Kathleen Sayce, December 2017
Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande, M.D.
The End of Alzheimer’s: the first program to prevent and reverse cognitive decline, by Dale E Bredesen, M.D.
In the third grade, I composed my first book reports. Reading was already a compulsion, but the idea of sharing what I read was a new idea. Occasionally even now I find a book or books that make such sense of a particular condition that sharing is the logical result. So it is with these two books.
Dr. Atul Gawande writes in Being Mortal with grace about his father’s decline, while expanding on end of life health issues, housing for the elderly, and in a hilarious few pages, recounts Dr. Bill Thomas’s effort to help residents of a nursing home thrive by bringing in pets—dogs, cats and birds.
Central to his thesis is the understanding that what elders want is control over their own lives, whether to their benefit or not, while their younger relatives want them to be safe. He discusses related issues—medical care ad the end of life, warehousing of elders, how to live stimulating lives even when old and largely infirm, and geriatric health issues. And yes, there are one hundred parakeets. A thoughtful commentary of how length of life helps sets our frame of mind about future needs added depth to the discussion, and reframes why generations see these issues so differently.
This is of particular personal significance, because my mother and mother-in-law both died of complications of Alzheimer’s Disease, dying after long years of mental absence. They weren’t much alike, and lived very different lives, yet the same disease took both of them.
This brings me to the second book, The End Of Alzheimer’s. I’ve read about this disease for years, slowly piecing together nutritional information, diet and exercise hints, the need for deep REM sleep to help keep brains functional.
I turned sixty-five recently, and decided for that birthday to sign up for a gene scan with 23 and Me. I decided I wanted to know if I have the gene for late onset Alzheimers, Apo E4 (I do not), so I added genetic illnesses to the pile of genetic information to request.
Then I read this book.
Here, in what will probably be the first of several editions, Dr. Bredesen sets out the larger picture—thirty-six known pathways by which Alzheimer’s Disease takes hold. It’s no wonder no single drug works to slow or reverse it—a shotgun shell with dozens of silver pellets of solutions is needed, not a single silver bullet. He delivers that shell of silver pellets.
This book’s utility goes beyond the accessible summary of what is known about this disease to specific steps to counter it. It brings together an understanding of how to treat three seemingly disparate health issues: Inflammation, nutrition and hormones, and toxins.
I’ve been using some of these methods for decades to keep my own mental functionality at a peak. The process began with a challenging job that demanded peak function throughout the day, almost two decades ago. I began slowly, countering the dreaded afternoon nap compulsion by dropping carbohydrates midday, adding L-carnitine and alpha lipoic acid. Soon I was on to the big stuff: gluten exclusion, sugar exclusion, grains exclusion, mental relaxation, stimulation. Even arginine, which college students take by the handful to aid memory when cramming for tests.
I was already off dairy products, and exercising regularly. My list of supplements and avoided foods was ridiculously long, I thought, until I read through the full list of all the specific ways to counter those thirty-six holes in the mental roof of those who have, or who might have, Alzheimer’s Disease. Now I know I am about half way, or perhaps two thirds of the way, into the full treatment.
Am I going to try it all? Absolutely. I have nothing to lose by doing so, and everything that makes me me to retain. I do not know if I have this disease, but I see no harm in keeping my brain functioning. Should you? Well, that depends. Do you want to keep your brain at peak capacity for decades to come? Or slide into dim twilight? I want to go out riding high on life.