Memory Loss, Michael, Mediterranean Munching & Moderated Merlot

We’ve all done it. Gone to the top of the stairs and then forgotten what we’ve gone up there for. Often, I’ve had to go back down to remind myself what I went up for it the first place!

Anyone who had to take their faulty modern car to an old style mechanic will have heard them say “the more complicated they make them, the more there is to go wrong”.

Being the most complex and least understood of the body’s organs, the human brain is not dissimilar. Medical science is still unable to explain quite why some people succumb to one of the over 200 types of dementia in older age and some do not.

Michael Palin recently visited his old Monty Python friend Terry Jones who since 2014 has suffered from frontotemporal demetia (FTD). Sadly Michael has discovered his friend no longer recognises him. But when he read passages from “Bert Fegg’s Nasty Book For Boys And Girls” which they wrote together in 1974, Terry “mainly laughed at the bits he’d written himself”.  

This supports previous evidence from other dementia sufferers that it robs them of their short term memory but the older, more embedded ones remain.

Some time ago at the front desk of my police station I was confronted by an elderly lady who said she couldn’t find her parked car. We’ve all had that moment in the supermarket car park – but it rarely escalates to involving the law. Some button punching and phone calls later I was able to tell her not only had she sold her car several years ago but she had also surrendered her driving licence. An embarrassed daughter collected her.

Our brains are sometimes compared to a muscle. Let it get flabby through underuse and it becomes more prone to damage and disease, a factor Dad was well aware of. “Use it or lose it” he would tell me.

My father did the Times crossword every morning in his retirement, leaving the hardest ones for me (which were usually the pop music and computer related clues he had no knowledge of). However his geographical, political and historical knowledge was way better than mine and he was determined he wasn’t going to lose it. But all the best intentions cannot circumvent fate. 

At 89 he was as bright as a button mentally, giving entertaining lectures on his favourite subjects, singing in the church choir and raising funds for charity – until a fall down some stairs at his Lodge. The bang to his head at the bottom instantly took away his mental capacity. To visit him in the home after that is a memory I wish I didn’t have. The “silent killer” prostate cancer ended his suffering – and mine.

The slower deterioration of dementia is just as painful for all concerned. So how can we avoid it?

Although doctors continue to struggle with why some are prone to this dreadful disease and others are not, they’re generally in agreement that with changes to our lifestyle and diet, we can significantly reduce the chances of contracting it, perhaps by as much as 50%.

The same things we avoid to reduce heart disease are also the ones which can lead to dementia. The usual suspects of smoking, excess alcohol, raised cholesterol and high blood pressure are all in there.

Adopting a Mediterranean-style diet is amongst the best ways to combat not just dementia but also a range of other conditions which affect us in older age.

The Italians love eating together and sharing. Their outdoor tables groan with fruit, vegetables, pasta, olive oil, grains (mostly whole). They love fish and seafood – and red wine. We’re regularly told moderate consumption of the latter is not only good for the heart and brain, but some studies have found it may also lower the aging process.

Folk who drink approximately 150ml of red wine (one smallish glass) daily are thought to be at 32% less risk than non-drinkers. The magic ingredients in red wine include resveratrol and proanthocyanidin. These are anti-oxidants which activate chemical pathways thus limiting stress and damage to our brain cells that would otherwise cause aging and disease.

Who wouldn’t also want the other benefits of these powerful plant compounds which reduce inflammation, lower the chances of heart disease, cancer and so extend your life?

The key word here though is “moderate”. I know. Putting the top back on the bottle for me has always been the hard bit. I hear my Mum’s advice echoing in my head as I reach for another. “Everything in moderation” – and I suspect Drink Aware would agree with her.

Their latest campaign “No alcoholidays” is now including midlife (aged 45-64) female drinkers at home and encouraging more Drink Free Days for everyone.

Their latest Drinkaware Monitor suggests engaging older women will not only involve them but also their spouse or partner who is more likely to heed their advice and follow their example.

English men in the 55-69 age group (that would be me then) continue to have the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths in the UK.

It seems if the drink doesn’t get me the dementia will.

Now what did I come into the kitchen for? Oh yes, the corkscrew.

More thoughts from Northern Male HERE