First, I am not a Neurologist or other doctor who looks at this disease from a clinical perspective. I am one who looks directly in the abyss because I live with it not only every day, but also every moment of my life, because I have it.
I knew years ago that my memory was slowly but inextricably going south. Finally, two years ago a Mayo Clinic Neurologist diagnosed me with Vascular Dementia. That was followed by another diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment. With the knowledge that this disease is constantly moving, I was finally diagnosed with a combination of Stage 1 Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia.
With all that said the question many ask is “how are you doing” my answer is “pretty well.” Here are eight suggestions, which I believe if you incorporate them into your life, you can answer “pretty well”, as well. They are not in any specific order and all are important for different reasons, so here is my list.
1) Diet and Exercise
Diet and Exercise are very important, frankly more then any medication currently available. My diet includes tons of fruit and vegetables and a lot of grilled Chicken with lemon, fish and some meat and potatoes, but a lot less then before. This diet has dropped my weight from about 190 to 163 in 6 months and my 4 blood pressure meds, I was taking is now reduced to zero. I also either pound away on the new treadmill we bought, or use my new chipper shredder I bought with my neighbor to make our woods a little less foreboding and a little more accessible. It also requires a lot of lifting and toting and therefore creates exercise. This is all well and good for your body, but is also extremely important for your brain. Stay as active physically and mentally as you possibly can.
2) You Are Not Alone
Understand you are far from alone with this disease. In fact you are one among many. The numbers currently in the US about are 5.5 million and World Wide the number is over 44 million. In addition the number is growing by leaps and bounds.
What that means is there are hundreds and hundreds, even in your community that you can talk to, commiserate with, get help from and provide help to.
3) Others Deal With It and So Can You
This is almost an attachment to number 2 in that all states and many communities have associations and groups you can meet with and learn with, to help you deal with this disease. Also, this provides an avenue to help stay up on the most current research available working to find a cure.
4) You Can Still Be Very Good at Some Stuff That Matters
What I find and in talking to others, believe is almost universally true, that what you were good at before you were diagnosed, you will still be pretty good at. If you were not very good at something you are probably heading toward terrible. Here are my examples. I was always a great cook, now I’m just really good. I loved to write and am still quite good at it. I know that because I still get my editorials on ALZ, politics and foreign policy printed. On the flip side I was never a very good speller, now I am terrible. I was a bit claustrophobic for years, but still flew a lot for business, now I really do not want to fly, especially in a small regional jet.
5) To really stay engaged; take time to smell the roses
One of the most important issues, is do not let this disease get you down or depressed. So how do I stay up, engaged and rarely depressed? I stay quite active, but I also spend a lot of time in our back yard, gardens and forest. Before I was diagnosed I was like most others, just hurrying through life. Now I take a lot of time to just ”stop and smell the roses”. In my case it’s watching the deer, the rabbits, a dozen bird species, squirrels, a new juvenile ground hog roaming the property and a few foxes living in the woods. I even enjoy watching the ants. I once wrote a paper on ants for an intellectual club I am a member of, now that information is quite valuable as I watch them work as teams scurrying about.
6) Do Everything You Can to Make All Around You Better
Life on this planet is so much more then just we humans. We move around and create havoc among our own species; much less all the others. Yes, I still eat meat, but it should be cared for and slaughtered humanly and even then I say a thank you prayer for the animal who gave his life so I could have nourishment. That is but one example of how my life has changed and has created more contentment then ever before, even in face of an incurable disease. My wife and caregiver have moved me in the direction of caring about the species we dine on with impunity.
7) Giving to Others Has Guaranteed Returns to Yourself.
The second half of the contentment I now feel, is brought about by helping others in anyway I can. A small example is, over the years I have noticed when I pass an African American especially females in a shopping center, grocery store etc. I find they usually do not look at me, but if I say something positive, something like “what a cute child you have” or just give an approving smile they tend to open up and return the smile or compliment. I think they are so used to disrespectful looks that an old white guy being nice is a real change of pace. Larger examples , are helping anyone you can, many times in small ways and occasionally in larger ways. Point being, pay attention and help when and where you can. The returns on your own disposition are very great.
8) Enjoy family, caregiver(s)and friends in ways you might not have before.
We all take so many things, people and circumstances for granted. Make the most out of the time you have left. How much time is there, totally unknown, therefore live each day the best you can. In your final thought, you want the knowledge that you left the world in a better place then when you came.
If you follow all those concepts, you will have neither the time nor the inclination to worry about your disease and that is as good as it gets.