July 31, 2012

Memories: How to Improve Them

Memory is a fascinating topic, certainly to seniors – like me -- who sometimes wonder what our minds are doing or going.. I love to read, do internet research, play bridge… and I like to think that these activities are somehow warding off dementia. But my main concern is my increasingly poor memory. To combat this, I've told myself to pay more attention at the time I'm receiving new information. But a new study indicates that it's what I do after getting that new information that can make a difference.

A Little Wakeful Resting Can Go a Long Way
The study suggests I might just want to sit quietly for a few minutes after I learn something new, in order to recall it clearly later. University of Edinburgh psychological scientist Michaela Dewar and her colleagues told two short stories to 32 normal adults, aged 61-87. Immediately after, the researchers asked the participants to retell the stories in as much detail as possible.

Here’s where things got interesting. The listeners were then divided into two groups. The first group spent the next ten minutes in “wakeful resting,” sitting in a darkened room, with eyes closed, quietly thinking about whatever they wanted… or nothing. The second group, on the other hand, was shown a series of photo-pairs and asked to spot the differences between them. Each picture pair remained on the screen for 30 seconds.

Half an hour later – and then a week later in a separate test – the participants were asked again to retell the stories. The wakeful resters were able to recall significantly more story material than their game-playing counterparts.

Said study leaders Dewar, “Our findings support the view that the formation of new memories is not completed within seconds. Indeed our work demonstrates that activities that we are engaged in for the first few minutes after learning new information really affect how well we remember this information after a week.”

Dewar suggested that the moment at which we experience something is just the beginning of real memory formation, and that additional neural processes must occur in order for us to recall the full memory later.

Jeez, is it any wonder – with the constant bombardment of stimuli we encounter these days – that we think we sometimes forget more and more? I’d like to know how my own memories might improve if I lived in the woods for a few months – no TV, no radio, no cell phone, no internet, no Facebook, no freakin' Twitter! After the sylvan experience, I’d be able to recount in excruciating detail just how totally bored I was!

But this study does reinforce my dedication to mindfulness meditation, which I practice several times during the day. And it adds to my resolve to cut back on multi-tasking.

Here’s the July 23 press release about these memory findings from the Association for Psychological: Science: http://bit.ly/M6qRkA

July 30, 2012

75 and Sunny, 83 and a Few Clouds, 90 and Hazy

I came across this song -- 75 and Sunny -- on a friend's Facebook page and liked it. While it's 83 for me, not 75, it's still mostly sunny, comfortable, and enjoyable. But that almost certainly will decline at 90 and deteriorate seriously at 100.

I wasn't able to catch all the words in Montbleau's rendition, so I looked on Google and  found the lyrics below. The description of the climate in the 20's and 30's sounds familiar to this recovering alcoholic. Recovery certainly is one of the things that  makes it sunny at 75 (or 83).

75 and Sunny

I had a bad night
i mean not so bad i thought i was king of the world
and i drank till daylight
i mean i never stopped once til my hands finally fell
and i fought my daytime self
with a mighty dose of hey look at the night time me
i never do win that battle
but i fight it over and over and over and over it seems

and i saw an old man
smilin' on a park bench feedin' the pigeon's
my head was spinnin'
as my young body ached i wished for an old man's vision
and i watched the way he moved
so slow, serene, and lucky to be alive
and i thought to myself i'm never gonna make it that far
too many nights like last night

I'd rather be 75 and sunny
and acting like I'm 17 and freezing again
I'd rather be up early in the morning
than up late at night again erasin' memory's of where I've been
or to be through at 52 someday stone faced and leery eyed
you better believe i'm lookin for the moment
but my moment's growin' bigger by and by

and i've got a best friend
she dont drink or smoke like I've been known too
shes got a religion
shes a one women dynamo and shinin' light in every room she goes too
she says the light thats there wont go nowhere noway
she dont spend every second smilin'
but she's learnin' something exciting everyday

she'd rather be 75 and sunny
than 29 with a chance of showers all the time
she'd rather be old as dirt and new as any 9 dollar bottle of wine
or to be through at 35 momma stoned with her back to the win
you better believe she's looking for the moment
but her moment is the hold damn thing

i see these spin kids
double wide eye'd and rollin' and rollin' and tumblin'
there rollin' in inches
taken the high dive approach and screamin' towards the water
there hearts race a million miles
as they buy another smile from a jar
there bodies are screamin' for the water
you know i just hope they make it that far

i hope they're 75 and sunny
not 29 with a chance flurries all the time
i hope we're all old as dirt
and not new as any 25 dollar ride that we can try
or to be through 35 momma stoned with our backs to the wind
you better believe i'm lookin for the moment
but my moment sums up the hole damn thing

and i say I'd rather be 75
oh how nice, how easy for me to say
I've never broken a bone in my life
let alone had my heart or a hip replaced
and i keep this furious pace
and i still feel so good and strong
and i do get tempted for a taste, just a taste
to keep me going, going,going, going, gone

But I got a notion
that everything I've learned will come around
in my devotion to the new thing
and the next thing and the hip thing is slowin' down
and i got a life in here wont go nowhere noway
and i don't spend every second smilin'
and i ain't tryin' but I'm excited for today

cause I'd rather be 75 and sunny
than 29 with a chance of showers all the time
I'd rather be older than the wind
then this years new kid runnin' for my life
or to be through at 52 someday, stoned faced and leery eyed
you better believe i'm lookin for the moment but my moment
you better believe i'm lookin for the moment but my moment
you better believe i'm lookin for the moment
but my moments growin' bigger by and by by and by

July 27, 2012

In Memoriam: Lili Crane, July 7,1918 - July 26, 2012

Never say in grief
She is no more
Only say in thankfulness
She was

Lili at a birthday dinner a year ago. 
About to ask, "Why the hell are you taking my picture?"

Lili at her 90th birthday party with Ann Schappi and Kathy Gill Mundle.

And at her 85th birthday with an adoring admirer...

...and with her daughter Bambi.

Here she is stealing the show at the wedding of daughter Jodie and Baker 
as she makes her grand entrance on the arm of grandson Jamie. 
All that was missing was a band playing "Hello, Dolly!"

July 26, 2012

5-HTP and Me: Two Important Lessons Learned

We -- 5-HTP and me -- have had a fairly long relationship (longer than most of my relationships). As with all my relationships, I've learned some important lessons.

What Is 5-HTP?
It's basically a serotonin booster. Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters that light up the brain. It is allied with another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Parkinson's results from the depletion of dopamine-generating cells in the brain.

Dopamine regulates muscle movement, motivation and reward-seeking, sociability, and pain processing. Serotonin primarily affects mood, impulsiveness, appetite, intestinal motility, sex drive, and the sleep/wake cycle.

My History with 5-HTP -- The Magical Pill
When I was diagnosed with Parkinson's in the fall of 2009, I was also dealing with the depression and insomnia that often accompany Parkinson's. My neurologist at the time prescribed the old-line anti-depressant Elavil. It worked OK except that I gained five pounds in a couple months and felt groggy in the morning.

July 25, 2012

Nursing Homes: Finding the RIGHT One

On July 16, 2012, one of my favorite bloggers, Ronni Bennett, posted a piece about institutional elder abuse on her excellent "TimeGoesBy" site.

Among the grim stories she recounts are these three, reported in the Miami Herald’s four-part series Neglected to Death, which the paper ran last year:
  • "In Kendall, a 74-year-old woman was bound for more than six hours, the restraints pulled so tightly they ripped into her skin and killed her."
  • "In Hialeah, a 71-year-old man with mental illness died from burns after he was left in a bathtub filled with scalding water."
  • "In Clearwater, a 75-year-old Alzheimer’s patient was torn apart by an alligator after he wandered from his assisted-living facility for the fourth time.”
Please don't get me wrong: there are many superb facilities for seniors in America. But if this issue is important to you – it should be important to us all – I’d urge you to look at the Miami Herald series (link above).

While I hope my family never needs to initiate the process of finding senior housing for me (I started doing it for myself -- after my Parkinson’s diagnosis a few years ago -- before I “saw the light” and made the very correct decision to stay in my own home), I wondered what online resources were available to families facing that transition for loved ones -- from home to institution.

I did the classic Google search, and here’s what I found, from the top (most viewed) down.

July 24, 2012

Alzheimer's and Diabetes: More Links

We’ve known for years about the apparent link between Alzheimer's disease (AD) and diabetes. A quick scan for articles in the e-journal Science Daily shows the recent history:
I’ve recently seen several new reports about this link. Both expand the science that is inexorably revealing the nature of the connection between the two diseases, thus increasing the likelihood of new treatments – even cures -- for both conditions.

Dementia Gene Affects Insulin Pathway
As reported in the June 2012 edition of the journal "Genetics," researchers at The City College of New York (CCNY) have isolated a single gene associated with AD and diabetes, which gives scientists a new target for treatment.

July 23, 2012

NSAIDs -- "One of the Most Dangerous Classes of Drugs for Older People"

That quote above comes from Are Your Prescriptions Killing You?, Armon Neel's new book. In it, he devotes a chapter to NSAIDs, nonsteroidal anti-inflamatory drugs. Most of us have taken these drugs at one time or another. Many people take them every day.

Co-authored by AARP Bulletin consulting editor Bill Hogan, the book was published this month. I did a post last week on its warnings about statins, drugs widely used to control cholesterol. In that post, I detailed Neel's substantial credentials as an award-winning geriatric pharmacist.

NSAIDs are used to treat arthritis, joint pain, headaches, and other kinds of pain. They are available in both prescription and over-the-counter forms. The most common OTC NSAIDs are:
  • Aspirin with brand names like Bayer and Bufferin
  • Ibuprophen such as Advil and Motrin
  • Naproxen such as Aleve and Midol
But the NSAIDs list contains many other brand names. For the full catalogue, see http://www.nsaidslist.com/.

NSAIDs As "Phanthom Killers"
That quote is the title of Neel's chapter on NSAIDs. Here's how he summarizes the risk:
The main problem with NSAIDs are that they increase gastrointestinal irritation (which can lead to erosion of the protective lining of the stomach), assist in the formation of GI bleeds, and decrease the cohesive properties of platelets that are needed to form blood clots. What's more, the regular use of NSAIDs can cause cardiovascular disease.

July 20, 2012

Curcumin's Promise for Treating Prostate, Breast, and Other Cancers

This post continues my series about curcumin, the active ingredient in the Indian curry spice turmeric. I'm amazed by the expanding evidence that this compound can effectively treat an ever-growing catalogue of ailments, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, depression, arthritis, and cancer.

Today's focus is curcumin and cancer. There are many studies here, so I'll just provide brief recaps and links to websites for more information.

Prostate Cancer
I have prostate cancer, so let's start there. The best summary I've seen is a video by Dr. Charles Myers. A medical oncologist and prostate cancer survivor, Dr. Charles “Snuffy” Myers was a key player in creating AZT, Suramin, and Phenylacetate while working at the National Institute of Health. With over 250 research papers published, he has led the way in research and treatment.

July 19, 2012

Volunteer to Gain Time and Live Longer!

Looking for a reason to volunteer somewhere? How about these two reasons:
  • You might just feel like you have MORE time, and 
  • You might just live longer. 
Need to Feel Like You've Got More Time?
As reported Monday on NBC's Today Show health site, a new study suggests that people who volunteer their time end up feeling like they actually have MORE time. Yes, the premise seems a little odd.

In one of four different experiments, 218 college students were assigned one of two different five-minute tasks. The first involved simply “receiving” time to waste; the second involved “giving” time by writing a brief email to a very sick child. Afterward, the group that wrote emails indicated feeling like they had more time than those who had just goofed off.

July 18, 2012

Reflections on Aging and Dying from 72-year-old Tom Hayden

This will, in effect, be a "guest post" from Tom Hayden, who most of us oldsters remember as an icon of 1960's radicalism... and the ex-husband of Jane Fonda. He was recently interviewed by the Washington Post at his office in Culver City, near Los Angeles. I found the interview fascinating, and particularly his thoughts on aging and dying, which I'll quote in full.

At 72, Hayden writes every day -- newspaper columns, books, tweets -- as part of a "moral obligation" that he feels to speak out. Nothing new there!

He had heart surgery "at the time of 9/11" and again last year. In answer to the question "how are you?" he says:
I am aware I have advanced heart disease. The interesting news is that I still play first base every Sunday on a baseball team. I have a 12-year-old son, a wife and quite a healthy family life.
How I take care of myself is I've stopped drinking any alcohol and changed my diet to manage the onset of diabetes 2, which can erupt as a pain in the nerve endings of my feet. That is managed by a drastic reduction in sugar and an increase in kale.
Hayden likes kale because of the way it varies -- cook it in an oven , put it in a shake. He's found that "anything that grows in the ground is the best approach to diabetes."

July 17, 2012

Meditation, Muscle Relaxation, Core Strengthening: A Winning Triple-Header at Dawn

"Oh, what a beautiful mornin' / Oh, what a beautiful day / I've got a beautiful feelin' / Everything's goin' my way."

I've always loved that song from Oklahoma. I was thinking of it this morning when I finished my mindfulness meditation as dawn was breaking and I took this picture of my just-vacated meditation chair. Fortunately, I was back in bed an hour later, when the jet planes from National Airport -- I refuse to call it Reagan Airport -- began flying over the house and the temperature started its rapid climb toward today's predicted high of 101.

A week ago I reported on a study  that emphasized the importance of picking the type of meditation that works best for you, and on my finally finding that mindfulness meditation worked best for me. Now, I'm experimenting with a couple of  "apps" that show promise for making my early morning meditation even more beneficial to my mental and physical well-being.

Here's the triple header that makes me feel like "everything's goin' my way."

July 16, 2012

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS): Can It Treat Speech Disorders that Result from Strokes or Parkinson's?

At my weekly Parkinson's support group meetings, there's an oft-repeated phrase: "Speak up, please. We can barely hear you." So, I was excited to read that researchers at Australia’s University of Queensland reported last week that transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) could revolutionize treatment for language and speech disorders associated with Parkinson’s disease and stroke.

Professor Bruce Murdoch of the Centre for Neurogenic Communication Disorders Research within UQ's School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences reported that the new therapy would bring life-changing improvements for people who had experienced language problems with neurological causes. “When present, these disorders have a serious impact on quality of life, often leading to an inability to communicate with family and friends, social isolation, loss of vocational standing and financial hardship,” he said.

The non-invasive process involves delivering a series of magnetic pulses to the brain using a figure eight-shaped stimulating coil held over specific areas of the head. Citing the brain’s astonishing plasticity – its ability to change and even heal itself – Murdoch explained that the TMS pulses had the effect of “switching on” disabled parts of the brain in patients with PD, and “switching off” trouble-making parts of the brain in people whose language problems were stroke related.

July 13, 2012

If you are over age 60, "stay away from statins at all costs"!!

That's one of the many provocative, seemingly well-documented recommendations in Armon Neel and Bill Hogan's intriguing new book, Are Your Prescriptions Killing You?

Statins, prescribed to combat high cholesterol, are the best-selling class of drugs in the United States, and Lipitor (atorvastatin) is the best-selling prescription drug in history. I've been using Lipitor since age 60, and it's one of the priciest drugs I take. Currently a 30-day supply costs about $200, or $2,400 a year. That means -- to date -- my insurers and I have shelled out about $52,800 to Pfizer... unnecessarily, if Neel is right!

And this guy is not a quack.

July 12, 2012

Balance Exercises for Seniors: Staying Well... and Independent

Balance typically worsens as we age. It can be complicated by medical conditions, as I'm well aware. My concerns about balance first drove me to see a neurologist, who delivered my Parkinson's diagnosis.

Poor balance often leads to falls, which cause head injuries and bone fractures. Hip fractures especially bring serious health complications and often limit our independence.

Lots of studies confirm that older adults benefit from a combination of walking, strength training, and balance activities. Tai chi, yoga, and Pilates can help. Even walking on uneven surfaces, like cobblestones or hiking trails, if done carefully, helps improve balance over time.

Guidelines for seniors recommend 30 minutes of balance training and muscle-strengthening exercises three times a week, plus at least 30 minutes of walking activities twice weekly at a  minimum.

July 11, 2012

Does Nutrient Cocktail "Souvenaid" Improve Memory for People with Mild Alzheimer's?

A study published online in yesterday’s Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease suggests that drinking a daily compound of nutrients can aid memory in people with early Alzheimer’s.

The daily brew is called Souvenaid, and it combines DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid), choline (found in eggs, meat, nuts), and uridine (a basic component of RNA found in organ meats, broccoli, tomatoes, and other foods). Developed by MIT professor emeritus Richard Wurtman over a decade ago, Souvenaid has been the focus of two randomised, controlled, double-blind clinical trials in Europe. Wurtman suggests the liquid mix stimulates the growth of new synapses, improving cognitive function.

The second, latest “Souvenir 2” study involved 259 European subjects with mild AD. Some drank Souvenaid every day for six months; the rest drank a placeco beverage. Interestingly, verbal memory performance improved in both groups during the first three months, underscoring again the great power of the placebo effect. But during the second half of the study period, verbal memory began to deteriorate in the placebo group, while Souvenaid drinkers continued to show memory improvements.

July 10, 2012

Stay Safe -- and Don't Fall -- at Home

One of the smartest things I’ve done OUTSIDE my house this past year – after my car crash last August-- is limit my driving: only during the day, and only on unhurried, familiar neighborhood roads. I’m safer as a result of that decision, and so is everyone else. At first, I worried about losing some freedom and maybe some spontaneity, too. Truthfully, it’s been no big deal. In fact, has given me an excuse for getting out of doing some things I didn't particularly want to do anyhow.

But the best place to start making sure we stay safe is INSIDE and AROUND the house.

Don’t Fall
If I fear dementia – a fact I’ve mentioned repeatedly in this space – I probably fear falling even more since it's a more immediate threat. And people with Parkinson's disease, like me, are especially vulnerable.

Seniors fall for many reasons. A summary of 12 different studies provides these causes (although it was difficult to quantify the effects of drugs, and issues about medication compliance).
  • 31%: accident / environment 
  • 17%: gait / balance 
  • 15%: various other unspecified causes 
  • 13%: dizziness or vertigo 
  • 10%: drop attacks (sudden spontaneous falls) 
  • 5%: unknown 
  • 4%: confusion 
  • 3%: visual problems 
  • 3%: postural hypotension (blood pressure drop after change of body position) 
As this list suggests, most of these falls are often preventable. Here are just a few tips that are often listed  to help us stay on our feet, safe and sound:

July 9, 2012

Find the Meditation Technique that Works for You. Here's Mine.

Choosing a technique that works for you is the best way to gain the many personal and medical benefits from meditating, according to a just-published study. Forget what's popular or trendy.

I couldn't agree more. I've tried meditation -- off and on -- for years. Mostly "off," since I usually felt I was failing at the "empty-your-mind" goal. But I've finally found a practice that works for me, and I'm convinced it's one of the best things I'm doing for my mental and physical health.

July 2, 2012

You Can Help Test A New Technique To Diagnose Parkinson's

Mathematician Max Little has made a public appeal for people to call a phone number so data can be gathered to hone a voice-pattern tool for diagnosing Parkinson’s disease. Little, a research fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, made the announcement during the opening of the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh, June 25.

Little was recently made a TED fellow. The non-profit organization behind TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) creates 40 such fellowships each year. The program targets innovators under the age of 40 and offers them free entry to conferences and other events.

Difficulty in Detecting Parkinson's
After Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s is the most common neuro-degenerative disease. Since it is incurable, early diagnosis can affect an individual’s quality of life.

Currently, there is no simple diagnosis tool -- no blood test can identify Parkinson’s. I suspect I probably had  PD several years before it was finally diagnosed. That's when I first noticed I was losing my sense of smell -- an early symptom of Parkinson's... but one that could also be attributed to other factors. When I was diagnosed, it was by the process of elimination. I got brain scans and other tests to make sure something else wasn't causing my problems with balance and arm rigidity. I didn't -- still don't -- have the hand tremors often associated with PD, which made my case more difficult to detect. When no other cause was found, I was given the standard Parkinson's medication to try out. When the med seemed to work, my doc said "PD."