that people like the episodes where we talk about something that's what I call myth-busting, a different view on a particular topic. And I would love to invite you, if you haven't been to one of my free workshops. I'm inviting you to come to my next free workshop, which is June the 8th at 10 o'clock Eastern time. It's about two hours. It's super interactive. And we talk about tips to manage challenging behaviors. So I really thank you for being here. And as I usually try to remember to to end my episodes. May the Lord bless you and keep you.

[39:03] Thanks for joining me today, Success Seeker. I pour my heart and soul into this program to serve you. You can serve me by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts and join our free Facebook group, Dementia Caregiving for Families. It's a positive and proactive space to navigate dementia caregiving together. Get practical tools, and find support, but without the verbal vomit. Be a part of our community where we seek to find peace of mind and ease, despite the dementia diagnosis. So join today and see you next time as our flight takes off.

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About the author

“Think Different” Dementia’s owner, Lizette Cloete, OTR/L graduated as an Occupational Therapist from the University of Pretoria in South Africa in 1992. Lizette has almost 30 years of experience as an Occupational Therapist in a variety of settings, the latest being in the home health environment. She enjoys teaching on the topic of dementia, most recently presenting at a national conference on the topic “Dementia Made Simple”.

Disclaimer: These blogs, videos and any work done by Lizette Cloete OT, as a Member of Think Different Dementia, LLC, is given only as educational content and consulting work. This does not create an Occupational Therapist-Patient Relationship. The educational content and consulting work performed should not be considered medical treatment as an Occupational Therapist. The consulting work does not take the place of medical work normally performed by a licensed Occupational Therapist. Please consult a licensed Occupational Therapist for medical advice.

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