Good day to you all. Our blogger and friend Ty has written the post for today and it is a touching one, but one which needs attention nevertheless. As a child growing up in Jamaica, I would sometimes hear my mother make reference to someone at times, like, “Poor Doris gone senile”, or other references would be made by people, of older folks who had lost their memory as being senile , they no longer recognized any one. I have no idea if being senile or having Dementia is the same, but I now know through this post, that Dementia is more than memory loss. Please read, learn, and let us talk about this awful disease. Thank you Ty for this post. People when you pray please include the world!
Many of us fear cancer, lightning, drowning or gunshot wounds. However a huge number of people as they age fear dementia. The loss of independence is a harrowing thought, not being able to complete simple tasks as brushing your teeth or remembering your loved ones. Some people question why God would give humans this terrible disease. I am not sure what the answers are but I do know that without diseases such as these, we would not remember the blessing of seeing our loved ones faces and feeling their embrace.
My maternal great grandmother and my God mother both had dementia. I did not know my maternal great grandmother so did not know her struggle. I do know that this disease caused her to “give away my grandmother” to her sister who had no children of her own. I am thankful that she was able to figure out that she needed help and blessed my grandmother. My god mother on the other hand, I knew and saw her struggle. When my parents left Jamaica, and me there, it was she who helped me. She was in the early stages of dementia. I was a teenager and was not aware of the signs.
A common thing to happen is that they tend to mask their deficits. They make light of their short comings and make excuses as to why they forgot things. Now, memory loss does not mean dementia, so before you go thinking you have it, relax. Dementia is a processing abnormality. it is a problem with the higher functions of the brain. Here are some examples:
- someone is given a checkbook and they cannot write a check, after years of being an account
- someone gets lost driving to church after being a member for over 20 years
- someone is given a toothbrush, and the can neither recall the name of the item or how to use it
Memory loss can be due to many other things than dementia, example vitamin b12 deficiency, folate deficiency, thyroid problems, vascular problems, strokes and infections. All these have to be excluded before you can get a diagnosis of dementia. Ideally, for the diagnosis of dementia one has to undergo a neuropsychology testing. This is a 2 hour examination that tests the function of the brain. The best way I can describe this test, is to say that it differs from a CAT scan or MRI. A CAT scan or MRI is like taking a picture of a person sitting in a chair. You can describe the persons clothes, and infer information, e.g. they wear glasses so they may have vision problems. You, however, cannot tell if they can get up and walk, or if they can walk well. This is where the neuropsychological testing comes in, it tells you the functional capacity and efficiency of the different parts of your brain based on how you complete a series of tasks. It tells you where you excel and the areas where you may need work. I personally feel that everyone over 40 should do this test because you are able to make a difference at this point.
Once the diagnosis of dementia is made it sends a devastating blow to not only the person but also to their family. There are many thoughts as to how we develop dementia but no one really knows. Dementia is thought to be a spectrum of disorders or a hodgepodge of disorders. Equally as frustrating is that there is no cure and no real treatment. There have been many thoughts and so far none have really panned out. A few years ago, there was the thought of high dose vitamin E, this eventually led to many bleeds in the head which resulted in much more devastating effects that the dementia process itself. Then there was the gingko phase, unfortunately, many people do not know that there is a male and a female ginkgo tree and both have separate and different effects on the brain. The hope of it being a treatment caused pandemonium and people got all kinds of gingko treatments and, as you guessed it, had bad outcomes. To date none of the research on gingko has shown a benefit.
Dementia has left scientists with a conundrum. It was first thought to be a protein build up issue. See, our brain and bodies run on electricity, which require positively and negatively charged particles to circulate. So, excess proteins disrupt this process and hence the brain does not process like it should. It sounded feasible and then to top it there were brain biopsies on autopsies of dementia patients to show an excess protein build up. This premise was what lead to the name Alzheimer dementia ( one variant of dementia where there is excess protein that is ONLY confirmed on biopsy at death). So it led to a flood of drugs to try to slow down the protein build up, these are still on the market and are the only ones available. So sad but true.
In the past few years, through stem cell research, the protein theory was debunked. It was proven that the proteins are not the initiating process but a by-product. See, the protein is after the fact and by the time it shows up, the damage is beyond repair. This same stem cell research has led scientists to figure out what is the initiating factor or damage. Currently, the main thought is that the brain tissue is very fatty, and so, made up many oils. If there is an imbalance in the oils, then the brain cannot function well and it will send out SOS signals which intern lead to inflammation, cross circuit and scarring. the scarring can lead to loss of tissue and breakdown, which then progress to protein build up. So far no drugs are available to combat this oil imbalance but there are some in the works.
So far, no one knows for sure what is the process and how to stop it, hence no viable drugs are available. The only thing that has stood the test of time in preventing dementia is exercise. Every single study done has shown that exercise has benefits to stave off dementia, slow the process and halt it. As why and how, there is still debates. Below is a short article on Dr. O’Keefe who won the Nobel Peace Prize this week for his work on dementia.
My honest opinion, is that stem cell transplant will be the only way for a cure. I think drugs will come in the future to halt or slow it down. The only cure, however, will come from stem cell transplant. Now before the bible beaters come after me, please hear me out. Stem cell are not only retrieved from aborted fetuses. They can be harvested from: the foreskin of a newborn that was circumcised, the umbilical cord right after delivery, your pelvic bone, and a few even can come from your inner cheek. So, there is hope.
Now back to my beloved god mother, she started to show the signs in her early 60s and progressed rapidly. She was an Anglican who never missed church on Sundays and early on in the disease would wake up 5 am to make it to 9 am mass. What was normally a 20 minute drive became hours. She would make all kinds of excuses as to why she got up so early. Then, she would ask me to write up her checks because her eye sight was “not so good”. She began to make the supermarket home-deliver her groceries because she was old, tired, and did not want to stand in lines.
When I left Jamaica I was still a teenager, I did not know the signs and aided in her cover up. I can clearly remember the day I was leaving, she held me tight and told me that she would miss me dearly and wondered how I would grow. I shrugged it off the day because I felt she would always be around and never sensed the storm that was coming. A few years later a got a call from a friend of mine who was in the legal arena that my god mother had called him to add me as the executor of her will. I was livid. She had 2 daughters, both older than me, and lots of money at stake. I did not want that responsibility. He was concerned when he saw the amount of money involved that trouble would be near for me should something happen to her. I told him to not accept the case and he did. I called her up and we argued. She felt that I was honest, fair, and that I would never fight over money or land. I told her never to give me that role as I did not want it. She was just as mad with me as I was with her. That was our last conversation.
I did not speak to her for a few years after and on a trip to Jamaica decided to visit her because I missed and loved her. When I saw her, I did not recognized her. She looked horrible. Her hair was cut short, she was emaciated, she had to be fed from a cup and spoon, she was bed ridden, had a foley catheter in place to catch her urine, and worse of all she could not speak audible words. I cried when I saw her because when my parents had left me to fend for myself, she was my shoulder, and the one I could talk to. I was a quiet child, and an internalizer, so I never revealed my emotions to anyone but when I cried she would embrace me and never asked a question. I loved her for that because she understood that was what I needed and never pried. Yet when I saw her and she could not speak, I was afraid to touch or hug her. I feared I would break her. It was a very sad moment for me….
I do not regret turning down the offer of being the executor of her will. To this day the two sisters are in legal battles over the money, land, and properties. I do, however, regret not speaking to her after that for such a long time. Fear and anger barred me from that. She died a few months after I saw her and on every May 31st (her birthday) I light a candle and pray for her.
This was not meant to be a sad commentary but one to empower you all. I want you to know that:
- science has a long way to go for dementia treatment and that early detection can be an awesome tool
- exercising is a wonderful way we can all stave off dementia.
- hug and embrace your loved ones often.
I pray that my story here has shed some light on this dreadful disease, encouraged someone to have their love one tested who is showing early signs, made you not delay that workout session, and most of all be thankful for the well functioning brain you have. Ase.
Tí ìyà ńlá bá gbé’ni ṣán’lẹ̀, kékèké á gorí ẹni. /
If one is tripped by a major setback, little ones will take advantage of one……Yoruba Proverb!
[Major issues can make one vulnerable to minor ones.]
All religions are valid as long as it teaches peace and love…..Obara Meji!
There are no disappointments in life, only lessons learned…..Obara Meji