Sunday, April 14, 2013

Preparing for Alzheimer's Disease

I watched a TED talk (you can view the embedded video below) last night by a woman, Alanna Shaikh, whose dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease twelve years previously. Her dad used to be a college professor, but now he requires round the clock care and supervision. Yet, he keeps busy and seems relatively happy filling out paper forms, and the good, loving heart he always had continues to shine through his senility in his dealings with people even as his disease has stripped away almost every other part of his mind.

Observing her dad and learning all she can about Alzheimer's led Alanna to resolve to prepare as best she can for the Alzheimer's disease she expects to develop when she gets older, even though she's also taking all the preventive measures she can such as eating right and exercising her mind and body.

Her strategy is to  (1) Cultivate as much strength and balance as she can since people with Alzheimer's typically begin to lose their sense of balance and subsequently become less and less physically active, and the more balance and strength she has going in, the longer she hopes to be able to remain ambulatory and physically active as her senility progresses. (2) Take up largely physical activity such knitting and drawing with which she can happily occupy herself when she's no longer able to enjoy mentally taxing activities such as reading, writing, or even watching TV. And (3) Work on making herself a kinder, more loving person so that when her Alzheimer's has done to her what it has to her dad and stolen almost everything else of her mind and personality, there'll still be a glowing core of love and kindness left behind to make things easier for her and her caregivers.

I think she offers sound advice that a guy like me, entering my seventh decade and quite possibly cursed with some risk factors of my own for the disease, would do well to follow. Finding an activity to enjoy that doesn't require much brainpower might be hard since I'm so hopelessly lousy working with my hands that I couldn't see myself taking up hobbies such as knitting, drawing, or building models or anything of that kind. But maybe I could learn to play an instrument such as guitar and be able to enjoy listening to and playing music well into my senility, hopefully without driving my caregivers insane. And I could surely do more to improve my strength and balance. I'd also like to think I could strengthen my lovingkindness. If the way we are when we're drunk enough that most of our inhibitions have been chemically disabled is revealing, then the fact that I tend to be quite happy and agreeable when I'm drunk may be a good indicator of how I'd be when senile. I hope so.

The prospect of being stricken with Alzheimer's or any other irreversible, cognitively incapacitating condition is one that most of us, myself included, would rather not contemplate. Yet, after watching Alanna last night and taking what she said to heart, I'm determined to do everything I reasonably can to prepare for the possibility that I may end up like her dad someday, because if I do, I want to be as happy and lovingkind as he is when the time comes. And the measures I can take to make that more likely will be good for me whether or not I become senile, so I have nothing to lose and potentially much to gain by getting started immediately.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Foreign Affairs Examines North Korea's Nuclear Threat

"Ironically, the risk of North Korean nuclear war stems not from weakness on the part of the United States and South Korea but from their strength." ~ Foreign Affairs magazine

When I was in fourth or fifth grade, I had a brief crush on a pretty classmate named Paulette, although I was too shy to let her know it. Now, some five decades later, she's a Facebook "friend" living in Guam and worried that North Korea might carry out its recent threat to nuke her island paradise.

I posted a comment to reassure her that even the craziest leaders of North Korea weren't crazy enough to bring devastating reprisal on themselves, and, besides, they probably couldn't reach Guam with a nuclear tipped missile even if they wanted to. At least not yet.

She hasn't responded, so I don't know if I allayed her fears, but I'm guessing that I probably didn't. If I lived in Guam or one of the other threatened territories, I probably wouldn't even be able to allay my own fears. Reason can soothe jangled nerves only so much in the face of nuclear threat, however small that threat might seem to be.

And "seem to be" is the operative phrase, because we don't really know the full extent of North Korea's nuclear capabilities or of its inclination to utilize them. We can only make intelligent guesses, and I read an article last night in Foreign Affairs magazine that offers some of the most intelligent guessing I've seen recently. Unfortunately, it doesn't do much to calm anyone's fears.

For the gist of the article is that even though North Korea's leaders almost certainly don't want to initiate  military conflict with South Korea or the USA by using nuclear weapons, they could quickly escalate to it if their backs were against the wall after being overwhelmed by superior U.S. and South Korean forces in conventional warfare, just as NATO planned to do in Europe if it were overpowered by Warsaw Pact troops during the Cold War, and just as Russia and Pakistan plan to do now if they're attacked by superior conventional forces.

The article explains that what makes this escalation even more likely is the way advanced militaries such as the USA's conduct modern warfare against less advanced nations by immediately targeting their leaders, command and control systems, and communications infrastructure with "shock and awe" destruction. Were the U.S. to do this against North Korea, it would likely panic its threatened and isolated leadership into using nuclear weapons to save themselves, and God only knows what would happen then.

So, the article urges that the U.S. do everything possible to avoid conventional war with North Korea and if, failing that, it has to attack, that it do so in the most limited ways possible, leaving North Korea's leadership with a sense of some control over their fate and a way out.

I hope President Obama and his cabinet have read Foreign Affairs' incisive analysis and taken it to heart. And I hope my childhood sweetheart sleeps easier tonight.