Why I Walk to End Alzheimer’s

My grandmother holding my mom in 1937

My grandmother visited me for a week in 1996 when she had moderate dementia.  To ease the burden of having one caregiver, my grandma traveled between her three children’s homes and would stay for up to four months at a time at each place.  My home was a stop-over one year as she went from my uncle’s home to my mother’s.  I was glad to have her with me, and in my hurried life with little ones, it was nice to slow down and be with grandma in her world for just a bit.

I adored my grandmother who died in 1999 with advanced dementia.  But do you know what I remember the most from her visit?  I remember her asking the same questions over and over, and me repeating the same answers over and over.  I wasn’t prepared.  She didn’t know where she was or who I was.  And whoever I was, I had some of her things that I needed to give back to her!  Talk about a crash course in dementia.  To go from the grandma who used to love on me and call me her “little dumpling” to not knowing me at all was tough — shocking even.

I didn’t know at the time that my dear grandmother would be practice for what lay ahead.

Mom and I in 2010 enjoying a day at a park, right around the time her disease went from bad to worse. This would be her last visit to my home.

Fast forward to 2005.  I am with my mother in the kitchen and she doesn’t know what to do or how to help.  She is lost and seems to find comfort staying at the sink and washing dishes.  She is clearly overwhelmed, and this is the moment when I knew.  She is 68 and slipping away so incrementally it’s almost impossible to see — but I see it here in her face, at the sink in the kitchen.

In 2008 mom can no longer pay bills or make a phone call, and caring for her home has slipped through her fingers like the hair she no longer combs.  Eventually, the names of mom’s friends, children, grandchildren, and even her own name, are gone.  Mom could hardly communicate at the end, long after she lost the ability to do most everything else.

Mom died this year at the age of 75.  Her Death Certificate lists “Alzheimer’s Dementia” as her cause of death, which I’m grateful for in this under-reported disease.

I walk for those who are already gone.  I walk for the more than 5 million Americans who don’t know who they are or who you are, and for their families who love them.  I walk for the 15 million caregivers in this country who are too overwhelmed and exhausted to walk.  I walk for the billions of dollars needed to make the National Alzheimer’s Plan an ACTION plan.  I walk for my children, and my future grandchildren.  I walk for my grandmother, my mom, and for me.

I walk to be seen and heard and I walk because I HOPE.

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It’s not too late to register to walk or to donate.  Go to the Winchester – Shenandoah Valley Walk to End Alzheimer’s to join my team and/or make a donation.  Look for Racing Alzheimer’s.  Get more information HERE.

You can also go to alz.org to donate and/or find a walk near you.

So I’ve Been “Running”

When I began Racing Alzheimer’s, my intent was to share the latest research on how to be healthy so that you and I could hopefully avoid or delay dementia down the road.

I haven’t been very good at this.

With my mother moving into late stage dementia, this blog became more about racing her Alzheimer’s by helping her and being with her as much as I could.  Still, as I focused on my mom, I didn’t lose sight of the need to be healthy.  My “prevention intention” was never far away as I watched the progression of this disease in my mom.  Talk about motivation.

While there are no guarantees or proven ways to prevent dementia, there is nothing to lose and so much to gain for trying.  There are a number of ways to keep our brains healthy that are supported by solid research — and exercise is one.

So I’ve been “running.”

If you’ve followed my running posts you’ll know I am not a runner.  Uh, because running is hard?  Truth is, all exercise is hard for me — I just don’t like it.  But of everything I’ve tried, I enjoy running the most which is to say I hardly enjoy it at all.  It’s tolerable.  I’m not very good at it which is why I’ve been running so slowly it can hardly be called “running.”  Oxygen deprived lumbering is a better description.

So why do it?  Because study after study suggests exercise as an important way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.  One Mayo Clinic study found:

Older adults who regularly engaged in moderate exercise five or six times a week reduced their risk of mild cognitive impairment by 32 percent compared with more sedentary people. Those who began exercising at midlife saw a 39 percent reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment.

Mayo Clinic goes on to say, “It’s not clear how exercise protects the brain from Alzheimer’s, but research indicates several possibilities, including:”  1) increased brain volume, 2) improvement in brain connections, and 3) improved blood vessel health.   In addition, Harvard Professor John Ratey, M.D. says exercise is “Miracle-Gro for the brain” and the “single most powerful tool you have to optimize your brain function.”

It’s kind of hard to say no to that.

I’ve been lumbering and training for a 10 mile race in October.  The Twin Cities 10 Mile is something I’ve wanted to do since I started lumbering in 2011.  It’s by lottery and I wasn’t selected last year.  So you can imagine my surprise when, barely able to run 2 miles, I found out I got in this year!   Yay!!?   After I settled down and let go of my fear, determination set in — and I started training.

I’m up to 8 miles now and my knees would like me to stop.

As grueling as the training has been, I’m thrilled to be running this race in my hometown, in my 50th year — the year my mother succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease.  I’ll run for my mom, and for me and for all my aging brain cells.   My son will be running the Twin Cities Marathon at the same time — 16.2 miles farther than me, and I’d like to think I can finish before him.

I’ll share other ways I’m Racing Alzheimer’s down the road, but for now, it’s all about the lumbering, and my knees, and my brain cells, while b r e a t h i n g, and taking one step at a time.

With Abundant Gratitude,

     ~  Joanne

An Invitation To Walk, Raise Money, and Help End Alzheimer’s

Racing Alzheimer’s has a Team and needs Team Members!
Save the date and join me for the
2013 Shenandoah Valley Walk to End Alzheimer’s!

 

Event Details

The Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s® is the nation’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research.

WHEN:  Saturday, September 28th (Rain or Shine)
Check-in 8:30 am     |     Program 9:30 am     |     Walk 10:00 am

WHERE:  The Willows at Meadow Branch
1881 Harvest Drive    |    Winchester, VA  22601

WHAT:  Choose between a 1 mile or a 3 mile walk option.  Start line will be at the facility and walking will be mainly on walking paths and sidewalks.  Walk routes to be determined.

HOW:  Click Here, go to Register, then Join A Team, find Racing Alzheimer’s.

This is the first time I’ve created a team like this and I’m very excited about it!  I have a very achievable goal of recruiting 10 walkers and raising $1,000.  This is a great way to raise funds and awareness while having fun.  And if you have personal experience with dementia, this is an opportunity to join together and DO SOMETHING!

Please let me know if you have any trouble registering or have questions about this Event.

I hope you can join us!

     ~  Joanne

2013 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts & Figures Report

1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer's or another dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Association’s 2013 Facts & Figures Report came out yesterday.  It’s not good.  Unlike other disease with decreasing numbers that are being managed or cured, Alzheimer’s disease has growing numbers without a cure or the ability to manage the disease.

Quite frankly, I don’t have the energy to get into what we need to do to mitigate the Alzheimer’s tsunami heading our way.  It’s all been said before, and I wouldn’t have anything new to add.  Besides, I couldn’t say it any better than Nancy Wurtzel in “Dating Dementia” where she succinctly describes where we’re at and where we’re headed.  She also offers practical advice when she says:

We’ll need many more medical personnel and facilities.  We’ll need more education and understanding of the realities of dementia.  We’ll need to provide tangible support to the caregivers who are on the front line.  We’ll need ways to improve the lives of those living with Alzheimer’s disease.

I will say this — this country is in big trouble if we don’t make substantial advances on all fronts.  We’ve been warned.   We know what’s coming if a cure isn’t found.  Like Nancy says, “a big plan is required and it will take commitment and innovation.”  At the very least, let’s not act surprised when the tsunami hits.

You know the saying “hope for the best, but plan for the worst?”
With Alzheimer’s disease, the hope is in the plan.

 

Keeping It Simple: An Alzheimer’s Prevention Diet

If ever there was a good excuse to eat unhealthy food, the Super Bowl would be it.  There were chicken wings, chili, cornbread muffins, and chips at my house.  Then my little Super Bowl party of two, (my husband and I), treated ourselves to a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra around half-time.  Note: eating ice cream while watching Beyonce shake her post-baby, fit body takes some pleasure out of the ice cream eating.

Our game fare could have been better, but I’m not beating myself up too badly because healthy and whole food is the normal diet around my house these days, and we’re eating more fruits and veggies than ever in the form of a drink, thanks to our new Vitamix.

There’s being a lot written about nutrition for brain health lately, and I’ll admit it can be a tad complicated and overwhelming.  That’s why I like this recent blog post on Maria Shriver’s website who is an Alzheimer’s champion by the way.  The post is written by neurologist Dr. Richard Isaacson, one of the authors of “The Alzheimer’s Diet,” and what I like about it is he keeps it simple.  I like simple.  I’m guessing you do too, so I wanted to share.

Here’s what the good doctor says are three general recommendations for a healthy brain diet:

Maximize:

  • High-quality lean protein. The importance of protein for brain function cannot be overemphasized. Examples of recommended protein sources include fish high in DHA (e.g., wild salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna); poultry (skinless white-meat chicken and turkey); lean meats (beef) that are hormone free; egg whites; and low- or no-fat dairy products.
  • Vegetables (especially dark-green leafy vegetables) and berries (especially strawberries and blueberries). Note that these healthy choices do contain low-glycemic (good) carbohydrates that should be tracked, as limiting one’s overall glycemic load has been found to be essential for long-term brain health. A good website for checking the glycemic load of specific foods is at http://www.mendosa.com/gilists.htm. The relationship between glycemic load and reduced memory function is complex and beyond the scope of this article.

Moderate:

  • Monounsaturated fats (e.g., extra-virgin olive oil, peanuts, avocadoes) and polyunsaturated fats (e.g., nuts and seeds).
  • Complex carbohydrates (e.g., whole grains, quinoa).

Minimize:

  • Simple (high-glycemic) carbohydrates (e.g., white bread, cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and corn syrup in general).
  • Saturated fats (eliminate all trans fats).
  • Fried foods and dried foods (potato chips, corn chips, crackers, and dried fruits with sugar).
  • Cakes and muffins.
  • Bacon and hot dogs.

Dr. Isaacson goes on to say, “other great brain foods include seeds and nuts (flaxseeds, walnuts, and pecans), legumes (small red beans, pinto beans, and black beans), unsweetened red or purple grape juice, curry and turmeric root, black or green tea, unsweetened dark cocoa powder, and dark-skinned fruits.”

As I mentioned in “Read Ingredients. Avoid Crap.”, ignore the food pyramid and try to keep it healthy, wholesome, and pure.  An easy way to do this is by eating foods with ONE ingredient like fish, chicken, spinach, kale, strawberries, almonds, etc.  And of course purchasing your food in the most organic and chemical free form possible.

It’s okay to eat unhealthy on occasion, we’re all human.  The important thing is to forgive yourself, and get right back on the health wagon.  Now what do I do with those Super Bowl leftovers?

A Pacemaker For The Brain?

A “pacemaker for the brain” to help slow Alzheimer’s and retrieve memories is all over the news right now.  Researchers used Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) on a man back in 2003 that seemed to unlock old memories.  This led them to think about the memory loss in an Alzheimer’s brain, and if this method could perhaps help those inflicted with this disease.  “Implanting electrodes into the brain isn’t new” says USA Today article, but it’s new for the Alzheimer’s brain.

The potential for science curing Alzheimer’s, cancer, and other diseases is encouraging and even exciting, but the idea of putting electrodes in the brain to cure a sick brain, while it does have merits, seems a little backwards.  This endeavor highlights two things:

1.  How incredibly amazing our bodies and brains are.  The Alzheimer’s brain is a sick brain.  The beta amyloid plaques and tangles are our brain’s response to something not right.  Our body knows why the plaque builds up, but scientists do not.

2.  How science and the medical profession is so focused on easing our symptoms rather than finding the root cause of our physical maladies.  It seems a new drug, or an electrode in this case, is the focus rather than preventing the disease in the first place.

Now I realize some people are trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s and other diseases, but for the most part, drug therapies are being promoted for just about everything.  In fact, drugs to “fix” our symptoms are so prevalent and profitable, that I would imagine curing our diseases would not be a smart business move.  So I don’t know — are there more folks working on preventing and curing diseases or on developing responses to diseases?

There’s a lot of talk lately on inflammation and how it could be the root cause of many diseases, and I’ve heard that Alzheimer’s is “inflammation of the brain.”  So when I think of the electrodes being implanted in a brain, I picture a car battery that needs to be jumped, but the terminals are full of gunk.  We can jump the car through the gunk, or we can clean off the gunk and start the car on it’s own.

I hope more people are working to clear the gunk rather than working on making more jumper cables.

* Disclaimer:  I do not mean to offend anyone currently on a drug therapy — drugs are needed and helpful in many cases.  I just hope we are focused on curing diseases rather than just managing their symptoms.

6 Reasons I Joined A Gym

I joined a gym! 

My feelings about this are somewhere between excited and terrified, but I’m looking forward to getting started.  I never considered myself an “exerciser” until 2011 when I began running and working out on a somewhat regular basis.  I got into it pretty quickly and found myself exercising four to five days a week which was unheard of for me — I felt great, went down a pant size, was signing up for 5Ks and a 10K — and then  . . .  I  . . . gradually . . .  stopped.  Well, almost stopped.  I still ran a little here and there, did sporadic floor exercises, “push-ups” on the stairs, squats while blow drying my hair, but it was all going to hell and my motivation was waning.

So I decided to join a gym.  Here’s why:

1.  Motivation.  I need to be where other people are working out.  It’s tough to stay motivated when I’m doing it alone.

2.  Weights.  After receiving poor results on a recent bone density scan, I have no choice but to begin strength training.

3.  Classes.  Yoga, Zumba, Cycle, Pilates, Boot Camp!

4.  The big 5-0.  I’m turning 50 this year.  Aaaaagh!  When? How? Must turn back time!

5.  Cost.  It’s crazy inexpensive right now at Gold’s Gym.  Maybe they have good deals where you live?

6.  Alzheimer’s Prevention!  Exercise and pumping iron are two of the best things I can do for my brain.  It’s a no-brainer. ; )

Also, see me in that batting cage?  It was a lot of fun, and it brought back memories of my softball days, but that was on Dec. 26th, two weeks ago, and I am STILL in pain.  I am so dog-gone weak that I have virtually no upper body strength, and I’m still paying for my batting fun.

I am weak.  I want to get strong.  That’s why I joined a gym.

Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease: What Do We Know?

The National Institute on Aging, part of the NIH has just published a 24-page booklet about Alzheimer’s disease — what it is, prevention strategies and what we can do to help fight this disease.   It’s a general overview that’s easy to read for those of you who may be in your own race.

Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease:  What Do We Know?