Take Heart and Mind --and Walks

Not all dementia is Alzheimer's. Previously on this blog, I  narrated my experiences in getting my father assessed by the Cleveland Clinic's Center for Geriatric Medicine seven years ago, to be told that Dad's dementia was probably vascular, caused by Dad's heart attack in the 1990's.  (See that story here .) The doctor's recommendation was that Dad walk several times a week."The chances for any dementia progressing to Alzheimer's increases exponentially every five years," Dr. Factora said.that physical activity reduces the risk of Alzheimer's.

And now, Gretchen Reynold's in "Brisk Walks May Slow Dementia" in the New York Times health column, offers clinical results that walking makes "a meaningful difference in how well the brain works" in elderly dementia patients.The study took place in Canada, which brought in about three dozen eldres with mild dementia who agreed to be studied for six months. The study began and ended with brain scans that measured particular thought skills, and then half were monitored in walking three times a week, while half sat in on education sessions. At the end, the tests showed that the walkers had distinctly better thinking skills. 

This is a very small, relatively short-term study. Eighteen people for half a year. And yet, I find it encouraging because the results are specific and verifiable. It matches the studies that Factora cites on exercise and Alzheimer's.

I just wish it would filter into the cognition of senior residency directors. 

My father and I have battled and lost in all three of his senior residences over his walking. They each said this was a great idea, that they would help him with that activity. None did. His most recent place told us that they had a "Walking Club" that met twice a week, and they pointed it out on their activities calendar. Neither Dad nor I has seen any indication that there is any such club, and it has since disappeared from the schedule. And he is one of the few people not on a walker or in a wheel chair. Recently, he has given up the activity. 

"It's too hard," he told. "I don't know my way around, and I have no one to walk with." His cardiac doctor says that he is not getting enough blood to his brain and wants to operate. Dad replied, "It might help, but at age 92, I know that a lot of operations don't turn out so well." I checked with my friend who is a retired anaesthesiologist and he confirmed my dad's opinion that the elderly tend to have bad, life-threatening reactions to anaesthesia.

Dad's current situation seems more soporific than ever. I see him out twice a week, most of those times, I spring him from the residence, but I have not been able to get him walking.

For now, I can say that Dad got five good years out of the Cleveland Clinic's advice. And believe me, I am taking that advice for myself. Awhile back, I panicked when I realized that I was losing my keys having trouble recalling nouns sometimes. Then I remembered that I have always lost my keys and that my mom, who had not a shred of dementia and more mental acuity at age 87 than many teenagers also had trouble recalling nouns. Sometimes what we now call "Alzheimer's" is what previous generations called "age."

I continue to age, to take heart and walk.