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Tag Archive: Alzheimer’s

Jan 19

Alzheimer’s, a season of ‘lasts’

“Old age comes on suddenly, and not gradually as is thought.” – Emily Dickinson

Most stories about Alzheimer’s catch my eye, but none more than one I read this past week, a USA Today story about a family’s ongoing blog about Alzheimer’s.

I am interested in this because my mother, 94, was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s more than 12 years ago. We have been in the throes of this dreaded disease ever since, so naturally I am interested in everything Alzheimer’s. And I must admit, I worry about getting it myself.

The story mentioned above is named simply Bob’s Blog, a personal journal kept in association with USA Today. It is about Bob Blackwell, 69, a retired and once brilliant and highly talented CIA analyst who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s five years ago.

At first, he started writing about his battle with the illness, but soon thereafter, his wife Carol took over blogging about their personal journey.

She tells poignant, sometimes humorous and always loving tales about their daily lives. Recently, Carol has been writing the blog they keep for USA Today about “the season of lasts — listing things Bob has done for the last time. He has been a lifelong fan of University of Georgia football, for instance, but following the games last fall was too challenging.”

And on and on the list of “lasts” continues.

Carol writes: “Here we are, and there’s no cure and no promise of a cure…I know it’s too late for a cure for Bob, the disease has moved into many parts of his brain, but I’m praying for my children and grandchildren. We have to find a cure.”

If you are close to someone who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s, I imagine that you drink in every word as well on the subject of finding a cure for future generations and for ourselves.

Unfortunately, the very definition of Alzheimer’s is indeed foreboding.

Health reporter Janice Lloyd describes Alzheimer’s as “a form of dementia that causes progressive loss of intellectual and social skills, the only disease among the top killers for which there is no prevention, cure or treatment that will slow its progression”.

We hear constantly in the news these days that disease is thought to run in families and the growth of Alzheimers, the projected number of people over the age of 65 in the U.S., is now in the millions.

WebMD further explains: “Dementia is considered a late-life disease because it tends to develop mostly in elderly people. About 5 to 8 percent of all people over the age of 65 have some form of dementia, and this number doubles every five years above that age. It is estimated that as many as half of people in their 80s suffer from dementia.”

I find better news in the fact that new efforts are being made to raise public awareness, provide more funding for research and speed up the timeline to find a cure.

And even better news in the fact that once in awhile our loved ones with Alzheimer’s emerge ever so briefly from the fog and come back, sometimes long enough for us to catch a glimmer of the person we used to know.

For example, the other day I could not get my mother to open her eyes. It was lunchtime at the special care Alzheimer’s unit where she resides.

I tried to entice her to smell and taste her food and to take a sip of coffee, which incidentally she has adored her entire life.

It was the coffee I gave her that I believe brought her back to life. Right away, she opened her eyes and smiled. Then she squealed, “Oooooo, coffee. That’s good.” She then turned to a neighbor at the dining table and said, “Have you met my mother”, pointing to me. Looking at me she said, “Kay Jean (the name she has always called me) have you met my mother?”

And that is how it goes most days, but this particular day she recognized the smell and taste of coffee and said “ooooo, that’s good”, and for ever so briefly, she was back.

Jun 30

Become bilingual, stave off Alzheimer’s?

It is possible at any age to discover a lifelong desire you never knew you had.” –Robert Brault

Did you ever want to learn a new language or brush up on one you used to know just for the fun of it? There might be a better reason than entertainment or personal enrichment to do just that.

The other day I was reading a magazine story that proclaimed a provocative idea: “stave off Alzheimer’s, learn a second language.”

Indeed, new research is showing that one can benefit at any age from learning a new language. A quick web search provided numerous articles that backed that up the theory that bilingual brains may delay mental aging.

Ellen Bailystok, a psychologist at York University in Toronto, says that studies are now revealing that advantages of bilingualism persist into old age, even as the brain’s sharpness naturally declines. She suggests that bilingualism is “protecting older adults, even as Alzheimer’s is beginning to affect cognitive function.”

She adds that even if you don’t learn a second language until after middle age, it can still help stave off dementia.

Outsmart Alzheimer’s? Could it be that easy, I wonder.

Apparently, the idea is so appealing that folks over the age of 50 are stampeding to learn a foreign language.

On top of this trend themselves, my brother and sister-in-law called me recently to say they were ordering a French language software program. They thought it would be fun to learn and besides they are retired and have a lot of time on their hands these days. If it staves off dementia, then all the better, they said.

I think I need to catch up.

Sure, like most baby boomers, I took a foreign language course in high school and can still read a little French, but I couldn’t remember how to roll my ‘r’s if my life depended on it.

Deciding I should give my brain the exercise it needs, I chose to start afresh with a new language rather than brushing up on my forgotten French.

I chose Italian, but I’m not ordering any software. I know a little Italian from the movies.

Besides, Italian sounds easy to me, and I am already familiar with a few words and phrases: pizza, spaghetti, lasagne, risotto, panini.

Agreed, this is not exactly conjugating verbs, but I am betting, just like me, that you can follow this conversation in Italian that follows just fine, whether you think you can or not.

“Caio! Parli italiano?”

“Non capisco! il mio italiano e orribile.”

“Come dite ‘please’ in italiano?”

“ Prego? Non ne ho idea! Scusami!”

“Non c’e problema!”

“Grazie.”

“Arrivederci!”

“Caio!”

There, we’ve exercised our brains for one day. We got this boomers.

Oct 01

Winnie the Pooh would like a “No Doing Day”

“Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.” – Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Pooh’s Little Instruction Book

The other day when I visited my 91-year-old mother in the Alzheimer’s special care facility in which she lives, I came away completely awestruck at the conversation I witnessed.

Let’s call it a “teaching moment.” Hopefully, I learned something, such as the fact that doing nothing can be a remarkable thing.

The discourse at the lunch table in the nursing home went like this.

I spoke first to a gentlemen seated at Mom’s table, “Hi Mr. Smith (we’ll call him that), what are you doing today?”

“Nothing. What are you doing?” he replied.

I answered, leaving out the uninteresting details of my jammed-packed day ahead, “Well, nothing I guess.”

“That’s what you should be doing–nothing,” someone else added. “It’s a No Doing Day.”

“Really,” I said. “I could use a No Doing Day. I like that! Let’s start a club.”

Another spoke up immediately and added, “Yes, and we will have no meetings.”

Mr. Smith then sternly admonished me, “I don’t expect you to show up.”

My mother, in an unusual moment of clarity, joined in the conversation turning to me saying, “Kay Jean, you should take a nap.”

So upon that directive, we moved to the television room and settled in the recliners to watch Andy Griffith and Mayberry RFD. We both nodded off.

As I was leaving the unit, actually refreshed no doubt from the nap I was ordered to take, one of the staffers winked and then whispered to me, “Yunno, I think Monday may just be a No Doing Day for me.”

Reflecting on this interesting afternoon, I could not help but recall a childhood book and one of its many dialogues between Winnie the Pooh and his sidekick Christopher Robin.

Incidently, if you want to brush up on Pooh philosophizing, I recommend the “The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh”, in which Pooh emerges as one of the best philosophers of all time. And dear readers, you might also enjoy a look at just-pooh.com where you will find a fascinating history of the “magical world of Pooh”.

But as I was saying…

Winnie the Pooh asked Christopher Robin, “How do you do just nothing?”

Christopher Robin: “Well, when grown-ups ask, what are you going to do and you say, nothing, and then you go and do it”.

Winnie the Pooh: “I like that. Let’s do it all the time.”

Well, maybe not all the time, but at least for one day, our very own “No Doing Day”.

And naps are good, too.

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