Posted in Did you know?

Aging and the brain.

2013-02-03 02.16.38Let’s talk a little about Alzheimer and dementia.  We hear so much about how many of the baby boomers are caring or responsible for their aging parent…some have some form of dementia.    That said, it merits a bit of discussion.

According to the Canadian Alzheimer Society, “Alzheimer’s disease is a fatal, progressive and degenerative disease that destroys brain cells. It is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 64 per cent of all dementias in Canada.

Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. Symptoms include having difficulty remembering things, making decisions and performing everyday activities. These changes can affect the way a person feels and acts. There is currently no way to stop the disease, but research is improving the way we provide care and will continue to search for a cure.”

Its causes are not really known BUT,

Its onset is during aging of a person, that is to say you won’t get this as a teenager however, there are exceptions to people getting signs of early onset Alzheimer as young as early 50’s.  But still…you are usually older.

Genetics seems to play a huge factor and that scares me silly willy since my mom and maternal grandmother had/have it.

Other factors like earlier diseases, infections, alcohol and tobacco use, advanced education and more. The jury is still out on many of these but these are factors worth mentioning.

According to a lecture I assisted at the Douglas Hospital last fall 2012,if you have a parent who has Alzheimer disease the risks increase by 50% for you.  Encouraging?  Not really, it is pretty darn scary.  There are some who offer testing to see if you may have the gene …I don’t want to know but I sure would like to prevent the onset of this crushing illness.

Here is a video if some are interested in this lecture. John Breitner, MD, MPH, Research Scientist, Douglas Institute, Director, Centre for Studies on Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease

What about Vascular Dementia?   What is vascular dementia?

According to the Canadian Alzheimer Society, “Vascular dementia (VaD), also called multi-infarct dementia, occurs when the cells in the brain are deprived of oxygen. A network of blood vessels called the vascular system supplies the brain with oxygen. If there is a blockage in the vascular system, or if it is diseased, blood is prevented from reaching the brain. As a result, cells in the brain die, leading to the symptoms of dementia. After Alzheimer’s disease, VaD is the second leading form of dementia, accounting for up to 20% of all cases.

When Alzheimer’s disease and VaD occur at the same time, the condition is called “mixed dementia”.”

Who can begin to truly understand any form of dementia related to aging?  I think that there are many times that we learn from observing.  The experts talk about stages of Alzheimer but I think back over the  past 7  years and  you know what?  It is just like I said on another blog on Bi-Polar disorder, It just does NOT have a ONE size fits all to describe ALL the symptoms and especially the sequence of changed behaviours and reactions of each individual.

I know I want to be more careful. I quit smoking a second time…the first when my mother had open heart surgery (by-pass) twice! And angioplasty and finally had a Cardiovascular Stent inserted and that is what saved her life.  The second time I quit and hopefully this is the last time, was 6.5 years ago when my mother was diagnosed with Vascular Dementia.  I was getting older too and it scared and still scares the daylights out of me!

It is normal to forget and as we age, we forget a bit more but there is also rapid decline of memory (dementia) that comes into play.  And that is what scares me.  They say cross-road puzzles are good as a preventative tool as well as memory games and now there are more and more games, apps you can put on your phone as well as find on the internet to “jog” that brain of yours.  I don’t doubt that it helps to slow down the process. Here is one “brain game” website that will send you a game every day through the internet or an app on  your smart phone.

Prevention therefore IS huge and when you think of all the baby boomers crossing that threshold of “old age” it may be time to take these tips more seriously.


(The six pillars of a brain-healthy lifestyle are:)

  1. Regular exercise
  2. Healthy diet
  3. Mental stimulation
  4. Quality sleep
  5. Stress management
  6. An active social life

Exercise cannot be stressed enough!  According to the two years of lectures I have attended at the Douglas Hospital, it cannot be emphasized enough to keep your mind alert…sharp by physical exercise and those mental brain teasers that also exercise your brain.

I read several books over the years because I used to work in home care, my maternal grandmother had vascular dementia and now my mother does.  This is an invisible/hidden disease in so many ways.  I say “hidden”  because no one really knows how much a person who has this disease suffers.  I remember my mother gave excuses or got very defensive and impatient when she forgot.  She withdrew a lot from society and did not talk about her condition. This was all before she was diagnosed.  But come on!  She knew years before being diagnosed!  She saw her own mother slip down that path and she took care of her right until the end.

When mom hugged me during a visit (I was still living 400 miles away from her) she whispered in my ear, “Is it really you, are am I dreaming?”  I told her to just go with the good dreamy feeling when ever in doubt and soak it up.  She smiled but I could see the fear in her face.  It pained me so to see her be so aware that she was slowly losing her memory…all those memories!

Several years before she was diagnosed, she was struggling with memory loss and it was getting her nervous and frustrated. I explained to her that all her memories were stored in little cubby holes and drawers in a huge antique dresser in the attic of her brain. And , “Mom, we both know that you don’t like cleaning too much or dusting.  So some of those drawers are stuck and it takes a bit of an effort to jiggle it open.”  She laughed.  She wondered why her family doctor and her social worker did not explain it like that.  Oh how we were close!  Towards the end, before she was admitted into a nursing home, I would give her a bath …a nice bubble bath.  She would refuse the  home-care workers but they are too rushed these days and not all seem to be giving the same service my peers and I did when I worked in home-care.  It is a humbling experience to give a person a bath.  I loved bath days because it was a time I was alone with ONE person…that person who needed assistance, compassion and empathy from me.  It was that person’s ME time to be pampered, washed, cream applied gently and the skin could feel soothed by its cleanliness but also by being touched…we all need to be touched…hugged. It’s human nature.

There are several movies and books that have been put out there over the years on dementia and I want to recommend one book and one movie.  These are related to Alzheimer but you get the gist of what the person is going through right from the beginning and THAT is most important.

The movie and book moved me to tears ONLY because it was so real.  I do recommend these to anyone who has a relative or friend who is at the first stages of dementia.  The reason it’s best to be informed BEFORE, so you can be the BEST possible support you can be.


Still Alice by Lisa Genova  Still Alice is a compelling debut novel about a 50-year-old woman’s sudden descent into early onset Alzheimer’s disease, written by first-time author Lisa Genova, who holds a Ph. D in neuroscience from Harvard University.

Julie Christie portrayed the female lead in Away from Her, a film about a long-married Canadian couple coping with the wife’s Alzheimer’s disease.

© Cheryl-Lynn Roberts, August 13, 2013



A little bit about moi: I am a mom, a nana, a sister, a woman, a friend, a human being…a youth counsellor, Family Life Educator. I have been working in the helping profession for over 25 years and volunteered in various capacities from youths to seniors. Tournesol is my nom de plume for haiku and other Japanese form poetry here at Tournesoldansunjardin I hope you enjoy reading through my daily waka. I also have another blog "Stop the Stigma" where I may stand on my soapbox now and then and hope it will become a place to drop in and share or comment on issues important to you. In that vein this could be a great way to learn from each other. Namaste!

6 thoughts on “Aging and the brain.

  1. Oh wow I love this! For some crazy reason I am not getting the email alerts so I unchecked and rechecked follow just in case you are wondering! I’m on deadline but thought of you and saw Dear Emma. I love that! Which you link led me here! I love your sweet heart to always give back! You are amazing! I hope you know that! ❤


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s