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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PUSH “PLAY”

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Noted neurologist, Oliver Sacks, says that music “utilizes more parts of the brain,” than any other activity we engage in. In the documentary, “Alive Inside,” he also notes that music is “one of the last things” to leave a memory destroyed by Alzheimer’s. https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=alive+inside&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8#kpevlbx=1

After watching the film myself, I decided to put together my own playlist on my iPod. I wanted songs that I liked to sing along with, like Don Henly’s, “The Boys of Summer.” I also wanted songs I listened to on my transistor radio when I was a kid, like Del Shannon’s, “Runaround Sue.” Then I added songs that make me nostalgic, like Karla Bonoff’s, “Wild Heart of the Young.” Couldn’t forget my husband’s and my dating song, Roger Voudoris’s, “Get Used To It.” I threw in some Barbra Streisand and lots of Chopin for good measure. No play list is complete without “In a Gada da Vida,” by Led Zeplin, which I added simply so I could impress the other nursing home residents with my mastery of the drum solo. Lastly, I added lots of Michael Jackson songs, because he just makes me want to dance!

Guess you could say I’m prepared. Now, I might be lucky and never lose my memory, but if I do? I hope someone puts those headphones on me and pushes, “PLAY.” Then look out, because in all modesty, I still do a pretty darn good, “moonwalk.” Just ask the passengers on that Southwest flight from San Francisco to Nashville last week. Oh yeah…. And if you have any song ideas of your own that I should add, post them here. I’m still a work in progress.

 

CALL ME. . .MAYBE

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Ah…the good old days of telephone booths. We had one on every corner when I lived in New York City in the 60’s. You hopped in, closed the folding glass door behind you and put in your quarter. They were particularly great in winter when you were waiting for the crosstown bus because they shut out the cold. Sure, the floor was sticky from urine and gum and they smelled gross but the few minutes of warmth were worth it.

But they’re all gone now. We walk with our own phones in hand. But I miss that sense of privacy. I really don’t want to hear everyone else’s conversations when I’m in line at the movies or sitting in a restaurant. Frankly, I’m not interested in how bad Sherry’s new haircut looks, or what Judy is going to say if David calls. Don’t care what time Joe’s dental appointment is or how much food to leave for the cat. Nor am I interested to hear you tell whoever’s on the other end what you are “going to do” to her when you, “get home.” Geez. Get a phone booth, will ya?

I miss them. Yeah, sometimes you had to wait forever while some guy argued with his girl. Sure, you had to bang on the door when you had a real emergency and that dope wouldn’t hang up the phone. Okay, so a lot of the doors were broken and had their lights busted out, but still they were a little safe haven. Best of all, when you deposited your quarter, a real, live operator would answer.

Maybe what we really need is a folding, glass door that shuts around our mouths when we’re talking into the phone; an invisible device that closes when we start to say something that we shouldn’t. Or a brain censor that monitors our thoughts and seals them off just before they come slap dashing out into words. Now there’s an invention!

Texting is handy for trivial stuff but there’s nothing like hearing a real, live voice. It just says so much more—even in the pauses. And for Heaven’s sake don’t EVER call and put me on speakerphone! Talk about a violation of privacy. The only time that’s appropriate is if you’d like me to belt out the national anthem to anyone within earshot.  If so, you’ll have to provide the popcorn first. Play ball!!

 

 

YOU’RE OLD. I’M NOT.

 

 

 

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In the middle of a heated discussion on gender equality this evening, my 21 year-old, exasperated with my stance, suddenly said, “Well, you’re in a state of cognitive decline. I’m not.” I thought about that for a moment but said nothing. Technically, she is right. The interesting counterpoint, however, is that I STILL have 40 years experience on her and that is a HUGE difference—in MY favor.

Granted my neurons don’t ‘fire’ as quickly as they used to but I have a whole lot more embers to choose from than a kid who has yet to graduate from college and live on her own yet. That alone is a game changer. She’s never paid rent let alone a utility bill. Her first one will be a shocker: I won’t be running around after her turning off lights and raising the AC temp! And a box of raspberries in the fridge will no longer be a quick snack waiting to be scarfed up. It will someday be for her, what it is now for me: a luxury.

Isn’t it strange how ‘old’ and ‘grown up’ we feel when we are young and how ‘young’ we think we are even when our hair is gray? Apparently idealism isn’t just the bastion of the young. A recent AARP study found that 85% of people over 50 don’t think they are ‘old’ yet and half of them believe that their peers are clearly ‘older.’ Translation: You’re old. I’m not. My favorite finding is that almost half those over 70 think it’s fine to “make jokes about old people.” Only 25% of 40 year-old’s agree. Translation: age also makes you less uptight.

Which brings me back to tonight. I love that my daughter has strong opinions and voices them. I admire her passion and zeal. I also know that one day both will dissipate with time and experience. 40 years from now, I hope that she, too, will quietly smile if some youngster refers to her ‘cognitive decline’. She will know better by then of course, because she is my daughter!

**Helen Hudson speaks around the country on Aging and all things Alzheimer’s.  Visit her website at http://www.helen-hudson.com for upcoming events.

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.

GET UP AND GO!

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Had a great laugh this morning when I asked my 90 year-old pal how his ‘get up and go’ was.  “Oh, it’s great,” he enthused.  “In fact, every time I get up I have to go, if you know what I mean,” he confided.  I do.  Frankly, if peeing were an event in the Olympics, seniors would have a jump start on the competition.  Aging is an obstacle course with unforeseen twists and turns that require persistence and humor just to navigate.    

 Everyone deals with it differently, though.  A close friend in his 80’s says he told his kids, “If I ever get to the point where I’m helpless, bring me that bottle in my medicine cabinet.’  “What’s in the bottle?” I asked.  “Xanax,” he replied.  “Well, how do you plan to kill yourself with Xanax?” “I figure if I take enough of it, that’ll do the trick.  I take half a pill every night before bed to help me sleep.”  “Well what if you’re all out by the time you decide to take the whole bottle?”  I queried.  “Hmm,” he replied, “didn’t think about that.” 

 Now there is good reason to be a bit depressed when one looks in the mirror as the decades pass.  But did you know that depression affects both adolescents and the elderly equally.  That’s sobering.  What possibly puts a sixteen year-old on par with one who is sixty?  Some say the common thread is that the young who suffer depression have not yet grasped their sense of identity or purpose.  The old are desperately grasping on to who they were and cannot accept who they are now. 

 This morning, my own ‘get up and go’ was gone.  I just did not want to get out of bed.  Finally, I shuffled into the kitchen to make coffee.  Suddenly, my 17 year-old tore into the room like a wild tornado.  She grabbed a muffin in one hand, drank half a glass of milk with the other, flung her backpack over one shoulder and headed out the garage.  “Bye, Mom,” she yelled.  “Gotta go.”  Talk about inspiration.  Ten minutes later, I was out the door myself and headed to the gym.  Nothing like youth to set fire to the old embers.

 My cure for depressed teens?  Spend the day in a nursing home.  Feeling old and depressed?  Spend a day in high school.     

PUT ME IN A HOME AND I’LL PUT YOU IN THE GROUND

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Finally!  After 3 weeks at the gym, somebody finally talked to me!  Granted, he was 89, had false teeth, a zillion old age spots and was semi-bald, but he actually TALKED to me.  I was so happy, I almost hugged him.  I had contemplated giving up this whole weight-lifting routine—not because it’s hard but because not one, single person even acknowledges me.  Like zombies, they move mutely between machines with their earplugs in and stare at themselves in the mirrors between grunts. 

 I’ve seen one guy at least 5 times and despite my saying, “Hi” every time, he has never said, “Hi” back.  Not once.  Not ever.  Not even a head nod.  Occasionally, if our eyes meet, he just stares at me in a creepy, serial killer kind of way.  I thought he was maybe ‘a bit touched’ in the head.  Nope.  Yesterday, there he was chatting normal as you please with the guy next to him.  So, I gave him my biggest, brightest, bestest smile and said, “Hi.  Here you are again!”  He looked at me, stared blankly, then looked back at the guy next to him and resumed his conversation.

 Even the women are anti-social.  They are either drop dead gorgeous in full makeup with skin tight outfits, or big and sweaty, with rolled bandanas around their necks, lifting ‘dumb’ bells heavy enough to flatten me into a graham cracker.  I learned by Day Two not even to ask them for help.  Once, I asked a ‘personal trainer’ which machine was good for building your core.  She replied snottily:  “If you would like some help, book an appointment with me.”  Unwilling to pay to figure out how the machines work, I either follow after people or start each one at ZERO weight. 

 Until today, I had never seen anyone use a machine called the ‘Preacher Curl.’  Kept wondering what a ‘preacher’ was.  Finally, today, I saw a guy using it.  I watched him intently.  It works the biceps!  He caught me staring and paused mid-bulge.  “Oh,” I smiled, slightly embarrassed, “I see you are curling your preachers!”  He did not think that was funny.  He just looked at ME strangely, stuck his left earplug back in his ear and sauntered away like an upright armadillo. 

Geez.  Haven’t had this much fun since I visited a morgue in college.  ‘Weight bearing’ exercise is supposed to stave off dementia.  Scares off humans, too.  Frankly, the caption on this photo pretty much sums up my feelings on both nursing homes AND gyms.  And for the record?  I AM NOT GIVING UP!!  I’ll have this place talking in no time. . .even if it’s about me!!!

Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes.”