self-help for Alzheimer’s

A major concern is getting Alzheimer’s. It’s in my genes because my mom died several years ago with the disease. Our lives were dissimilar in most ways, so I’m hopeful that I can avoid the inevitable. Testing can be done to determine my chances, but do I really want to know. Because I believe in the power of the mind, I wouldn’t want to play a part, any part, in being “taken over” by Alzheimer’s. So I’m doing what I can without driving myself over the edge into insanity or depression. After all, I’d like to enjoy what’s left of my wonderful life.

A year ago I posted the following blog on another site. It is still featured there. So that readers might immediately avail themselves of the information it contains I decided to rerun the blog here. Hope it helps.

Between slowing the progression, or preventing, Alzheimer’s and lowering my cholesterol, I was more concerned about damage to my brain than to my heart. But surely the two are intricately intertwined, so which is the “horse” and which is the “cart.” Personally, I chose Alzheimer’s as the front-runner. Correcting my cholesterol ran a close second. I made this choice for 2 reasons, my mom and a dear friend.

Ongoing health issues together with the stress of raising 9 children as a 30-year-old widow, probably made my mom a prime candidate for Alzheimer’s. A growing cynicism as she aged made matters worse. It was difficult to see a once vital woman who led others in her church community, evolve into a reclusive, suspicious, finger-pointing, unclean stranger who disrobed in the garage. Towards the end, only the family dog was privy to my mom’s barely decipherable, ranting. Bless my older sister and her husband who were the primary caretakers through the 7 years of my mom’s illness. Living an ocean away with my own family to look after, I was unable to be of much help.

A friend unexpectedly developed symptoms of Alzheimer’s in her 50’s. I’m not certain if it was triggered by a stroke, however. A highly efficient legal secretary, she discovered she could no longer remember how to type. The progression seemed slow at first. But then the illness went into overdrive. My girlfriend retired earlier than she’d planned. She could no longer take walks alone along the country roads where we lived. Her husband had to learn to cook, because she would forget to turn the stove off. And she was devastated when he had to help her bathe and change. One day while dining at a restaurant, she did not return from the restroom. She was discovered by a mutual friend in the toilet cubicle crying, because she couldn’t remember how to dress herself. She eventually went to reside in a nursing home, where she lived for another 20 years. When she was cognizant, she would babble that she wanted to die rather than live like a baby, totally dependent upon others.

Recalling such vivid images of a disease that steals the essence of loved ones is as scary as the long-forgotten Fun House at local fairs. I would want to pee just trying to get away from the maze of mirrors that loomed everywhere in the dark, taunting me as I stumbled along searching for the exit. Unfortunately with Alzheimer’s, there’s only one way out, and it can be excruciatingly painful for the patient and the caregivers.

Because I love my husband and precious daughter more than life itself, I decided to begin treating myself for Alzheimer’s while I’m able. A fortunate side effect is that it also helps lower my cholesterol. My primary tool became THE ANTI-ALZHEIMER’S PRESCRIPTION by Dr. Vincent Fortanasce, a practicing neurologist. He treats victims of the disease. Because his own father succumbed to it, the doctor has a 10-30% risk of developing Alzheimer’s as well. This fact and his expertise made me believe in his recommendations. Besides incorporating the standard lifestyle changes of diet and exercise, I took his advice about supplement intake, reducing stress and increasing my sleep quality. As a precaution I confirmed the supplement dosage with a naturopath, and provided the list to my family physician.

To help me resolve my propensity for over-worrying and therefore over-stressing, I read CHANGE YOUR BRAIN, CHANGE YOUR LIFE by Dr. Daniel G. Amen, a clinical neuroscientist, and nationally recognized expert on the relationship between the brain and behavior. His “brain prescriptions” include simple breathing techniques to immediately calm inner turmoil; learning to kill ANTS (automatic negative thoughts); following the Amen anti-anger diet and learning the nutrients that calm rage; and “getting unstuck” from obsessive worrying. Dr. Martin Stein, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at George Washington University calls Dr. Amen revolutionary in showing “how the brain can become your worst enemy, and how with proper treatment, your best friend.”

It’s been some time since I’ve read the aforementioned books, but they sit prominently perched atop a desk not far from my bed. They are like old friends, reminding me that I need not be a victim of Alzheimer’s, that there might be an alternative. At least I have that.

At 60, I feel as energized as I did at 40. Then I was at my peak. I’d shed the pounds gained during pregnancy by exercising at the local YMCA, and walking 4 miles a day when not at the gym. Weight Watchers helped me count calories. In the years since, the inevitable happened. Life took over. Exercising diminished, almost coming to a standstill; while the pounds, and some, returned and settled in comfortably.

While Drs. Fortanasce and Amen gave me ammunition to get healthy, it took a personal epiphany for me to become fully engaged, mentally and physically. Four months from that “light bulb” moment, I feel in control of my health having made some definite changes to what I eat and how I feel about myself. “I’m a good person, and everyone deserves to live their best life.”

The most valuable lesson I have learned as a mother is compassion for myself and others. I also try to live with a positive outlook for my sake and my family’s. To do so, I relish all the small details in everyday life. My sixth sense helps me. That would be My Memory, the Essence of Who I Am.