In February, my mother turned 99. We celebrated, of course. There was cake for lunch and cake for dinner, any flavor but it had to include a lemon filling. The nurses and doctors who care for my mother are amazed at her vitality and wit, not only taking her age into account, but taking any age into account. But I do notice a slow down. She suffers from a dementia that hasn’t robbed her of her personality or large chunks of her memory. I never see a glazed expression when she looks at me. Her eyes always crinkle with joy. Still, I watch as she sometimes struggles for ordinary words. I know she’s is aware of her problem so the best I can do is smile and press her hand to let her know I understand. .
Losing myself to the dark matter of the brain as I age is a fearful thought. Still, the situation isn’t hopeless. The brain can surprise us. One of the latest discoveries about the brain is its plasticity, a quality that makes it adaptable and capable of working around damage. Genes, apparently, are not destiny. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal http://on.wsj.com/1Ik8ryF, reports a person can carry several markers for Alzheimer’s yet never develop the disease. What makes the difference in brain health is food and exercise. Exercise is particularly important because it triggers the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus where short term memory resides. The release of “neurotrophic growth factors” serves as a “fertilizer, helping the brain to grow, maintain new connections and stay healthy.” What we eat and how we conduct lives matters.
The treatment of other diseases, like Parkinson’s, MS and stroke victims may also respond well to increased exercise. “Non-use” of the body, even injured parts, may be the worst formula for maintenance and improvement. If true, there’s much the elderly can do to help themselves. Time may not be the enemy. Sloth is.