Over the past few years, I have intimately watched my Mother's cognitive health decline. Trying to diagnose Alzheimer's, Dementia, accurately is tough and quite humiliating. Heck, I am embarrassed that I can't remember what I ate for dinner last night. I can't imagine how my Mom felt taking memory tests. But I will never forget the look in her eyes when she asked me after the first test, "I did ok, right?" It was quite a while before we figured out what was wrong or at least had a good picture of her brain health. I don't think we ever really know precisely where all the problems lie in these diseases. I know as her daughter, I will never really understand what is going on, or perhaps I will never believe all that the doctors tell me. My Mom is my Mom, no one else's. I know far better than the doctors what she used to be like. She was bright, funny, intelligent, bitchy, annoying, and a bit of a badass. Oh crap, I think some people might describe me this way.
Yikes, does that mean I too could slide down the slippery slope of cognitive decline? Now now, hang on; this is a motivational podcast, not a morbid one. Let's talk about what we can do to help preserve what we have in that brain in our skull. I believe that we CAN have a significant impact on slowing our decline, and according to a lot of medical people out there, they seem to agree! Now grab a glass of water since your brain is said to be around 70%, and water can help your memory. So, stop saying you hate running to the bathroom. Why? Are you worried it will add to many steps to your Fitbit? Hang tight, and let's have a memorable episode.
Hey there, Alexa Z here! In the last episode, where I interview Dr. McDevitt and Nurse Tolley at Turning Point, it hit home when we discussed individuals and their whole health. It is important that we look at ourselves as whole people. It is best if you look at it all, from nutrition, stress, sleep, etc. I am not a doctor, but I loved talking to them, learning, seeing the big picture, and I love the combination of eastern and western medicine. I like simplicity. I am going to simplify taking the first steps to becoming healthier. When it comes to memory and cognitive decline, every day, someone mentions that their memory is terrible or is getting worse or say, "I have always had a bad memory." Stop labeling yourself!
I am going to wrap this episode with my personal story. My mother has been diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer's, typical aging, and hydrocephalus. Her doctors do not believe that hydrocephalus is affecting her memory, only her ability to walk. For now, I am going to leave out hydrocephalus and focus on dementia and Alzheimer's. I am not a doctor; here is my version in defining (laymen terms):
Dementia- nonreversible, decline in mental function, typically vascular. Dementia can also be a catch-all for several other disorders.
Alzheimer's - considered a common form of dementia, a specific decline in mental function, slow, and irreversible.
My mom has a little bit of everything. Which causes me to question, what symptoms are related to what, how long will it take for things to progress, what does each part of her brain look. I want to look at how my mom lived her life because when it comes to her lifelong struggle with anxiety, she seems to have passed those qualities on to me. My mom had a lot of chronic stress and worrying was a full-time job for her. Her nutrition was decent, but she has always had digestive issues and at one point was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. Never did a day go by when she wasn't commenting on her stomach distress. She felt empowered when I found a cookbook for her that had recipes to help with irritable bowel syndrome. Soon after, her symptoms went away! My mom's overall sleep seemed great and slept an enormous amount. I am not sure, but perhaps she slept more due to her anxiety and depression. As she got older, she slept more and more. When you age, sleep isn't as beneficial to your health; perhaps she slept too much! As far as her hormones, she claims that during menopause, she felt miserable, nervous, and teary. My mom's life isn't all negative, but it is her reality. I believe that most of the significant health issues stemmed from anxiety.
The positive side of what I remember about her life was that she and my father had terrific friendships and a great support structure. My parents were very spiritual. They were very involved with the Catholic Church and the Knights of Columbus. We had a great family, but most of our extended family lived out of town.
Did her way of living, her way of dealing with anxiety bring on these diseases, or did the diseases cause her to have a chronically stressed system? Chronic stress is typically associated with issues with sleep, emotions, and nutrition.
My mom grew up with the regular stresses of life. Especially stress related to my sister and me. Also, stress with finances, both my parents always worked multiple jobs. How did my mom deal with all of these stressors? She went to therapy and received anxiety medication. If I could go back and change things, I would throw away all her anxiety drugs. I do believe that drugs are can help people in specific situations. However, in my experience with my mother, she was prescribed a narcotic medication (unnamed). The narcotic (unnamed) has a significant effect on a person's memory. My mother is currently in a dementia facility and is still taking that same narcotic because she has been on it for so long that if taken off, it would be detrimental to her quality of life. It is a horrible drug, and she has been on it for decades. A giant thank you to the doctors who monitored her medications. Sorry but I am angry; she should never have been on that drug for so long. I would increase her self-care, improve her nutrition, and analyze her digestive health to determine the overall cause of her health issues.
I want something different for myself. I grew up with anxiety. Meditation is my pill and my vitamin. I worry, especially when I can't remember what I had for dinner or when I am unfocused because I have so much going on in my life. I need to care for myself now.
Let's go back to the episode with Dr. McDevitt and Nurse Tolley. They discussed how they evaluate patients' lives and what they prescribe. They prescribe natural treatments, mixing eastern and western medicine. They also look at patients' overall life to include nutrition, sleep, and stress.
Stress affects three parts of your brain: the amygdala, which processes your emotions, the hippocampus where you learn and keep memories, and the prefrontal-cortex cognitive behavior, decision making. Stress is one of the most common causes of changes in the brain. Stress and anxiety is the underlying part of my mom's health issues. In a study where rats were exposed to chronic stress, the results were that the rat's hippocampus shrunk! In an updated review, rats showed that even brief exposure to stress also affected the rat's brain.
Meditation has a significant impact on stress. Meditation is a practice to train your brain and allows you to lessen stress. Also, it will enable your body to get in the "rest and digest" mode. As you meditate, you change parts of your brain, the connections, and neuropathways are loosened, resulting in less anxiety. If you have less anxiety, you have fewer distractions. Your brain creates unity and begins to work better. Meditation has an incredible impact on our brain. Dr. McDevitt and Nurse Tolley stated that they evaluate their patients by analyzing their nutrition, digestive health, hormones, adrenals, sensitivities, toxic environments, and we always prescribe meditation. However, they said meditation is one of the hardest things for patients to learn. They indicated that they refer many of their patients to contact me to learn how to meditate. They were surprised to hear that not very many contact me. We have excellent testimonials from people who have built meditation into their lives. I am not sure why meditation is difficult, it is your natural state of being, but I am here to help make meditation easier. You were born to meditate; you can meditate today!
Today's episode isn't about being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or Dementia or having a mental decline as you age. The focus is on giving you the motivation to change certain aspects of your life to improve your overall health. I opened up my heart and shared my mom's story with you and expressed my desire to go back and change things for her. As an advocate for those suffering from these diseases and for all the caregivers, I am right there with you! It is not easy. Let's help them and help ourselves! Let's take one step at a time. Meditation helps your brain, and it's easy. I would love to teach you!