A Publication of WTVP

There is no way to avoid so-called “normal aging.” Every day in the life of a senior, something new happens that has to be accepted as “normal.” For a real cheer-up session, check out WebMD’s Healthy-Aging/Normal-Aging information. Did you know that sometime in our third decade, the brain’s weight decreases? Can you imagine what is going on now, in the sixth decade? I used to say, “If I had half a brain, I would be dangerous”—and now it is possible that I do just have half a brain, and if what I am doing is considered “normal aging,” it is scaring me!

One night I could not find my car keys. They really couldn’t have gone too far, since I did manage to drive home that day. After two or three visits to the car, and finally, using a flashlight, I was able to see that they had fallen between the seats. The very next morning I couldn’t find my glasses. I must have roamed the house for a good 20 minutes while my husband sat quietly reading the paper. I didn’t want to mention to him what had happened, since he was there for the key incident. I glanced at him and he had on what looked like his glasses. Finally I walked over and asked him to look at me, and there were my glasses sitting, somewhat askew, on his face. His only reply was, “I thought they seemed a bit different.” My question: Which one of us has the more serious problem?

I worry about getting Alzheimer’s because my mom spent four years in the Alzheimer’s wing at a nursing home. Alzheimer’s is not at all funny, but when it happens, the rest of the family has to decide how they are going to handle it. Humans are social beings and never lose their need for relationships, no matter what level of cognizance they have. I felt very bad for retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when it was reported that her husband, who has Alzheimer’s and is in a nursing home, has a female friend and they sit and hold hands. Mrs. O’Connor was said to have gone through pain and then relief for his happiness. I thought it was a very brave and classy disclosure on her part.

My mother did something similar early in her stay at the home. She got into bed with a retired minister and, thankfully, was quickly removed by staff. That might have been quite a scandal! I am sure there are men out there who are trying to score by acting like they have no memory—okay, so it isn’t much of an act…And there are those who look forward to the day when their wives can’t remember what they did the day before…

I learned early on to put Mom’s adventures in the proper perspective. If she were still “my mom” she wouldn’t have done some of the things she did in her dementia. Well, except for the time those two friends came to visit me from out of state and wanted to meet her. When I introduced her to them, she promptly flipped them the bird. We laughed, and I felt okay about it because it just seemed like something she might do if she were normal—probably not to people she didn’t know, but let’s just say I have seen that gesture from her before.

People often feel like they are “losing it” when they can’t seem to find things immediately or forget to do things that used to not take much thought. Sometimes the best remedies don’t work. One day I made a sandwich for lunch and put it in the refrigerator and I made myself a note that said “sandwich” which would prompt me to take it to work. I later got to work with the note, but not the sandwich…

The Alzheimer’s Association website has ten warning signs of the disease. It is reassuring because after each warning sign is a description of what is normal, and it appears that I am still tenuously hanging on to the normal side.

The WebMD site also says that in addition to the brain’s weight decreasing, the size of the nerve network and blood flow also decreases, but the brain adapts to these changes and grows new patterns of nerve endings. So all is not lost if you make an effort to keep your brain sharp with regular social activity, mental exercises and, most importantly, physical activity, which increases blood and oxygen flow to the brain.

So we are back to the benefits of working out—or the old “use-it-or-lose-it” theory. Some researchers say that those people who are conscientious and prone to doing what’s right may be at a somewhat less risk of Alzheimer’s. There is also the suggestion that optimism and the ability to establish and carry out goals might be traits that help keep the aging brain in shape. It is sort of a conundrum because exercise can help you lose weight, but not exercising can help you lose your mind. And then there was the day, after workout, that one of our classmates came running back in the door looking for her purse—I really hated to tell her that it was on her shoulder…TPW