Dementia Diary: ‘Cures’ for losing your memory are too hard to resist

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Anthea Rowan is penning a regular file for The Irish Times called Keeping Mum: A Dementia Diary

For years, connected my instruction, Google mailed quality alerts to my inbox: Depression. Every morning, messages declared themselves loudly arsenic they landed successful Outlook with a deceptively cheerful ping. Shameless truly — fixed that they were either announcing the illness of the quality tone oregon the disintegration of satellite economies.

Neither are immoderate fun.

Not agelong ago, I altered my Google alert: Dementia is little ambiguous. It doesn’t bombard maine with reports of fiscal calamity oregon nonstop maine down Wall Street. But nor does it committedness antidotes successful the hopeful mode slump sometimes did; radical get amended from depression.

They don’t from dementia.

Sometimes, depression’s remedies sent maine scurrying done the invisible archives of the ether arsenic I tried to place the writer of this survey oregon that, begging for interviews, haranguing doctors with endless questions. Sometimes these “cures” made maine gasp, oregon laughter retired loud: “Nicotine whitethorn amended the symptoms of slump successful radical who bash not smoke”, I work with incredulity or, adjacent much suspect, a attraction administered successful Siberia: “whipping therapy becomes overmuch much businesslike erstwhile a diligent receives the punishment from a idiosyncratic of the other sex. The effect is astounding: the diligent starts seeing lone agleam colours successful the surrounding world, the heartache disappears, though it volition instrumentality a definite clip for the buttocks to heal, of course.”

Science and snake oil: it’s a heady mix.

Once, mired successful an particularly resistant episode, mum was persuaded her fare was the origin of her melancholy. A nutritionist urged her to halt each her medicine drugs and successful their stead instrumentality handfuls of minerals and vitamins, halt eating wheat, ditch the dairy, decidedly outlaw thing with immoderate sweetener successful it, opt for atom cakes and soya. Mum was elated — however casual this quest for eternal wellness would be! Elated until she got sick again and past with the crutch usually afforded by anti-depressants and lithium kicked retired from nether her because, of course, she’d stopped taking those weeks ago. She fell hard, sunk to the lowest she’d ever been.

In her astonishing In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss, Amy Bloom (who describes her husband’s determination to extremity his beingness astatine Dignitas erstwhile helium was diagnosed with aboriginal onset Alzheimer’s) writes, “‘Lessening the likelihood of processing the disease’ is simply a communal operation successful the Alzheimer’s universe, and it is utilized astir getting capable sleep, eating blueberries, doing crossword puzzles, and a batch of things that are bully for each of us, and nary one, not 1 aesculapian website, states that these bully things really forestall anyone — anyone — from getting Alzheimer’s”. Later, successful a pique of frustrated sadness, she tells a friend, “There is virtually nary treatment. The astir precocious Alzheimer’s probe successful the satellite says: devour fucking blueberries. Get capable fucking sleep”.

Google assures me: Walnuts amended cognitive function. Blueberries boost memory. Fish lipid supplements little your hazard of Alzheimer’s disease.

Promises, promises. And they are hard to resist, adjacent though you cognize nary of these things, successful isolation, volition marque the blindest spot of neuro-protective difference.

So what tin we bash — prophylactically and sensibly speaking, fixed that determination is nary failsafe attraction — yet — for this horrid condition?

Professor of Ageing and Intellectual Disability astatine Trinity College Dublin, Mary McCarron tells maine that the 2020 Report of the Lancet Commission “identified 12 modifiable hazard factors, which, with due interventions, could forestall up to 40 per cent of dementia cases worldwide: Education, proceeding loss, hypertension, alcohol, obesity, smoking, depression, societal inclusion, carnal enactment and diabetes”.

Dr David Robinson, advisor geriatrician astatine St James’s Hospital, says, “I archer my patients that erstwhile I was young, my older relatives died of bosom attacks and strokes successful their 60s and 70s. We’ve fixed that with statins and stents, present radical are surviving into their 80s and 90s and their brains are falling apart.”

He agrees successful the imperatives of staying physically, socially and mentally progressive and adds, “Novelty is important — erstwhile we are young, everything is caller and our brains grow. But arsenic we get older, we thin to bash the aforesaid things implicit and over.” So spell determination new, bash thing new, helium urges. I had ne'er considered this but, of course, it’s true: successful our younker we reach, stretch, seek, turn into caller experiences. We’re inclined to shrink with age. “And, yes” helium says, “impaired proceeding is an autarkic hazard origin for dementia”; get a proceeding test.

Yup, says president of the Irish Gerontological Society, Professor Rose-Anne Kenny who precocious published Age Proof: The New Science of Living a Longer and Healthier Life, all of the supra — positive assortment and laughter; “they person a affirmative interaction connected inflammation which is simply a cardinal mechanistic pathway for dementia”.

And what bash I do?

I follow the mantra that what’s bully for my bosom is bully for my head. I effort to debar being lured to quick-fix complacency — those blueberries, the walnuts I hate. Instead I think: devour good astir of the time, locomotion briskly astir days, bash Wordle astir mornings, work a publication astir evenings, larn French...

When my parent archetypal fell sick with depression, cipher spoke astir it; successful the 1970s intelligence unwellness wasn’t A Thing. She named the mode she felt utilizing the Oxford Dictionary. Then she took that connection “depression” arsenic diagnosis to the GP who frankincense acold had failed to place immoderate it was that ailed her: “Could I beryllium depressed?”.

I was lucky: I had Mum arsenic an example. I understood slump better, earlier, and much intimately than astir radical due to the fact that of her. Was it, then, due to the fact that I could recognise depression, what caused it, however it manifested, that I was capable to debar it? I don’t know.

Will I debar Mum’s Alzheimer’s for the aforesaid reason? I don’t know. I won’t know.

All I cognize is that I ne'er considered the world of my vulnerability to dementia until I had to look into the look of forgetting each azygous day.

Keeping Mum: A dementia diary

Instagram: @anthea_rowan

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