YOU CAN COUNT ON IT!!!

TENNIS

Did you know that out of the 5 million people who have Alzheimer’s right now, 3.2 million of them are women? By the age of 65, 1 in 6 women will get Alzheimer’s compared to 1 in 11 men. In fact, women over 65 are twice as likely to get Alzheimer’s as they are breast cancer. Does this give you pause?

 Now I’ve got to tell you, that’s weird. Why? Because when you look at the checklist of what to do to NOT get Alzheimer’s, the number one thing science says it to, “make friends & create social connections.” And guess what? Women do that WAY better than men! In spades!

 So what gives? Apparently, if you have the APO-E4 gene, which is linked to Alzheimer’s, and you’re a woman, you are very likely to succumb to the disease. If you’re a man? Not so much. There is some research that says it’s because women live longer and that estrogen loss contributes to the buildup of amyloid plaques, but really? The jury is out.

 So here’s my take: if you’re a woman, make friends and lots of them. I consider myself super fortunate because I do have friends, lots of them, from Australia to Arizona. I have a zillion more friends than my husband and considering the statistics, maybe that’s a good thing. My friends come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Even better, the ones I know that I can count on would be totally cool if I started talking to plastic tumblers. In fact, they would talk to them, too, just so I don’t feel so alone. Now, that’s a real friend.

So, in case you are looking for one yourself, here is a checklist:

1.  They accept you “as is” but they don’t let you get away with BS.

2.  They are ‘empathetic’—not ‘sympathetic.’ 

 3.  They encourage you to be your BEST self and kick your butt if you’re not.     

 4.  They listen and listen and then some.

  5.  They are ‘there’ for you even if you haven’t seem them for 40 years.

 In the pictures above and below, you will see some of my tennis girlfriends. I love them. I can count on them and know what else? They can count on me.

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FROM MICE TO MEN?

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I must be getting cranky in my older age when I am far more excited about a scientific discovery than in watching one, more ridiculous political debate. The real, ‘movers and shakers,’ we should be paying attention to are those who make the world a more beautiful place, not an uglier and more divided one.

So here’s the news: researchers in Australia have been able to restore brain function in mice! Granted, people are not mice, (though some politicians imply otherwise.). These scientists have been able to use a type of ultrasound, which non-invasively beams sound waves into the brain tissue. By oscillating super-fast, these sound waves gently open up the blood-brain barrier, (which is the layer that protects the brain against bacteria), and stimulate the brain’s microglial cells to activate. Microglial cells are the waste-removal cells. Once activated, they are able to clear out the toxic beta-amyloid clumps that are responsible for the worst symptoms of Alzheimer’s!

This is crazy, wild, cutting-edge science and I am intrigued. Granted, by the time my own brain may have amyloid plaque it may be too late. However, imagine the possibilities for future generations. Frankly, I would rather pin my hopes on this kind of science than on any present, political candidate. So, don’t look for a sign in my yard or on my bumper with someone else’s name on it. My vote goes to those who actually make our lives better and more beautiful. And from artist to zoologist, you know who you are.

SO YOU THINK YOU CAN’T DANCE?

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Tell that to the 70 something couple I met at Starbucks this morning. Some R&B with a great groove was playing in the background when I noticed the wife was swaying back and forth a bit to the music.

“Good for you!” I said to her. “Did you know that science has proven that dancing, above all other activities including biking and swimming, gives you a 76% advantage in NOT getting Alzheimer’s?”

“No. I didn’t know that,” she smiled shyly, “but I do love to dance.”

“Well, the New England Journal of Medicine just posted a study that says dancing integrates several brain functions at once—kinesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional which increase your neural connections and thereby decreases your risk of dementia.”

She looked at me blankly. So, I turned to her husband and asked, “Do you dance with her?”

“Heavens, no,” he scoffed. “I don’t dance. I can’t remember all the steps.”

“What?” I chided. “Well you better learn or you increase your risk of Alzheimer’s.”

“Dancing is just too hard,” he replied.

“Okay,” I said, looking down at his feet. He was wearing white sneakers.

“Shuffle your right foot like this,” I said, demonstrating a simple, tap shuffle.

“That’s easy,” he replied, imitating my shuffle, “but it’s sure not dancing.”

“Okay,” I countered, “now add your other foot for a ‘ball change.’”

I demonstrated and he copied me exactly, stepping back with his right foot and forward with his left.

“Big deal,” he remarked.

“Now put them together,” I instructed, and you have, ‘shuffle, ball change.’”

He executed this perfectly.

“Well, that’s still NOT dancing,” he insisted.

“You’re right,” I replied. “However, you have just mastered a fairly, tricky, tap step with ease. Imagine what you could do with the waltz or the polka.”

“Oh,” he smiled, “I would LOVE to be able to do the polka!”

“That’s the easiest dance there is!” I exclaimed, again demonstrating as I counted, ‘one-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three.’”

When their coffee arrived, I said to the wife, “Now when you get home, sign up for polka lessons.”  She smiled and I almost had the sense that she just might do it.

This gal in her 80’s however, needs no lesson or coaxing whatsoever.

Enjoy!!

https://www.facebook.com/antena3/videos/10153420815306298/?pnref=story

 

P.S.  That’s me dancing with a complete stranger who told me he, “couldn’t dance.”

BASS ACKWARDS

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Ready for this?  Do you know what the 3rd major cause of death is in the US right now?  It’s listed right there after heart issues and cancer:  Alzheimer’s.  Why?  Because once that amyloid plaque gums up your neural connections your brain shuts down.  Once that happens, here comes pneumonia, falls that lead to operations, and a host of other ills that befall our elderly.  So while that death certificate may have said, “Pneumonia,” Alzheimer’s was behind it all.

So, you would think that in our infinite, scientific wisdom we would be doing everything we could to prevent that plaque buildup in the brain in the first place.  Instead, where are those billions going?  Into ‘miracle’ pills that are supposed to remove the mess once it has already begun tangling the wires in our thinking.  It’s like telling a teenager:  “Oh, you’re pregnant?  Well the abortion clinic is down on 21st street.”

 As my aunt used to say, “We have it all bass ackwards.”  As a kid, I actually thought that was a real word.  Didn’t know until the day I told my geometry teacher that the stupid theorem had it all “Bass Ackwards.”  He glared at me and said, “You watch your mouth, young lady.”  ‘Hard to do without a mirror,’ I thought to myself but didn’t dare say out loud.  Thought he was an idiot.  Then I looked it up.

 So let’s just cut to the chase:  young or old here are some things you should be doing NOW—not once you forget your own address or how to tie your shoelaces.

  1.  MOVE—no, not out of state, off your butt.

2.  THINK—not just about your next errand but make meaning in your moments.

3.  EAT WELL—you already know what that means so I won’t bore you with broccoli.

4.  GET SUNSHINE—or take Vitamin D.  Better yet, plan a trip to the Caribbean.

5.  CONNECT WITH OTHERS—no, not at the bar or hooking up at rock concerts.  Something that makes you connect in a REAL way with others:  sports, games, and regular volunteering will do the trick.

6.  BE GRATEFUL for the time you DO have.  You never know when it will be up.  Just be sure that when it is your lights aren’t already out.

GOING, GOING. . .

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Much ado has been made about Alzheimer’s.  In the Netherlands there is even an entire, self-contained village where people with dementia live like ‘normal’ people.  Denmark has a community called, “Life in the 50’s” for those boomers who want to retire in nostalgia.  However, while championing the cause of the moment, we are neglecting entirely the real problem facing us right now:  our elderly.  Every 7 seconds someone in the US turns 60.  In 5 years, one-third of the population will be over 55.

 So what are we doing?  Building thousands of nursing homes instead of designing our present cities so that we can age gracefully in them.  I live in a lovely, long-established neighborhood but there is not a single sidewalk so that I can walk through it safely.  I could move to one of those retirement communities where everyone drives around in golf carts but that would get ‘old’.  Besides, I would miss seeing and learning from young people and though they don’t know it yet, they would miss me, too.

Since one-third of us will soon be in that special milieu just how ‘golden’ will those years actually be?  Our culture STILL has a fascination with all things young and Madison Avenue continues to sink millions into glitzy Cosmopolitan advertisements.  But who wants to be sold high heels when they have trouble climbing the stairs?  Who will buy the next high-tech gizmo that takes 20-20 vision and fast, nimble fingers to operate?  And while collagen may plump up your lips, it takes joy to really make them smile.  That feeling springs from a nurturing community, not a divisive one.

 We need to stop creating separate spaces that divide us and design ones that incorporate both young and old.  Imagine a park where Maya Angelou strolls with Miley Cyrus discussing poetry as Jack Nicklaus shows Justin Bieber how to swing a 9 iron. Hard to imagine?  Yes, but not so long ago that was how life in America looked.  People were connected face to face—not cyberspace.

Am I sounding political?  You bet.   If we continue devaluing the old while placing premiums on the young we will create a restless, impatient and mentor-less society.  Unemployment figures would shrink to zero if focus were put on aiding the elderly:  building one-level homes, designing smaller cities that are walkable, creating abundant parks, planting greenery and simply caregiving our real ‘antiques;’ the ones so priceless they cannot be sold at auction.

HOME

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I’ve done some odd things the last few years:  put the bills in the icebox, then headed to the mailbox with a carton of milk; gone to change a light bulb, only to put the burned out bulb right back into the socket; sprayed oven cleaner on the windows right after I sprayed Windex in the oven; paid the same bill twice in the same week!   You get the picture.  But today may well have topped them all. 

The temperature had dropped into the 20’s, so I sat down on the sofa to put on a nice, warm pair of socks before I headed out to the pool.  My bikini was lying on top of my workout bag.  Methodically, I lifted my left leg thinking I was putting on my left sock, but instead, stuck my left foot into the left side of the bikini bottom.  Then just as  methodically stuck my right leg into the other side and pulled up my bikini snug over my sweat pants.  I stood there a moment wondering why my feet were still so cold…………yeah.

Forgetfulness is apparently in the cards for my future.  For now, I just laugh at myself.  If I had Alzheimer’s, of course, I would forget how to laugh altogether.  So, each day that I do something stupid—and it is most days—I always remind myself to LAUGH.  That way, hopefully, folks won’t think I have dementia and need to go into a home. 

A close friend called today to let me know that three of his buddies went into Alzheimer’s homes in the last year and all three died within months of moving into them.  “I don’t understand it,” he said, “they were all lovely places but my friends—one of them really healthy— just suddenly up and died.” 

 I understand.  It is hard enough losing one’s mind without losing all sense of one’s place in the world.  A home is a touchstone.  The longer one has lived in it, the deeper its hold on the psyche.  And no amount of granite counter tops or new wall to wall carpet can compensate.  T. S. Eliot once said, “Home is where one starts from.”  I figure it’s also where I want to end up.  Besides, I sure don’t want some stranger seeing me walk around with my bikini on over my clothes.       

 

 

 

 

TABLE FOR ONE

3 weeks ago, I posted, “You Just Never Know,” about two, old friends at our local Starbucks.  At the time, Joe was worried that his pal Bob, “had Alzheimer’s.”  I hadn’t been back since then, so dropped by this morning to say, “Hi.”  Bob was sitting alone outside on the bench.  Joe was nowhere in sight. 

“Hey!  Where’s your sidekick?” I teased. “He won’t be coming,” Bob said sadly.  “He has dementia, that Alzheimer’s thing.  His wife won’t let him come.  She said that they have to run tests to see if he can drive, for insurance reasons.”  When Joe’s family noticed that his memory was slipping, they took him to the doctor.  “They put him on some kind of medication  to slow down the memory loss,”  Bob tells me. Then he exhales heavily and stares out at the parking lot.  I have never seen such a big man look so small and bereft.

 “Can’t his wife bring him?” I ask, “The last thing someone with memory loss needs is taking them away from familiar people and places.  And you guys go all the way back to the 4th grade!”  Bob just shook his head.  “Joe called to tell me all this himself,” he said sadly, “and I could hear in his voice that he was just all choked up about it.”  We both were silent again.  “Well, guess I’ll just have to get a replacement,” he said trying to be light-hearted, yet without a trace of enthusiasm in his voice.  “Maybe you can be my replacement?”  But we both knew it wasn’t a real question.  How do you replace a 65-year friendship?

I hope that his wife will bring him.  There’s an empty seat at Bob’s table now and no matter who sits there, they’ll never fill it like Joe did.  Bob didn’t chat up a single customer today and the whole place was sadder for it; even me.

Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes,” an Alzheimer’s memoir.