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.


Jessica M said...

I think she is definitely viewing the potential possibility of her getting Alzheimer's disease in an unusually mature and rational way, which I think all of us could learn from.

I liked her suggestions and I think they are ones to definitely keep in mind and consider implementing. At the same time, I'm all for prevention! Are you familiar with the "nun study"? If not, I'd encourage you to check these two articles out...

Great article!

Thomas Armstrong said...

An EXCELLENT blog post, Steve, on an important topic.

As you well know, I am about your age. Both my parents suffered from Alzheimer's before their deaths, so the risk of me being demented [or more demented than I am already] in a decade or so is high.

I will take the TED speaker's and your advice to heart: I will take up a task/art I can do with my hands and try to be a kinder person.