A wall full of stickie notes

Some of my best friends in the world

My memory not being what it was — can’t remember the last time I had great recollection… true story — sticky notes are my best friends.

I have them posted in places where “they should not be” — namely, on the glass pane of my back door, where I see them whenever I leave the house. I always leave through the back door, because the front door is broken and even if I could use it, it’s a longer walk to the garage, than if I go out the back – or just down through the basement. So, I always see notes that are stuck on the glass — right at eye level — when I leave to go anywhere.

There are notes for remembering to turn down the heat, to turn off the modem, to remember this, that, and the other thing. There are notes for communicating with my spouse, like when I’m out and about running errands, and I have my cell phone with me. Whatever the common situation I might forget to handle, there’s usually a sticky note for it.

I don’t keep them all on the door. That would defeat the purpose. Instead, I have them stuck to the wall beside the door, and I pick the one(s) I need, based on the situation.

Modem Off?
Heat
Bag for the gym
Going for a walk – I have my phone
Running errands – I have my phone
Lunch in the fridge

Everything I regularly forget, but don’t want to, I have a sticky note for.

It really works well. At first, my spouse was resistant to me using them. They said it made me look like I had Alzheimers or something. They said it reminded them that I have problems remembering. At first, I had to use a lot of sticky notes in a lot of different places — near the stove, in different rooms. It was a little excessive at the start, but over time I got rid of a lot of them, and now it’s just by the back door that I need them.

I’m glad I used them, though. I still do in other places, like work. Nobody knows that I can’t remember much of anything for long — my tools and tricks cover for me quite well.

You do what you must. And sometimes you must. There are worse things than having a bunch of notes around — like forgetting the things that the notes remind you of.

Anyway… Onward.

 

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Just keep trying…

So, I’ve been noticing a couple of things lately —

Keep on keepin’ on…

First, how I can never seem to wake up feeling really rested, and I usually feel hungover when I get up in the morning, even though I’ve not done anything to warrant that.

Second, I sometimes completely forget where I am and what I’m doing for a few seconds, then I “come back” and I know where I am and what I’m doing again.

Each of these, in themselves, have the potential to trouble me. Greatly. In fact, they have really bothered me before, and I have seriously wondered if that circling specter of dementia that is often hanging over my head, is finally coming home to roost.

What I’ve realized, is that if I just keep going, I manage to find some resolution to them.

It has been a long, long time, since I woke up feeling really rested. I generally feel hungover, foggy, and not really great. I feel like I mixed cheap wine, light beer, and three different kinds of liquor, and it’s a hell of a way to wake up in the morning, every day.

It’s been bothering me that I can never seem to get on the good foot, and I feel so crappy. I try getting to bed at a decent time, then I can’t sleep through the night. Or I try to sleep in, but that’s never a guarantee. On days when I can’t sleep in, I over-sleep. On days when I can sleep in, I can’t. It’s incredibly frustrating.

I try to take a nap when I can, but it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes I literally can’t get to a place where I can lie down. Other times, I can get to a quiet place, but then I get a second wind when I’m about to step away, and before you know it, it’s the end of the day, and I’ve pushed through and kept myself going – to my own detriment.

What I have realized, after a whole lot of trial and error, is that if I can just get going in the morning, eventually I don’t feel so terrible. Especially if I can focus my attention on something that makes me feel good, like exercise and a healthy breakfast and the things I plan to do for the day, I can get myself going and get out of my funk. It’s not permanent.  And even if I feel wiped out and exhausted, if I promise myself I will rest if I need to later, that makes me feel better.

As for resting during the day, I do what I can, and if I can’t get a nap in, I don’t break my head over it. It’s bad enough being tired, without being all tweaked about it, too. Sometimes I’ll just step away to catch my breath, and that helps. Or I’ll take a brisk walk and that will make me feel better. In any case, breaking up the monotony of a dronelike day usually makes me feel better, even if I don’t get any additional rest.

It’s a fine line. It’s all a fine line. I just have to keep going.

As for losing my way and forgetting where I am, I periodically lose track of where I am when I am walking or driving. It can be very disconcerting for me to have no idea where I am, and not know what to do. Visions of “On Golden Pond” come to mind, and my head starts to race  with all my fears about Alzheimer’s and dementia and CTE. I wonder if this is the beginning of the end for me, and I can’t help but think about all the stories from friends and acquaintances about their aging parents “losing it”. I also start thinking about what I’m going to do, if I ever get to the point where my mind is completely gone, but my body is still in good shape. I think about going skydiving and not opening my chute. I think about getting a wing suit and flying into a cliff face at full speed. I think about going to see and letting myself just fall into the ocean during a storm.

The last thing I want, is to live out the rest of my days in a diaper with someone spoon feeding me. Where’s the point in that? I’ve watched elderly relatives end up in homes, nursed back to health at very advanced ages, and then lingering on, with ever-decreasing quality of life.

I’m not sure I’d ever want that. And talking to others about this, we agree — it’s better to take matters into your own hands and put an end to things that are never going to get better, than live out the rest of your days in a “twilight state” where the only ones benefiting are the retirement home coffers.

Yeah, no thanks.

Those times when I forget where I am and don’t know what’s happening are — thankfully — brief. And I find that if I just keep going, I can always find my way again. All I have to do is trust that if I’m headed in a certain direction, it’s for a reason, and that will become clear to me… eventually. I haven’t lost my marbles yet. So, I just keep going. I just keep trying. I just keep looking, keep thinking, keep engaged. And things work out. Either I find a new way, or I figure out how to make the old way work again. It’s never a clear-cut one or the other. But if I just keep trying, I can always find a way.

Of course, a day may come when things don’t work out, but that’s not here yet.

So, for today — for the moment — I will focus on what I have, the good that is in my life, and I’ll do what I can to make the most of it. Right here. Right now.

Onward.

Ah, Groundhog Day…

I have a feeling I’ve been here before…

I’m not talking about the recent event when the behavior of a groundhog (or groundhogs, depending on your regional preference) determines our future. I’m talking about the movie,”Groundhog Day”  where Bill Murray’s character goes through the same day over and over and over again.

This is my life in a nutshell. I cycle through the same experiences / crap / joys / sorrows on a regular basis, each time without much active recollection of how it was before and what my experience was then. It applies to the good things, as well as the bad things, and my neuropsych is repeatedly surprised that I’m wrangling with the same issues that I was wrangling with, several weeks, months, or even years ago. Sometimes I have “new” experiences that are repeats of what I experienced only the day before, and I have to go through the whole learning process all over again.

One example I can think of was back in December, when I had that business trip overseas. Each day, I got up with this terrible, terrible dread — almost crippling anxiety over what was going to happen that day. It was awful, and I literally did not want to leave my room. I just wanted to stay behind closed doors, where I had no interaction with anyone, where I couldn’t possibly screw things up, and where I could move at my own pace and not adapt to anything new or different around me.

And each day, I literally forced myself to get dressed and go out into the world. Each day, I rediscovered that I was able to communicate, that I was capable of understanding what others were saying, even if I didn’t get every single word, and that the world outside was something to be explored and discovered, not dreaded and avoided.

Then the next day when I got up again, it was back to battling the crippling dread, the fear, the anxiety… the monumental effort of getting myself OUT the door… and the happy discovery that I could indeed handle myself well in the world beyond the hotel room. And at the end of each day, I was able to kick back and really enjoy myself in that space, just reveling — all over again — in the “discovery” that I was really going to be okay.

Now I have another business trip coming up that will take me overseas. This time I am going to a country where I do not speak the language. I have been studying a bit, which has been kind of funny — I found some audio files to learn from, but when I started to listen to them, it turned out to be all “Stop or I’ll shoot!” and “Put down your weapon!” and “How many armed men are there?” — apparently a law enforcement or military training course. At least I know how to say “Don’t shoot!” if I get into any trouble while I’m on my trip. You never know… there are some pretty rough neighborhoods where I’m going.

Anyway, the point I’m making is that for some reason, I seem to have just a terrible, terrible memory for things that have happened to me before. This is true of good things… and bad things. I seem to get myself into situations, over and over again, doing the same thing and expecting different results, and then I suffer and chafe when things don’t turn out like I think they’re going to.

Like trying to get out of the house to get to work… Time and time again, I get up thinking that I can just take a little time to check my email and/or do some little things around the house, and then I’ll be able to get to work on time. And time and time again, I get sidetracked on one thing or another… and I end up rushing and being later than I wanted to be. I make up the difference at the back end, of course, staying late — even later than I would have to, actually, because I start to warm up around 6 p.m., and it’s hard for me to take a break when I’m finally making good progress. Even so, even if I do make up the difference in the hours, the simple fact is that I do this over and over again, thinking that this time it will be different.

Insane? Well, according to some, it is. Whatever you call it, it gets frustrating, and I feel like a complete idiot.

I guess part of the equation of this apparent failure to learn, is the fact that I have to stay very present in the current moment, or I can really lose my bearings. I think this 100% here-and-now mindset has developed over years of having to navigate so many issues — light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, exhaustion, vertigo, nausea, pain of all kinds, headache, distractability, and more — but still needing to be functional. I think I just developed the habit of focusing so completely on the present so that I could function in that moment, that everything else — before and after — just disappears. Or it never has a chance to get set in my mind.

I think also the stress of daily living over the years has impaired my ability to learn. Just having to deal with all the sh*t of my issues and symptoms and the screw-ups and the adjustments and the confusions and distractions… it can get pretty stressful, and I’m sure it’s had some impact on my ability to learn.

Then again, in other areas I learn extremely well — like this language thing. I’m actually picking up a lot of good stuff, and I think I’ll be able to at least ask people for help and understand basic numbers and directions, and be able to thank people for their help, without too much struggle. Languages seem to come pretty naturally to me, and it surprises me how much sense they make to me after a relatively short period of time.

So, it’s not like I’m completely disabled with my learning. But experiential learning? There, again and again, I end up going through the same things, as though it were the first time ever.

Well, I can’t worry about it. If I approach it like it’s a grand adventure of constant discovery, and I treat each situation like a fun opportunity to have a “new” experience, it’s fine. It keeps me fresh, actually. It keeps me interested in my life. It’s never boring — that’s for sure. The worst thing I can do, is treat myself this means there’s something wrong with me, that it means I’m somehow damaged. If I don’t judge myself and I just accept that about myself — and come up with ways to work with/around my very limited memory… and I don’t get it in my head that this means I have early-onset dementia and I’m losing my mind…. I can work with this.

Hell, I’ve been working with it for as long as I can remember. I just “get lost” sometimes and I have to find my way out of the shadows and dead-ends… which I can do pretty well. I’ve had plenty of practice, you see.

Anyway, life goes on. I have a number of very interesting projects I am working on, and that’s keeping me interested and engaged in my life. I’m learning new things pretty well, and I feel good. I also got a lot of sleep yesterday afternoon, after I was done with my work. I worked from home, so I was able to just crawl into bed when I was done for the day. That was nice. I got about 7 hours of sleep last night, so that’s good, too. And I have all day today and all day tomorrow to kick back and take care of myself. Because I’m flying out in another week, and I need to be healthy and whole to make this trip.

So it goes. Part of me would like to have a better recollection of the things that I have experienced in the past, so that I don’t keep making the same mistakes, and I don’t keep pushing myself and wearing myself out. And I’m thinking about ways I could do that — maybe keep a log of what works for me in different situations, so I can draw on what has worked for me in the past… I had that kind of a log going, about 3 years ago, and it was working well for me. I think maybe I need to resurrect it, so I can continue to draw on my experiences and get my sh*t together better than I currently am. It’s an idea….

Anyway, the day is waiting, and I’ve got to get a move on. It’s always interesting and never boring… and I need to remind myself of how things have been in the past, as I work through my present and into my future.

I’ve been here before, I’m sure… now I need to figure out how to make the best of it.

 

Here’s Hope – Traumatic Brain Injury Does Not Increase Risk of Dementia

Traumatic Brain Injury Does Not Increase Risk of Dementia, According to New Study Led by a Mount Sinai Researcher

A history of traumatic brain injury (TBI) with loss of consciousness (LOC) is not associated with an elevated risk for developing dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, according to a study led by a resesarcher at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. But recent TBI with LOC sustained in older adulthood is associated with an increased risk for mortality.

New York, NY (PRWEB) December 26, 2012

A history of traumatic brain injury (TBI) with loss of consciousness (LOC) is not associated with an elevated risk for developing dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, according to a study led by a researcher at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. But recent TBI with LOC sustained in older adulthood is associated with an increased risk for mortality.

The research paper, titled “Risk for Late-life Re-injury, Dementia and Death Among Individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury,” was published November 21 in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

“There is a lot of conflicting information in the literature about the link between TBI and dementia. The findings from this study do not support the commonly held belief that TBI leads to dementia,” said Kristen Dams-O’Connor, PhD, first author of the study and an Assistant Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Adults aged 65 or more who have had TBI with LOC at any time in their lives have a higher risk for subsequent re-injury, according to the study. This is the first study to look at the risk of re-injury among older adults. Researchers also found an increased risk for mortality, among older adults who report a recent TBI with LOC.

“The increased risk of re-injury in older adults as well as a link between recent TBI and mortality underscores the need for effective strategies to prevent injuries and re-injuries in this population, ”said Dr. Dams-O’Connor, who is also a psychologist.

Read the full press release here >>

If this test can detect Alzheimers, can it detect CTE?

I came across this a while back, and I was prompted to recall it by a recent commenter:

Blood test can unveil Alzheimer’s

November 2, 2011 – 11:09

A Danish biotech firm has developed a new test which can detect, from a bog standard blood sample, whether the person concerned has Alzheimer’s disease. The test can even reveal the disease in its early stages.

Alzheimer’s is a disease that creeps up on you, and until now it has not been possible to diagnose it until is already pretty advanced. The new test can discover the disease before its symptoms are pronounced, to facilitate intervention with treatment and support. (Photo: Colourbox).

Researchers at the Danish biotech firm Nordic Bioscience have developed a new test for early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

The test can measure whether the blood contains fragments of a special protein, known as tau, of which Alzheimer’s sufferers have larger quantities than people without the disease.

Read the whole article here >>

Now, I’m not sure how similarly CTE interacts with tau protein, but the common piece of it caught my eye. Tau is the hallmark of CTE, so if it can be detected via a blood test for some scenarios, maybe it could be expanded…?

Wouldn’t it be nice, if we could detect the presence of CTE before all the years of anguish get rolling?

Forget despair – I’m going to exercise

This dog isn’t going down easily

I have to admit, writing about the traumatic / PTSD aspects of TBI has got me a little bummed out. Additionally, thinking about CTE and the NFL players’ suit(s) against the NFL, and pondering the shortened anticipated lifespan of TBI survivors, hasn’t helped my mood at all.

No surprises there.

I did happen upon something interesting today, however — and it both appears to confirm what I have suspected, as well as adds a little more information to my “store”. It also lit a fire under me with regards to my exercise routine.

Check out this recently published paper from Brain – A Journal of Neurology:

Stimulation of autophagy reduces neurodegeneration in a mouse model of human tauopathy

Okay, now that I’ve got your attention 😉 what does it mean? Basically, autophagy is the process by which cells digest parts of themselves by breaking down the bits they don’t need or are trying to get rid of, and using them as “food” for other processes. A good example of autophagy is dieting — where your body consumes the fat in some places to fuel its activities. It sounds a bit strange and creepy at first look, but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense — if there’s energy or some other ingredient that’s taking up space in a cell, and it can be used for other purposes, such as energy, then it only makes sense for the cell to break it down and use it up for something else. Our cells do this all the time – and in the case of trying to lose weight, that’s exactly what we want them to do.

Since this breaking-down function is available in cells that want to get rid of extra “baggage” — and tau, the protein which is linked to CTE and other dementia-like brain degeneration like Alzheimers is definitely extra baggage that isn’t doing anyone any good, then wouldn’t it make sense for this breaking down process to be useful when it comes to clearing out tau from brain cells? Apparently, yes. Here’s the summary from the article I found (bold emphasis is mine):

Summary

The accumulation of insoluble proteins is a pathological hallmark of several neurodegenerative disorders. Tauopathies are caused by the dysfunction and aggregation of tau protein and an impairment of cellular protein degradation pathways may contribute to their pathogenesis. Thus, a deficiency in autophagy can cause neurodegeneration, while activation of autophagy is protective against some proteinopathies. Little is known about the role of autophagy in animal models of human tauopathy. In the present report, we assessed the effects of autophagy stimulation by trehalose in a transgenic mouse model of tauopathy, the human mutant P301S tau mouse, using biochemical and immunohistochemical analyses. Neuronal survival was evaluated by stereology. Autophagy was activated in the brain, where the number of neurons containing tau inclusions was significantly reduced, as was the amount of insoluble tau protein. This reduction in tau aggregates was associated with improved neuronal survival in the cerebral cortex and the brainstem. We also observed a decrease of p62 protein, suggesting that it may contribute to the removal of tau inclusions. Trehalose failed to activate autophagy in the spinal cord, where it had no impact on the level of sarkosyl-insoluble tau. Accordingly, trehalose had no effect on the motor impairment of human mutant P301S tau transgenic mice. Our findings provide direct evidence in favour of the degradation of tau aggregates by autophagy. Activation of autophagy may be worth investigating in the context of therapies for human tauopathies.

So, yeah – you’ve got extra proteins gunking up your brain cells after a traumatic brain injury/concussion, and that extra protein isn’t doing anyone any good. Wouldn’t it make sense to use the cells’ own activity of breaking down portions of themselves and flushing them out, to help clear out the tau?

In the study, they used trehalose to stimulate the process in mice, which may or may not be all that useful for my purposes. Trehalose is used in processing a lot of foods, and it’s not uncommon. I’m not sure how therapeutic it would be for me to consume mass quantities of “confectionery, bread, vegetables side dishes, animal-derived deli foods, pouch-packed foods, frozen foods, and beverages, as well as foods for lunches, eating out, or prepared at home,” especially if my body has its own natural processes to move things along. What natural processes, you ask? Exercise. Acute exercise. Researchers have found that acute exercise stimulates autophagy in the skeletons and muscles of mice, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to deduce that it can have the same effects on cells of the brain.

Why not? Okay, I’m probably being markedly unscientific here by drawing conclusions from reading a few articles (scholarly as they may be), but let’s use common sense for a moment. The human body is constantly renewing itself — every 7 years, we get a new body, because the cells have all renewed themselves. If acute exercise is worked into the routine on a regular basis, then wouldn’t it make sense that the autophagy induced by exercise would help the body rebuild itself with new materials, and with less tau?

As a TBI survivor who has a nagging concern about tau-induced dementia later in life, this gives me hope. And while “hope is not a strategy” and my scientific method leaves a lot to be desired, nonetheless, it does help me get past the pernicious, creeping depression that sets in sometimes when I get tired and start to think, “After all those TBIs, what’s the use?”

So, I’m throwing myself a bone, here, and I’m gnawing on it with all my might. I have known for several years, now, that exercise makes me feel and think better when I do it first thing in the morning. And I’ve known for decades that a good hard workout makes me feel like a new person. Researchers seem to be confirming scientifically what I have experienced, and they’re explaining it in ways that make sense to me and my systems-oriented conceptual brain (all the biochemical-speak notwithstanding).

So rather than getting hung up on the idea that I’ve gotten clunked in the head too many times, and that’s that, I’m going to amp up my exercise and really push myself to do more with it. It’s the acute stuff that apparently helps the most, so I need to do more of that. Not to the point of injuring myself, but definitely more than the easy-peasy warmups I’ve fallen into doing over the past six months or so.

Screw despair. I’m going outside to get some serious exercise.

mother dementia temper

Source: Clinton Steeds

So searched one of my readers yesterday. Three words that say a whole lot.

My guess is that someone’s mother is starting to fade, cognitively, and she has been blowing up at them…. and they’re trying to decide what to do — to keep coming around and visiting/helping mother, or to slowly distance themself from her tirades and protect what sanity they have left in life.

One can hardly blame them.

I think it’s particularly difficult, when you’re an adult child, you have plenty of responsibilities already, and you are keenly aware that you don’t have tons of time left on the planet to just enjoy yourself. It’s hard, having a parent who’s declining. You don’t want to just “dump” them, but you also need to have a life. It’s an impossible quandary, from which no one escapes unscathed.

I haven’t been thrust into the midst of that terrible What To Do With Mother/Father quandary, just yet. And it’s a good thing. I’m just now starting to really enjoy my life. After 40-some years of confusion and some pretty tough times, I’m coming out of a long, dark tunnel into light.

About the last thing I want or need (selfishly, perhaps) is a parent in decline who is my responsibility in some way or another.

I am indeed blessed. For the time being. And I’m savoring the moments of blissful normalcy while I can.

Because you never know when something unexpectedly awful will come ’round the corner. And then the recovery starts all over again. Some kind of recovery or another. Maybe it’s physical. Neurological. Emotional. Or just plain logistical. Terrible stuff happens. We all know that. What we don’t know is whether or not we’re going to survive it, the next time.

The odd thing is, sometimes we have a much clearer view of our difficulties in advance of them, as well as afterwards. While we’re in the thick of things, we can get so focused on just dealing with what’s in front of us, we don’t realize what a big chunk the situation is biting out of us. We’re intent on survival — pure and simple. Only later, do we fully realize just what a steep price we paid for our survival. And then the post-traumatic stuff sets in, with you feeling awful and inadequate and jumpy and itchy, ready to leap out of our skin at the drop of a hat, or pick up a stick and go racing down the street threatening anyone who looks at you the wrong way.

Kind of like

mother

dementia

temper

How’s that for dysfunctional haiku?

And so our lives unfold. We value our ties with the ones we love. We see those ties unravel. And we lose it over the littlest things. In the midst of it, in the thick of it, we shore up our resolve and tell ourselves we’re Good People who mean only to Do Good, chasing our gumption with a stiff shot of the hard stuff or a strong helping of whatever rationalization fits us best. We’re so irreversibly human, so fraught with limitation and trepidation. Yet, somehow, we continue to Do Good — or at least intend to.

And we mourn the missed chances, the lost causes, the opportunities we now value but passed up before. We shed a few tears into our pillows before falling asleep, we brush the tears from our eyes as we drive home from appointments with care providers and experts whose primary purpose is to help us and our loved ones through the day. We ask for help. Or we turn offers away. We do what people do — strange, inexplicable things that somehow serve to dull the pain of daily existence.

mother

dementia

temper

None of it seems to make much sense, some days. And yet, we go on. We continue. We put one foot in front of the other. We double-tie our shoelaces so we won’t have to stop too often to re-tie them… so we don’t trip over a shoelace.

We mourn for Haiti. And Louisiana. We rue the dark schmutz on the Gulf coast of Florida. We rail against The Powers that refuse to let good-hearted citizens save sea turtles and pelicans. We watch for the inevitable lawsuits that may — just may — dispense a version of justice in this terribly unjust, benzine-fumigated world of ours.

mother

dementia

temper

And part of us doesn’t blame Mother Earth for throwing all that oil up on the shores during storms and hurricanes. Because we’re the ones who loosed it from Her deep, to begin with. Part of us doesn’t blame the birds for just dying — who could hold up under that terrible dark weight? Part of us loves Tony Heyward for giving us a single figure on whom we can fixate the full brunt of our anguished disgust. Tar and feathers is for BP execs, not endangered species.

Or so we would like to think.

It’s all so fragile, isn’t it? Our connections strengthen, then fray and dissolve. The small chirping creature in the woods outside our living room window pips melodically… then starts to shriek, and then goes silent. A tree comes down and the electricity goes out, and someone slips in the dark, hits their head, loses a part of themself in the process. A certain part in a car fails, an accident happens, and the driver is injured invisibly… for a few months, till their life starts to come apart at the seams for no apparent reason.

mother

dementia

temper

Google soothes, as only Google can.

Does blogging make me brilliant?

It’s quite possible…

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what can be done to help myself not end up like football players described in Malcom Gladwell’s New Yorker piece on Football, Dog Fighting and Brain Damage. I must admit, it wasn’t the best idea to read that story before going to bed last night. It kept me up, actually, which wasn’t good.

Anyway, it’s Saturday, so I can always sleep later to make up the time. And there’s something about drifting in that in-between place, that gets my mind turning in different directions for the answers it craves.

A few years ago, I heard about The Nun Study (by the Universities of Minnesota and Kentucky) which followed an order of nuns in Mankato, MN, who lived longer — and better — than was typical of the average population. They found some interesting things in their study — including the fact that some of the sisters’ brains (after they had passed on and their brains were donated and studied) were chock full of signs of Alzheimers. Yet, they had exhibited none of the symptoms we associate with the degenerative disorder.

In The Magnificent Minnesota Nun Brains Ken Korczak writes:

Most of the Sisters of Notre Dame stay vital and active well into their 90s. There are almost no symptoms that are typical of age-related brain disorders, such as senile dementia, strokes and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Amazingly, some of the nuns maintained clear healthy minds even though their brains showed the scars and deterioration characteristic of severe brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and strokes.

In the case of the brain of one Sister Mary, who died well into her 100s, scientists were astounded to find large-scale deterioration of brain tissue, and even lesions associated with strokes and progressive Alzheimer’s Disease — yet she remained clear-headed and lucid to the end of her life.

Sister Mary’s brain apparently defeated the effects of these brain diseases by countering them with an unusually rich growth of interconnection between her brain cells, or neurons. Her extra dendrites and axons were able to bypass damaged areas of her brain to keep her lucid and healthy.

. . .

After examining and dissecting dozens of brains, scientists have come to several conclusions. Interestingly, the secret to the long lives and clear minds of these nuns may be attributed to a couple of simple things.

After looking at dozens of different variables, researchers discovered that the Sisters of Nortre Dame all did one thing that the majority other people do not do — they kept a daily personal journal recording their deepest thoughts, emotions, impressions and ideas.

Also, the Sisters Of Nortre Dame condemn “mental idleness” as sin. They did not allow themselves the frills of mental down time. Most of the Sisters have college degrees and some graduate degrees. They also play a lot of brain teaser games, solve puzzles and engage in rigorous debates at weekly seminars.

Keeping a rigorous daily journal is also required by the Order, and is considered as important as daily prayer, work and devotion to their primary vocation, the education of children. The Sisters believe in thorough, critical self examination.

The journaling aspect of the nuns intrigued scientists so much, some went looking for independent confirmation that daily journaling or diary keeping may be the secret to defeating the brain diseases of old age, and longer life.

Well, they not only found confirmation, but some scientists determined that frequent journaling may be a sure way to raise the IQ of any person, and may even springboard some people to genius level.

. . . (more here)

… researchers pointed to many other facets of their lives which may have contributed to their longevity:

• They belonged to a religious order and prayed daily. Recent independent studies have suggested that people who go to church or belong to any kind of religion, tend to live longer and be happier than those who do not.

• They felt comfortable in the fact that they “belonged” to a supportive group of like-minded human beings. This longevity factor has also been noticed in independent studies on peoples in Japan, Pakistan and Crete.

• They stay physically active as well as mentally active, not slowing down when reaching ages 70s through 100s.

• They actively cultivated positive attitudes.

• They lead selfless lives, and devote themselves to caring and giving to others.

• They rarely worried or fretted over material things such as money, mortgages, taxes and the like.

• They accept death as being a part of life. Funerals for the nuns are said to be almost occasions for joy among the Sisters.

Most of the above, I can relate to. I tend to substitute “spirituality” for religion, but the concept of being part of an organized, regularly scheduled spiritual practice strikes me as being very beneficial. And different people have different definitions of religion and spirituality, so I would imagine that avid readers who are passionate and disciplined about their reading could substitute weekly book club meetings for church. I don’t mean to be sacreligious. Different people just relate spiritually to different things, so those of us who are not regular church-goers shouldn’t be condemned to dementia by association.

Also the journaling aspect of things really caught my attention. Over the course of my life, I’ve kept journals regularly, even when they were full of gibberish and meant nothing to me later on. The simple fact of writing — in longhand — my thoughts and impressions and hopes and dreams and fears and frustrations, may have helped me overcome at least eight distinct head injuries, to the point where my life is unmarked by those injuries to the eyes of the outside world (my inside world is another story). Ultimately, for the sake of my own survival, what the outside world thinks is waaaay important. I can always address my internal issues on my own time and in my own way. But I do need to keep a job.

It’s interesting that I’m coming across this today. A few days back one of my neuropsychs was telling me that keeping voluminous journals is not the best use of time. They would like me to spend my time more fruitfully, making my  mark in the world. Well, sure, I would too, but it’s a good thing to read that keeping a lot of journals is not actually a waste of time.

Now I need to arrive at their office with this article in hand, and hopefully they will revise their opinion. If not, it’s of no consequence to me. I’ll keep writing, regardless.

Interesting — since my fall in 2004 (I’m coming up on my 5-year anniversary of the mild TBI from hell), I have not written much in longhand. It’s like, I just stopped. I told myself I didn’t have any use for my journals, anymore, but the fact was, I was having a hard time writing. I had suddenly become a bit dyslexic, after nearly 40 years of never having that problem. And I was having trouble focusing and concentrating long enough to get words on paper.

Now, it seems, I need to get back to that. Not only because it’s good for my brain, but also because I need to discipline and I need to exercise those parts of myself that are helped by writing in longhand:

  • discipline (the ability to put words together in a meaningful way, as well as keeping myself on topic)
  • impulse control (the ability to slow down and gather myself when I need to)
  • eye-hand coordination (keeping my writing on the lines — or practicing writing on blank paper and keeping my writing in straight lines)
  • focus (keeping my mind on the page in front of me)
  • checking in with myself in a deliberate, measured way

Yes, the more I think about it, the more sense it makes for me to do this. Not so much for the old reasons — before, I thought I was helping myself realize truths about myself, when I was really wandering around in a fog, much of the time — as for the new ones I’ve listed above.

Also, my writing needs to change. It  needs a new focus. Not this old rambling, wandering, free-association stream of thoughts all the time (though sometimes that may be good to do), but a more focused, more deliberate kind of writing that doesn’t take me away from my life, but brings me into the midst of it.

And all the while, I am continuing to blog. Continuing to share what I’m finding. Continuing to reach out and relate what I’ve found to be useful — or not helpful — in this path of recovery, which is as much about just living my life, already, as it is about specifically addressing TBI-related weaknesses and problems. There’s a whole wide world out there, and there’s lots to talk about. Blogging gives me a chance to do it in a way that isn’t as insular and as esoteric as my own private journaling, and with any luck, it does others some good, too.

And if I do it often enough and with enough focus and discipline, it can help me think better and write better, which in turns helps me feel better about myself, focus on solutions rather than the endless stream of problems that follow me around like so many crying, swooping, begging seagulls following a fishing boat. I’m at the wheel of my own fishing boat, and I’m the one at the helm of my life. I can choose to pay attention to the gaggle of hangers-on and let them distract me from my activities, or I can pay attention to my boat and my nets, and haul in whatever catch I can get.

My choice.

Bottom line is, this writing activity of mine is actually a good use of time, and I need to value it. Even though it’s seemed like an exercise in futility (to myself and others), that belief has been based on incomplete information, and those beliefs can change. Beliefs can change, and so can behavior. I can “bump up” the activities I’ve followed “just for fun” — and practice them as regular parts of my active recovery from mild traumatic brain injury. I can use them as opportunities not only to heal from my recent damage, but also to ensure my long-term cognitive health and happiness.

Fact: I have sustained at least 8 (possibly more) mild (and some possibly moderate) traumatic brain injuries throughout the course of my adventurous life.

Fact: Plenty of people get hit on the head or sustain some other sort of brain damage or degeneration, and some of them live long and happy lives, devoid of any signs or symptoms of their hidden issues.

Fact: Some of those asymptomatic survivors do specific things that appear to help them. Studies have shown correlations between certain behaviors and choices and long-term cognitive health.

Fact: Those activities are things I can do, myself. They are not mysterious or beyond my reach. They include activities like faithfully keeping a daily journal, cultivating a positive attitude, and maintaining a disciplined way of life that is devoted to service to others. I can do them, too. In fact, I have been doing many of them for many years, and this may account for my tremendous success as a long-term multiple head injury survivor.

If the simple act of blogging about my own life doesn’t make me brilliant, alone, certainly learning from the blogs of others — and blogging in turn about it for others to read — can’t hurt.

Onward, upward. And outward. The world is waiting…