Thursday, January 30, 2014

Happy Memories

Last weekend, I fixed a cup of tea while my youngest granddaughter told me about her week. “What have you been doing lately, Grandma Linda?” she asked.

“Well,” I said as I repeatedly dunked my tea bag with a spoon, “lately I seem to just spend a lot of time here at home. Some days, I don’t even go outside.”

She looked into the candy dish, turned, and smiled at me. “You know, Grandma Linda, this house holds a lot of happy memories for you.”

I looked up from my steaming cup of tea and said, “You are so right. It is full of happy memories.”

This is the house that Jim and I built—and I mean that literally. I’m talking countless hours of lifting two by fours, hammering nails, laughing and arguing about where the walls should be, how many outlets each room needed, where to put phone jacks, how to cover up a boo-boo. Talk about a house built with love. We didn’t have much money or a big bank account, just a dream that we could build our own home if we made enough sacrifices. We borrowed as little as possible and managed to have the house completely paid off shortly after we finished building it.

Of course, it took several years to build the house, but as soon as we moved in, happy memories were in the making. Our sons were nearly grown by that time so it wasn’t long before they married and started their own families giving Grandpa Jim and I more family to love.

Now, Jim is gone and lives only in our memories. I recently retired, and I’m taking well to my new lifestyle. Although I may not make it out the door every day, I always find much to do and my life is still full and busy.

After jumping out of bed bright and early yesterday for some Alzheimer’s volunteer work in town,  I was back to my new routine this morning. I woke up at 8:00 and finished the novel I was reading. I couldn’t seem to stop reading the intriguing story of family secrets, loss, and learning to live again. I guess I could relate to the importance of breaking away from sad thoughts and finding a pathway beyond past heartaches or failures to a new future. Different, yes, but still something to fill my heart with joy.

I took time to read the paper this morning—not the usual headline skimming method I usually use.  Normally, I do not read obituaries if I don’t recognize the names. I just move on to something else. This morning, I took time to read the two obituaries printed in our small town paper. These were people who lived and left their imprint on the hearts of their families, and I just felt a compulsion to read their stories.

Finis “Ed” Sumpter, 76, was a decorated Air Force veteran. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam and was awarded the bronze star. He retired after twenty years with the rank of Chief Master Sergeant. Then, I read 91 year old Mary Cauvel’s story. She had been an aircraft electronics assembler for North American Aeronautics and worked on the Apollo Program in the mid-sixties. Here were two people whose stories I would have missed completely if I hadn’t taken a moment to read the brief summary of their lives. Can you imagine the hardships they overcame in their lifetimes so they could build happy memories of people, places, and events?

Life should be full of happy memories, and the trick is to focus on those life moments. Long after houses and people are gone, traces of happy memories live on and on in our hearts.

copyright January 2014 by L. S. Fisher

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Alzheimer’s Advocates Succeed in Increasing Research Funding

Sometimes being an Alzheimer’s advocate can be frustrating. It seems that our voices of reason often fall on deaf ears. I’ve gone to Washington, D. C., thirteen consecutive times to ask for an increase in funding for Alzheimer’s research.

Successes are the super exciting part of being an advocate. Last week we experienced an unprecedented victory in the battle against Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association and more than 600,000 advocates fist pumped when $122 million increase in Alzheimer’s research funding sailed through Congress and was signed by the President.

Alzheimer’s Association CEO, Harry Johns, said these additional resources could “convert scientific opportunity into life-changing outcomes.” Here’s a breakdown of the funding: $100 million for the National Institute on Aging for research, $3.3 million to support caregivers, $4 million to train health professionals on Alzheimer’s issues, $10.5 million to expand home and community based services, and $4.2 million for outreach activities to increase awareness. Another $30 million will be used for brain research that can impact Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases.

Increased funding for Alzheimer’s creates hope for more than five million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease. An Alzheimer’s cure is possibly the largest single factor toward saving the future of Medicare and Medicaid. Compare these numbers:  Spending on Alzheimer’s research in 2013—$484 Million NIH+$80 million directors’ budget, compared to Medicare spending of $107 billion and Medicaid of $35 billion spent on those with Alzheimer’s disease. Is this a wise use of our money?

I’ve lost a loved one to an Alzheimer’s type of dementia and know it is virtually impossible to describe that decade of loss with mere words. I often try, but saying how it was for us, and how it is for millions now, falls far short of the experience.

The sad thing is that it usually takes a personal experience before a person reaches that level of comprehension. That means another person, another family, another circle of friends offer support and love to ease the inevitable outcome of an incurable, virtually untreatable, disease. A disease that unravels years of accomplishments, skills, hopes and dreams.

An advocate’s job is to keep chipping away at the hope for a cure—to remain unwavering through the ups and downs of being a voice for millions who would have their voices silenced. To continue the battle of education about a disease that is not a joke about cute little old men and women whose forgetfulness makes us laugh. It’s about slamming home the reality that this disease causes pain and heartache for entire families. Families who are often caught off guard by the ugly fact that Alzheimer’s can happen in the best person—in the most brilliant person.

Before this recent increase, the National Institutes of Health estimated that $484 million would be available for Alzheimer’s research funding in 2014. The amount spent on Alzheimer’s research is small compared to billions spent on other diseases. We do not want funding decreased to other major killer diseases, but we want the same success for Alzheimer’s disease. We want to have survivors at our Walks!

copyright © January 2014 by L.S. Fisher 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Like a Steel Trap

How many people do you know that have a mind like a steel trap? These people can seem to remember everything, and then some. Don’t you just sometimes wonder how much of that stuff they make up?

I read an article this morning in American Profile called “Flex Your Memory Muscle.”  With my interest in Alzheimer’s, any article memory related catches my attention. This article was particularly interesting since I had never heard of the USA Memory Championships—or if I’d ever heard of the contest, I forgot all about it.

These “mental athletes” are known as mnemonists. These people learn a vast amount of information—it would almost seem the more useless, the better. Yep. One guy, Johnny Briones, spends two hours a day memorizing the order of a randomly shuffled deck of cards. That might be a useful skill for Vegas, but don’t know how much it would matter in the real world. I digress. The point is to hone your memory skills through these mental exercises. Use it or lose it.

When a person has Alzheimer’s, their hippocampus, where short term memory resides, shrinks. Dr. Majid Fotuhi, author of Boost Your Brain: The New Art and Science Behind Enhanced Brain Performance, likens memorization to “pushups for your hippocampus.”

I don’t know about you, but I think my hippocampus could use some exercise. I do have a vast amount of trivia stored in my brain, no doubt cluttering up my cortex. My poor cortex has all this information safely stored away, but with all those little chunks of info, retrieving it, especially when I need it, is not likely to be that darned easy. So often, I’ll know that I know something, but can’t bring it to the forefront of my mind at the right time. No, I’ll wake up out of a sound sleep with the illusive piece of information I couldn’t retrieve when I needed it.

Several months ago, my youngest son observed that, “Mom, your memory isn’t as good as it used to be.”

I agreed, but had to add, “As long as I remember well enough to do my job, I’m fine. When I retire, I won’t have to remember anything anymore.”

So, soon after I quit going to work on a regular basis, I promptly forgot a hair appointment. Okay, so this had happened before—once in the last thirty years. How did I forget it when it was on my Google calendar, that set off an alarm on my cell phone? Well, I was working on an anthology that used a different Gmail account. Therefore, my Google Calendar wasn’t up like it usually is. My cell phone buzzes constantly, so I just ignored it. I was blissfully ignorant until about two hours too late when suddenly, “ding, ding, ding,” that little piece of info made its way to the forefront of my brain.  

People with Alzheimer’s lose their short-term memory and the long-term memory becomes more vivid and seems to be recent, rather than distant events. It only adds to the confusion when they can no longer remember or recognize a spouse or children.

There are a few things about memory that are different from person to person that has nothing to do with ability to retain knowledge. It has to do with selected memory. Some people select to remember the good times, the happy times, and not just the bad things. I tend to be that way.

I’m only going to pass through this world once, and I want my memories to be of the good times. Memorization comes through repetition, focus, and retrieval from the folds of your brain. If you don’t make a habit of focusing on the bad, those memories will become more faded. They may not go away, but they also won’t determine the course of your life.

Each one of us has bad memories, possibly even horrid memories. We control the focus and quality of our memories. It is my brain, my hippocampus, my cortex.

Do I want to use my “memory muscle” to make my life better, or miserable? I choose better! I will never be a mnemonist, but I hope to keep my good memories, happy memories for a long, long time. I’d take that over memorizing a deck of cards any day.

copyright © by L. S. Fisher, January 2014

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Strong to the Finish – Vitamin E

Sometimes research verifies what physicians or people have learned through good old fashioned trial and error. Without a cure or effective treatment for Alzheimer’s, many have tried alternative methods. One of the many alternative treatments for Alzheimer’s is Vitamin E.

Jim took 800 milligrams (1200 IU) of Vitamin E a day. He took this under a physician’s care. The thing that impressed me about Vitamin E wasn’t that it made a lot of difference in Jim’s cognitive abilities, but rather an unrelated condition. Jim had a sore on his lip that just wouldn’t go away. Our family physician decided it needed to be biopsied. At about that same time, his neurologist put him on Vitamin E. Within two weeks, his lip was completely healed.

The most recent study of Vitamin E conducted on 613 veterans shows promise as a means of slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s—something that traditional medications have failed to do. Yes, the disease still progressed in the study group taking a 2,000 IU (1,333 mg.) daily dose of Vitamin E. The good news is that the group retained ability to do basic tasks longer than the group that took a placebo. In fact, the slower rate of decline amounted to about a six month delay in progression.

Six months may not seem like much on the surface, but at the Alzheimer’s Forums I’ve attended, statistics have shown that any treatment that will slow the progression of Alzheimer’s amounts to huge benefits. If a person can delay going into a nursing home by six months, it saves the family an average of $248 per day, or $45,260 for the room alone. As we all know, the family pays for a log of “extras” when a loved one is place in a nursing home.

Like many dietary supplements, Vitamin E has met with mixed reviews. An early study of Vitamin E was considered a warning since that study showed a higher death rate in the people who took more than 400 IU of Vitamin E a day. Most studies indicate that toxicity occurs when doses exceed 3000 IU. This is not surprising since when a Vitamin K deficiency is involved Vitamin E can cause prolonged bleeding and affect the blood’s ability to clot. Other signs of toxicity are double vision, fatigue, muscle weakness, and diarrhea. The National Academy of Sciences set the tolerable upper limit at 1,000 milligrams per day.

The Recommended daily dosage of Vitamin E is 15 milligrams (22.5 IU). As you can easily see, it is a quantum leap from 22.5 IU to 2000 IU.
Vitamin E deficiency can cause various symptoms: gallbladder disease, liver disease, celiac disease, peripheral neuropathy, and skin problems.

What is Vitamin E anyway? It is a group of fat-soluble vitamins that are active throughout the entire body. Tocopherols come in four different forms—first names of Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta. Alpha tocopherol was used in the study.

Vitamin E has been studied in treatments of other conditions. Vitamin E protects the skin from UV damage. Alpha tocopherol reduces the risk of bladder cancer.  Most supplements contain alpha tocopherol, but it is gamma-tocopherol that fights prostate cancer. Vitamin E may play a role in the prevention or treatment of a long list of conditions which includes everything from acne to several types of cancer. Some of the biggies, besides cancer of course, are diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

Before going on Vitamin E, you need to check with your physician to make sure the supplement will not interact with other medications or make another condition worse.

In the meantime, you can follow Popeye’s example and eat your spinach. It is an excellent source of Vitamin E. Don’t like spinach? Try Swiss chard or turnip greens for other top sources. If you prefer nuts, sunflower seeds and almonds are both very good sources. The really good thing about getting Vitamin E from foods is that no known side effects from food exist. Even if you take supplements, eating Vitamin E rich foods enhance the benefits.

I think Popeye was really on to something when he said, “I’m strong to the finish ’cause I eats me spinach.” He was loading up on Vitamin E. And to top it off, he loved Olive Oil, and that just happens to be another source of Vitamin E.

Copyright © L. S. Fisher January 2014