This week’s blog is a sad one. It’s talking about a problem which is likely to touch all our lives in some way. We will all know a family who has had to deal with the dementia diagnosis or will be right now in the thick of the dementia disruptor, with all the sadness and confusion that it not only brings to the sufferer, but also to the family and friends of the person with this awful disease. The figures for dementia are on the rise and the burden to the families and surrounding society can be huge.
My OT friend Anne, who gives me all the funny incontinence cards, also provides me with some amazing books to read and one which is very moving and poignant is called Green Vanilla Tea by Marie Williams. This book is an account of the personal journey of Marie Williams (a social worker by profession) whose husband had a diagnosis of dementia. It is particularly tragic because he was very young when he was diagnosed. They had two teenage children and the impact on all their lives is laid bare in the book.
Marie writes about dementia, calling it the Green Goblin, and her story, while tragic, gives an insight into the things we take so much for granted – things like language and communication, which slowly faded as her husband descended further into the grip of Alzheimers. Marie says:
The more I travelled in the company of this Green Goblin (talking about Alzheimers) the more I noticed the politics and power embedded in the ability to speak the way the various conversations shape our experiences, and the marginalisation of knowledge that is wordless. Oliver Sacks says our natural speech does not consist of words alone. Instead it consists of utterance- an uttering-forth of one’s whole meaning with one’s whole being- the understanding of which involves infinitely more than just word recognition. He goes onto say that language is immersed in tone and embedded in an expressiveness that transcends the verbal. He says it is deep, complex and subtle but perfectly preserved in people with aphasia (the total inability to speak). Not only is it preserved in people with aphasia he says it is ‘preternaturally enhanced’. (P135)
Today I have attended the first day of a 2 day workshop with Norman Doidge- the author of two brilliant books, which I would recommend to everyone to read. The Brain that Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing are brilliant reading about the plasticity of the brain and the ability of the brain to recover and compensate for significant losses and damage.
The final session today was on the very latest dementia research and best of all there is plenty of evidence stacking up on the preventative strategies that can be employed to prevent dementia and even make some reversing changes in early dementia.
All of these strategies need to be undertaken FOREVER! There will be a regression if you stop doing them. Social isolation not only worsens the progress of dementia, but makes it difficult for the sufferer to follow through with many of the strategies listed below. I am listing them early in this blog (below) so you can get started on a lifetime of dementia prevention, but will expand on all the research at a later time adding the exciting and compelling research that is going on in the dementia world to this blog at a later date.
In a nutshell what can you do to decrease the risk of dementia?
- Correct cellular health of neurons and glia (address deficiencies Vit B12; treat infections; address teeth bacteria (floss teeth daily- teeth bacteria cross the blood brain barrier); Tested for heavy metals -lead, mercury, arsenic; pesticides; medications, drug abuse; food sensitivities- dairy, gluten (Good book Joe Bazzano The Toxin Solution)
- Exercise – walk 3 kms a day 5 days a week (or cycle 16 kms, dance or other vigorous exercise)
- Eat healthy -Mediteranean diet, 4 serves of fruit and vegetables, light on the dirty dozen ; eat organic watch hormones and pesticides.
- Body mass index between 18-25%
- Don’t smoke
- Don’t drink too much(one glass wine per day
- Sleep (good quality, enough)- a sleep study will tell you if you have sleep apnoea. Good sleep helps with elimination of waste build up in the brain.
- DON’T HIT YOUR HEAD -avoid sports that cause minor repeated head injuries
- Brain exercises–BrainHQ the most tested brain training by far; learn a new language; do something you are bad at- don’t keep doing things you are good at.
- Control blood sugars
- Importance of hormones (watch removal of hormone producing organ-ovary, thyroid
- Eliminate foods that cause inflammation
- Eliminate toxins
- Be with people -beware social isolation. Loneliness magnified dementia and increased in those not married
- Study all your life
- Treat past traumas to decrease stress load
I will add the research which went across 30 years in two studies and other research by Dr Dale Bredesen at a later date, so I can get this blog out. Watch this space for the evidence to back up the above suggestions.
To finish though I want to include another quote from Marie Williams beautiful book for those people who have faced the difficult decision to place loved ones in care.
‘They showed me around and poured endless cups of tea but offered no pity. I was so relieved. Pity can be very isolating; there is nowhere to go from pity. One remains locked up in the sad story, alone. Pity has a way of creating and preserving hierarchical relationships between people that by their very structure assume the positions and abilities of the pitied are ‘less than’. It has nothing of the warmth and reciprocal human connection that comes with compassion. I told our story. The plight of a young family touched them and to my great relief they did not seem to think I was a bad person for considering placement. They held our story with a balance of authentic empathy and professional competence and they were kind- a tangible kindness that changes things and stays with you. (P158)’
And finally a statement with which I resonate with my blog writing. Marie’s great act of writing her story, may inspire others to agitate for more appropriate distribution of funds for research and programmes like the ones set out above. These interventions cause no harm and have research conducted over 30 years-so maybe instead of spending humungous amounts of money on more new drug trials, money could be allocated for centres of excellence with strategies for those with dementia.
In “Picturing Human Right” a book by David Lloyd – he said stories, when voiced, become a political act. It doesn’t change the world, but storytelling changes people and people change the world. Telling this story is as much a political act as it is a story of love and hope. (P 236)
Further information can be gained from a programme on ABC 24 Sunday 10/12/17.