Thursday, December 4, 2008

Forget Me Not

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There are good things about aging. One of my particular favorites is that being an older American gives me license to be cantankerous. I've learned that having white hair and a few well placed wrinkles allows me to say and do things that I wouldn't have dared to try a decade or two ago.

There are also many down sides to getting older. Adult diapers, adult daycare, and uncontrollable drooling are not particularly pleasant to contemplate. And death, the grand finale, is not something to which most people aspire. Even those steeped in religious fervor try to keep the Grim Reaper at bay for as long as possible. But the senior eventuality that I fear most is not incontinence or death, it is losing the ability to remember. While it is true that Alzheimer's patients are always making new friends, they also become a burden on their friends and loved ones. Being lost deep within oneself and at the mercy of a strange world is not a pretty prospect.

As the baby boomers move into their golden years, more research and marketing is being directed toward the concerns of senior citizens. One of the biggies that is on the minds of this aging bubble is dementia or Alzheimer's. A couple of research studies have recently been released that provide some insight into the workings of this sad mental dysfunction.

A Swedish research project demonstrated that mice who were fed junk food for nine months showed signs of developing abnormal brain tangles strongly associated with Alzheimer's disease. The findings illuminate how a diet rich is sugar, fat, and cholesterol could increase the risk of Alzheimer's - the most common type of dementia.

An American research study addressed the effectiveness of ginkgo biloba, an herbal supplement that has long been touted by the herbal supplement industry as helping to stave off dementia. The study found that while ginkgo was essentially harmless, it did nothing to prevent the onset of dementia. Critics of the study claim that the research subjects were all aged seventy-five or older and the study tracked participants for only six years. Herbal industry representatives argued that a longer study with younger participants might have come up with different results.

I take a ginkgo tablet three times a day, and while I don't know if it will keep me from becoming senile, I have started and stopped the regimen enough times to be certain of one impact. When I take ginkgo I have great dreams, very colorful affairs with lots of detail, and I am able to remember those dreams. The dreams that I have while taking ginkgo are somewhat wilder and more interesting than those that I remember when I am not on the supplement. It's sort of like going to the movies while I sleep.

One of the researchers on the ginkgo study said that the best way to prevent dementia is to keep the mind active "by reading books, doing crossword puzzles, playing sudoku, or participating in other creative endeavors." (Is blogging a creative endeavor?) Another of the researchers said that diet and exercise are as important for a healthy brain as they are for a healthy heart.

There are other popular prevention strategies that have made their way into the popular literature. One of those is antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and E, which prevent cell damage and are believed by some to slow down the diseases of aging.

The director of the UCLA Center on Aging, Dr. Gary Small, says that aging brains show signs of inflammation, and that fish oil supplements have anti-inflammatory properties. Dr. Small also said that some studies in Singapore show that people who ate curry once a week had better memory scores. Other recommendations included brain exercises (including some computer programs specifically designed to give brains a workout), physical exercise, and living a young and active life - no matter what your age.

So, the secret of staying mentally alert is to be mentally and physically active - with a dash of curry, while staying away from junk food. And for those who don't want to waste so much time in mindless sleep, pop a ginkgo biloba tablet before hopping into bed!

1 comment:

xobekim said...

You may recall that Ruth Dowling, our shriveled old journalism professor, suggested a daily regimen of cross word puzzles to keep the synapses firing.