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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Shaken, but not Stirred... Yet.

original post: http://karenjcarlisle.com/2016/05/29/shaken-but-not-stirred-yet/

Let me share something personal with you. One of my biggest fears is losing my faculties.
Yesterday I hit my head. Smashed it on the tailgate. My teeth cracked. My head throbbed in nauseous pain. My ears rang. My neck, back and teeth ached. A quick flick online (official national health site) confirmed it was possibly minor concussion. As I had none of the 'immediate consultation' symptoms, I took some Panadol, applied an icepack and checked my pupils every couple of hours.
This got me thinking on the fragility of the human brain. Concussion effects the brain. Had I shaken something loose and would it have lasting effects?
Established risks for dementia, other than age, include stroke and include genetics/family history. Other possible risk factors (non-established) include vascular risk factors: smoking, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, insulin-dependent diabetes and hypertension. Other possible risk factors are depression, chemical toxins (eg. heavy metals) and head trauma.
And there's the trigger to my post: head trauma. A sudden, often unexpected event. The consequences can be unpredictable; the smallest injury can be harmless, cause a headache, a stroke or even intracranial bleeding. I studied the symptoms at university. I referred patients for head injuries.
The whack to head reminded me of my fear. What if I couldn't write? What if I couldn't create my art - draw, take photos? Worse still, what if I couldn't appreciate the world around me, remember my loved ones?
Fortunately I know of no history of dementia or Alzheimer's among my blood relatives. My childhood was filled with exceptional examples of sexagenarians, septuagenarians, octogenarians and nonagenarians.  I remember visiting great aunts and uncles who still lived at home, breeding orchids, cooking lemon butter, sharp as a tack. My great grandfather used to regale me with stories, in the thickest Scots accent. My grandmother had a cheeky wit. She could have lived to a grand age if not for an unforeseen accident. I miss her.
I used to imagine myself as an eccentric old lady, with long grey braids, scribbling stories and entertaining the grandchildren. I still do. Dementia wasn't something that factored in my vision. I hadn't considered the option.
Then two things happened:
My dearheart's grandmother developed Alzheimer's. She was in her eighties. She declined in a matter of months.
And I met Sir Terry Pratchett - a man who I admired - for his way with words. I would meet him twice.  First, was in 1999 at the Melbourne World SF Con. He picked my brains on colour vision (I always expected those Frog Pills would one day prove to have visual side effects). The second time was in 2011 at the Sydney Pratchett convention, Nullus Anxietus. I was fortunate to have dinner with him and discuss many things, including his buggerance - Alzheimer's Disease. He was in his sixties.
Though I had dealt with the visual needs of patients with dementia over the years, I hadn't really understood the emotional impact on both the sufferer and their family until these experiences.
Statistics are rising. (See Alzheimer's Australia's website). What can I do to prevent it?
There are a few things that may help (though there is no definitive answer). Some I have to work at: better cardiovascular health and being physically active.  Other, less conclusive, factors include: intake of omega-3 fatty acids (I love smoked salmon), use of cholesterol-lowering medications and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications and aspirin (my first port of call for my migraines). Higher levels of education and being 'socially and cognitively active' throughout middle age also seem to reduce the risk.
So, as usual, it seems my grandmother was right. Use it or lose it. I've started doing Tai Chi again, returned to my gardening. I'll continue to puzzle out mysteries, research my stories and I will keep writing.
Now I just have to avoid low lying tailgates.
  1. About dementia and memory loss/Statistics. Alzheimer's Australia.  https://fightdementia.org.au/about-dementia/statistics
  2. AIHW, Government of Australia: Dementia. http://www.aihw.gov.au/dementia/
  3. Alzheimers Australia: Risk Factors. https://fightdementia.org.au/about-dementia-and-memory-loss/am-i-at-risk/risk-factors
  4. Dementia in Australia. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2012 http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=1073742294
  5. Health Direct Australia. Dementia Statistics. http://www.healthdirect.gov.au/dementia-statistics

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