Let’s talk about Alzheimer’s. Really talk.

Posted: September 20, 2019 in Life, Political musings
Tags: , , , , , ,

Some years back, we lost our Mother to Alzheimer’s.

She was a gregarious and loveable person, and we kept her at home for as long as we could, until her confusion and behaviours made it simply impossible.

In the end, in distraction, we found her a good old folk’s home, and with great difficulty, too, as the aged care sector in Australia is a nightmare to navigate successfully. And there she duly whiled away her final months – in safety, but often in tears.

The tears weren’t just “Sundowners” – a well-known mood-shift that occurs in Alzheimer’s patients, especially around late afternoon. Fading light seems to be the trigger. The symptoms can get worse as the night goes on and usually get better by morning.

It was distressing for her, for the care-worn staff, and for us, so we often used to try and time our visits for this time of day to give her a lift.

You can read more about it here: not to mention my own musings about ageing.

But her general distress was more than that.

Like a recent report in Australia revealed, she was one of 40% of old age home residents suffering habitually from depression.

The depression was caused by psychological dislocation – a loss of friends and family, a loss of whatever she could recall as “normal”, a loss of privacy, an inability to relate to the new world around her, or to make friends.

To get away from the psychobabble for a moment, in simple terms her biggest problem was that she was lonely. And in simple terms, there was very little anyone around her could do about it.

In the UK and now in Australia, TV series have revealed how teachers visiting elderly patients with a bunch of four year old pre-schoolers in tow is good for both groups. The elderly people experience physical and cognitive improvement, and improved mood, too. The kids just seem to love it. Care workers have known this for years – taking children, especially young children, into care environments is invigorating for the residents. Ditto animals, especially if they had companion pets before. They are both a dash of welcome reality, for people for whom reality has too often become dark and bleak.

As we move into a period where our aged care services worldwide are going to come under increasing pressure as the Baby Boomers start to age and die off, we wonder if we cannot find a better model for looking after our frail friends, family members and neighbours.

In less urbanised (and often poorer) environments, the aged stay in the community much longer – perhaps throughout their final days – cared for on an ad hoc basis by those in the village around them. They can wander safely, and access their neighbours, children, and animals.

They often still engage in food preparation, or piecemeal work.

For thousands of years, such elderly people have been loved and nourished in the environment they have lived in all their lives.

As a by-product of that situation, their lives are not endlessly prolonged by medical intervention which is freely available in care environments, but not necessarily to the long-term benefit of the patient. In a village in Africa, the Steppes, or Asia, an elderly person struck with an infection, or complications from a fall, may just fade away.

But in a Western care environment they are resuscitated, whisked off to hospital and then back to their care home, and regularly pumped full of prophylactic drugs.

So the question we need to face is: just because we CAN save an elderly patient, does that mean we should, if the point of saving them is simply to return them to a place that through no-one’s fault, they are uncomfortable and unhappy in?

There is another assumption that needs to be challenged, too, which is someone with a diagnosis of Alzheimers is someone who is gaga. This is simply not true. Increasingly, people live with Alzheimer’s for a very long time, buoyed up by better medication, exercise, deliberate mental engagement, engagement with other people and more. We are going to need to educate the public about the positive possibilities for people with dementia, and organise society so they are better integrated with the world around them. It is vital to their progress. And happiness. One thing that seems sure to us is that plonking them in “traditional” aged care will do little to prolong their useful life – and this is not to criticise the dedicated and skilful people that work in the sector. They do their best.

Ultimately, we need to ask “What is the most important thing for an elderly person with Alzheimer’s?” In our view, it is surely that they live out their final days with dignity and as much contentment as possible. Our current systems may provide the former – although they often do not – but very few people would argue that they do the latter.

A little contentment in our declining years shouldn’t be too hard to devise, but in our view we need to start rethinking aged care fundamentally, and now. Because right now, we are failing our older brothers and sisters, and it’s only going to get worse.

We need to think harder, and do better.

 

 

Comments
  1. Paul Brixey says:

    Good to read a very well written and informative article on a very important subject.

    Like

    • Stephen Yolland says:

      Thank you Paul, appreciate the feedback.

      Like

    • John Tilley says:

      My family have been lucky – most were dead too early to suffer Alzheimers, or Dementia, or going Gaga or Senile. Both my Grandfathers died before they were old enough to qualify for their pension.
      But I was struck by this whole phenomenon of ageing recently when I visited a school friend who is now in a nursing home suffering from Dementia. This is someone from my class at school, someone who is the same age as me.
      To start with I thought “This is unfair, this should not be happening to someone our age!”.
      But then I reminded myself that I am 67. This is exactly what happens to people “our age”.

      Whilst we were there a mobile phone rang out. Another friend also from school days has a ring tone which is from a record by The Who. The irony of the words “Hope I die before I get old” playing out amongst men in their late sixties – who first bought that record in the late 1960s.

      Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey (those members of The Who who failed in their ambition to die before now) have just brought out a new record. They are about ten years older than me and my friends. The Who came from down the road – a bus ride from where I went to school in the 1960s.
      When we were at school listening to music by The Who – the thought of being 67 and what it might entail never occured to us. When we were at school ‘Old People’, people in their late sixties, were the people who had lived through two world wars. Some of them reminded us of this frequently whilst complaining about the length of our hair and how it would “Do you good!” to spend some time in The Army.

      I am not a fan of being old. I prefer it to death. But being young and healthy was much better! If I am ever to be shipped off to the nursing home with Dementia I might start humming to myself – “Wish I had died before I got old”.

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  2. Jenny says:

    I hope everyone reading this knows already, but Alzheimers starts showing in the brain decades before it manifests itself so that doctors finally diagnose it. If interested in the subject (and I always have been) a few years ago researchers and pioneers on the subject such as Dr Dale Bredesen and Dr Daniel G Amen (an intelligent psychiatrist who has taken over 85,000 brain scans of patients – to try and stop doctors and psychiatrists just guessing what is wrong with the brain) used to say Alzheimers starts 20 years before it manifests – now they say 30 or even up to 50 years.

    In other words if you are eating sugar now – stop it at once! Ditto for refined carbs – but sugar is utterly evil in its effects on the brain and up there in its effects with drug addiction and brain injury. Buy one of their books and look at the brain scans showing normal and Alzheimers, look up their websites online, or get them from the library and it will put you off sugar immediately, I promise! It looks as if some malignant force has actually EATEN parts of the brain – they just aren’t there any more. However, there is good news, if the damage isn’t too bad, there is something we can do about it – and there are before and after brain scans of people recovering from some stages of Alzheimers.

    The average brain is around 60 – 80% (dry weight) composed of fat – and with the hellish (I use the word literally) advice of the arrogant and domineering (and lying) Ancel Keys in the 50s and 60s, we have been subjected to low fat diets in the West for 50 years – and foods that are low fat and ready made have to have something else added to make them taste nice – manufacturers chose sugar; purely co-incidentally Ancel Keys had many connections in the sugar industry and has been widely regarded for decades as a sugar industry shill.

    In short – give up sugar (rest your pancreas, it will thank you for it!), go on a low carb, medium protein, high fat diet – ALL good quality food made from scratch, and water fast from 12 or more hours per day and your body will be so relieved. Note – around 8 hours of fasting are when you are asleep, so that’s no hardship, and if you do it right you won’t be hungry as the good quality fat in your diet is so filling – look up sensible people on the net recommending Keto diets. If you have medical problems ask your doctor’s advice first – but do make sure he knows what a Keto diet is – and start it off gently by degrees, don’t leap into fasting – but it can cure/ameliorate a lot of ills!

    By these means we can hopefully avoid/stop Alzheimers if we do it in time – and the time to start is now (since we sadly can’t go back a few decades).

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  3. Jenny says:

    Yolly, is something going wrong with the posts? Several of my posts have vanished like snow in the sun ….

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  4. Jenny says:

    Trying to post this for the third time –

    Just had email about this one….

    There are a stack of free video courses on avoiding Alzheimers and what to do if you already have signs – and how you can restore that brain function online now.

    I don’t know about this one, but it does have good people on it – Regain Your Brain – this email received 11 hours ago, but it seems to be a 12 episode course, so don’t worry if you miss one (they do seem to repeat themselves!).

    The time to watch the first Episode of Regain Your Brain is running out… you only have until 9:00 AM ET tomorrow morning, so watch it now…

    Click Here to Watch the First Groundbreaking Episode Now

    Getting Started: The Master Plan to Reverse Memory Loss & Regain Your Brain

    You’ll get a first look at:

    The very latest breakthroughs to prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s…
    The tests and protocols that make all the difference in optimizing your brain’s health and performance, and restoring lost function…
    What to do if you’ve missed the prevention stage and already have significant memory loss…
    The second-chance steps for a healthy brain – even if you’ve been bad to it…

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  5. Jenny says:

    Am dividing this comment into two in case it was too big – and trying this one for the fourth time!

    Another thing, apart from getting lots (and they mean LOTS on the Keto diet) of good fats (organic animal fats, and omega 3 fats [fish oils] – no hydrogenated fats, no trans fats and no ‘vegetable oils’ we are told, except olive oil on salad) to let our clever bodies repair our brains, another vital thing is to find a place/activity to start meditating for just five minutes a day, every day (I find this difficult and will have to do it now I’ve advised others to do it!).

    For those of us with no experience of meditation it doesn’t have to be anything in the form of prayer, though it can be if we want, it can take place when stroking pets, gardening or painting or walking in the countryside. As we get more used to it we can spend longer in meditation – all we need to do is to drag our minds back from the Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTS – Dr Amen) that we all have – and breath using our vagus nerve. That means breathing slowly and pushing our diaphragm gently down so when we breathe in the area beneath our rib-cages expands outwards. As with everything the more we practice the better we get at it – and all of us here have enough willpower to save our own brains! Call to your mind seeing a baby breathe – they use this part of their bodies to breathe, so do animals.

    Honestly Yolly, look at those before and after pictures of people’s brain scans in Dr Amen’s books – nothing horrid, they are perfectly ok to look at – but when you see the missing bits in the brains of people with Alzheimers it is scary – and we should be eating in a Keto fashion with mild fasting, exercising gently and pleasantly (do what you enjoy, not a forced march!) and meditating, and with a little conscientious practice we should avoid Alzheimers!

    The poor people who are in care now with terrible Alzheimers could be helped too – but by the time someone is in care, everything is so much more difficult.

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  6. Jenny says:

    I am having terrible trouble convincing my elder sister to eat any fat at all – she is over retiring age and has been avoiding fat like the plague for 50 years (a la Ancel Keys dogma swallowed whole without any checking by the then medical establishment) – and she has had troubling signs for a few years. Fortunately she is an academic and a couple of years ago, after I had been researching the right supplements to take to avoid Alzheimers and the right diet and let her know, she met some other academics abroad who were doing official research on the subject – she listened to them – but then checked with me about the supplements to take. I was rather pleased to note that my (amateur) research was up there with the professionals! Now she is a lot better, but she will be a LOT better when she can make herself eat some fat!

    The time to act is now – and Keto diets are reputed to have cured/ameliorated a vast number of conditions. (The only thing I dislike is Keto-coffee – that has as much appeal as sump oil and if anyone can tell me how to improve it I would be so grateful! [Keto-tea should be banned by international treaty, it no longer bears any relation to our most beloved beverage over here!]).

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