Thursday, May 28, 2009

18 Months since dad died

This week it's been 18 months since my dad died.  My mom came over yesterday for the yearly taming of my front yard (there's a couple of bushes that we cut down every year to the ground and they grow back bigger the next year).  We were talking about how my dad would have been helping us if he was there, carrying the brush to the compost pile in the back yard.  And even how my yard would never ever look neglected or overgrown if my grandpa (her father) was alive--he died a few weeks after my high school graduation, in 1987.   (My mom lost her dad when she was 42 and I didn't even make it to 40 before mine died.)
My mom said that she never thought she would miss my father so much.  The last few years, especially the last few months, he was mostly a burden.  I know that sounds awful....unless you're a caretaker and then you understand.  But now that the violent and confused Bob is gone, we can remember the real Bob, and miss him terribly.
I've been sad all week.  One of my birds died 3 weeks ago, unexpectedly.  Doing all the dead pet things--the crying drive to the vet, going back to pick up the ashes--made me miss my black cat Zen again--and realize that on August 1 it will be 3 years since he left me.  I still feel awful that I didn't say goodbye--I didn't know he was going to die before I ever saw him again--did he think I abandoned him and just give up in less than a day?
I'm reading a book about the conquest of Mexico--a topic that boils my blood.  The Mesoamericans believed in cyclical time.  Time loops around and we have a chance to do it all again:
"Another time it will be like this, another time things will be the same, some time, some place.  What happened a long time ago, and which no longer happens, will be again, it will be done again as it was in far-off times: those who now live, will live again, they will live again."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Know the 10 Signs of Alzheimer's

The Alzheimer's Association is promoting a new education campaign called Know the 10 Signs.  They sent me an email asking me to help.
This is a very condensed version of the signs; please visit the full (multi-page) section on the website.  Click the purple boxes to get to another section (which will turn orange).
1. Memory changes that disrupt daily life.
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems.
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.
4. Confusion with time or place.
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing.
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
8. Decreased or poor judgment.
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities.
10. Changes in mood and personality.
If you see any of these in yourself or your loved ones, please get checked out.  Your GP can administer basic memory tests and will probably refer you for blood and other testing.  You may also be sent for a consult with a
  • Neurologist – specializes in diseases of the brain and nervous system
  • Psychiatrist – specializes in disorders that affect mood or the way the mind works
  • Psychologist – has special training in testing memory and other mental functions
  • Geriatrician – specializes in the care of older adults and Alzheimer's disease

You can also call the Alzheimer's Association at 877-IS IT ALZ (877.474.8259) for more assistance.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

New dementia index prediction tool

A new dementia index tool can apparently classify 88% of patients who will develop dementia in the next 6 years.
Of course, there is still nothing you can do to prevent or truly treat dementia, but at least you can enjoy your remaining dementia-free years and hope for a cure, right?
However, it only works if you are over 65; wouldn't have helped my dad (diagnosed at age 62). A 15-point index including both conventional and newly identified risk factors for the conditions correctly classified 88 percent of patients according to their risk of developing dementia within six years.
Every 70 seconds, someone gets dementia.  That's depressing.
My dad was such an unusual case.  He never fits the stereotypes I read about.  Here is what this test looks at:
older age, lower scores on two tests of cognitive function, presence of at least one of the known genetic variations linked to Alzheimer's, below-normal weight, abstinence from alcohol, a history of coronary artery bypass surgery, and a slow time putting on and buttoning a shirt
He was not of older age or underweight and he drank beer daily.  He did not have heart problems until a year before he died and he put on a button shirt every day until he retired.
The test is not perfected and not available for general use yet.

(Screenprint of original; picture source=article source)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dad's friend & the question "how are you?"

I saw one of my dad's friends yesterday.  He kept asking how I was and I kept dodging the question.  Not because I didn't want him to know, but because it's so hard to talk about still.  And complicated. 
I'm very sad right now.  Hogan died on Friday (read about it here) and I'm still unemployed.  That's two sad things that I'll carry with me for a while.   As for my dad, well, most days I'm okay with it.
But then yesterday I saw Rick Jr and on the way home I just started crying. Not over anything specific, just everything hitting me at once.  I posted after my dad died about the custom of wearing mourning and yesterday I wished I could have had some on and had that shield against people being mean to me.  Not that anyone was mean to me.  I'm not explaining this very well.  I just felt very fragile emotionally.  Even if I wore mourning for 18 months after my dad's death, it would be over now. 
18 months, wow.  It's been a long time since I had a dad.

Exercise your body, save your brain

Can walking three times a week save your memory?   According to the wellness blog Healthy Fellow, yes.
A study published in Journal of the American Medical Association (PMID: 18768421) found that 3 50-minute sessions per week of moderate exercise helped people with memory problems (not diagnosed with Alzheimer's or dementia).  After six months, the exercise group did better on memory tests, had better memory retention, and their Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR) was lower (lower is better).
Another study showed that the more you exercise, the bigger your brain is.  (Mine must be huge, some weeks I get in 9 hours in the pool!)  Studying actual AD patients, the researchers found that those who "weren't physically fit" had four times more brain shrinkage than those who were. 
My dad walked every day and his brain was the size of a walnut.  I guess if he hadn't walked he would have died a lot sooner. 

Friday, May 08, 2009

Coffee prevents Alzheimer's?

I was browsing a natural health forum called NatMedTalk, and I found a post about coffee preventing Alzheimer's.
This is yet another thing that my dad did--drink coffee--that doesn't appear to have done anything for him.  Every time I hear a new one of these, and it's something my dad did as a matter of course (not as prevention for anything), I feel like screaming.
From the post (which quotes in full an article from Science Daily, which in turn references the Journal of Neuroinflammation ( PubMed PMID: 18387175)...
A daily dose of caffeine blocks the disruptive effects of high cholesterol that scientists have linked to Alzheimer's disease.
Okay, my dad did have high cholesterol.  But he had it under control long before he was diagnosed with AD. And caffeine is different from coffee.  Not all coffee has caffeine, and caffeine is in other things than coffee.  Personally I hate coffee but I eat plenty of chocolate and drink cola so I get my caffeine fix that way.
I can see Starbucks picking this up and running with it!   Our overpriced gross-tasting drinks might save your life some day so come on down!
Anyway, drink your coffee and don't feel guilty is the motto of the story.

Monday, May 04, 2009

HBO: the Alzheimer's Project...set your DVR!

I wish I had HBO.  I just saw on another blog that HBO is having a multi-part series on Alzheimers starting next weekend (May 10).

Sunday 5/10 9 p.m. The Memory Loss Tapes
Monday 5/11 7:30.Grandpa do you know who I am?
Monday 5/11 8:00 & Tuesday 5/12 8:00 (2 parts) Momentum in Science
Tuesday 5/12 7:00 Caregivers

There's a book and a DVD as well, click on the HBO link (or on this blog post's title) to get to HBO and order.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Climbing for Alzheimer's

Mark Zimmer contacted me and asked me to publicize his Climbing for Alzheimer's charity climbing.
He writes:

Thanks so much for your willingness to post this; the more people that know about these climbs, the more good my efforts will do. If you are interested, we have a group on Facebook that you can join. Search "Summit Up" and we are number 1.

My name is Mark Zimmer, and I am a 23 year old from Grand Rapids, Michigan. I recently began an effort with the Alzheimer's Association to climb the highest elevation in each of the 50 states to raise money and awareness for Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's first touched me when I was young and my great-grandmother passed away from it. I still see the effects of it daily, as my grandfather is towards the end of his fight with this terrible disease. Knowing how Alzheimer's has affected my family, and so many other families across the country, I wanted to use my climbs for something more than personal satisfaction.

It is my goal to climb the highest peak in a state every month. Having just gotten underway in April, my climbs will last until May 2013. I am raising money by attracting corporate sponsors to have me carry a flag representing them. We are also are accepting personal donations. If you are interested in supporting our efforts to raise awareness, you can make a donation here. For a donation of $9.99 or more, we will send you a picture from each of the 50 state peaks, thanking you for your support. It is a great way to learn about the varying state highpoints, keep up on our climbs, and support our effort to raise money for a cure.

I think we all know of someone who has had to fight with Alzheimer's, and it is horrible. Let's work to make a difference while we all still can. Remember, we're all climbers!

Mark Zimmer
Summit Up