Last night I took my husband Jake to Blueberry Hill for his birthday. We were able to see Chuck Berry perform in the Duck Room after trying to get tickets for five or six years. Since Chuck performs only once a month, you have to gp online immediately as soon as sales start to buy tickets. It was worth the wait: Chuck is 87 and still rockin’ and rollin’. I loved his music when I was a teenager and he was wild and free. I loved him yesterday too. This is certainly a tamer Chuck than the guitar legend. We sat front-row-center and could see how management puts a list of songs with keys in huge letters on the floor. He got the key wrong once anyway to the annoyance of Charles Berry, Jr. who performs along with his Dad and sister Ingrid. Right key, wrong key, April 23rd was Chuck’s 203rd consecutive performance at Blueberry Hill. How cool is that?
A lot of people his age would be resting on their laurels with their feet up in front of the television. Instead he is singing and playing the guitar for over an hour, sweating under the hot stage lights. Even putting one foot out and sliding on the other in a modification of the dance he pioneered – the “Duck Walk.”
That’s why I admire Lori so much. Like Chuck who won’t let the diagnosis of advanced age put him out to pasture, she is living her life to the fullest despite the diagnosis of Parkinson’s. When she first heard she had the disease, she says, “I felt like I just wanted to sit in a corner and cry until I died.” Then something powerful happened. She realized Parkinson’s would never kill her, so she determined to make the absolute best of her life. And she has. “I can choose to not let this get to me. And, if it does, then I can figure out another way to fight. And another way after that. I can beat this.”
Sometimes my husband and I come home from a party just as my children are going out. Well I remember being young and staying out late. Now, in the prime of my middle age, I cannot imagine anything worse. As far as a mood elevator, a good night’s sleep is my drug of choice.
I have made some radical changes in lifestyle in the last ten or twelve years to support my sleep habit. The most difficult change was giving up coffee. I do love a good cup of java. In the old days, coffee was my reason for getting up in the morning. But I read an article that said I would lose ten pounds if I switched from coffee to green tea. (I did lose nine pounds, but that’s another story.) The first two weeks I had terrible headaches. Caffeine is a vasodilator so I guess all the veins in my brain were constricting. Nevertheless I persisted coffee-less because I realized the immediate benefit of not waking up to pee so often. How sweet it is to sleep through the night.
Another change I made is going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning. I clock out between nine and ten and bound out of bed between five-thirty and six. Too early for most, but it works well for me. I sleep so much better than the old days when I would stay up past midnight and then try to sleep in. Light and noise just interrupt my shuteye once the day dawns.
Lori puts a high priority on sleep too. It is one of the spokes of her wheel of attack on Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s Disease messes with sleep big time. P.D. can cause R.E.M (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep Disorder that creates unique sleep disturbances where people act out their dreams. To them, their dreams are real. When people have this symptom of Parkinson’s dream, it’s not passive. In Lori’s case, sometimes she talks a lot; others she does what she is dreaming. Bob says, “Once I woke her up because she was choking me with the chord from my sleep apnea device. When I asked her why, she said, ‘You’re the dog. I am taking you for a walk.’” It was nothing personal.
Lori’s Parkinson’s specialist, Dr. Michael Rezak, said his patients who do everything right live well longer – everything right means: getting exercise, taking meds and sleeping well. Lori works hard to get enough sleep: “I need a really good night’s sleep so I oftengo to bed at nine. It’s not even dark in the summer. I try to get eight to nine hours a night. If I get eight hours, I am in fine shape but nine is luxury. I take a half hour to finallyget up so I try to wake up slowlyand start flexibility exercises in bed. When I get up really slowly, then I am alsoless likely to have breathing or balanceproblemsas the day begins. As with most people,I am not fullyrested if I don’t get enoughREM sleep.”
My father died form Alzheimer’s and now my mother has dementia. With this genetic inheritance, I read everything I can about taking care of your memory. Yesterday I posted a list of foods that improve memory: salad oil, fish, dark-green-leafy vegetables, avocados, sunflower seeds, peanuts, red wine, berries, and whole grains. I was mildly shocked because I eat all these foods except sunflower seeds as much as I can because I like them. Better double down on sunflower seeds.
I also do Sudoko every day. Research says Sudoko and crossword puzzles make new memory connections. “My guess is that playing them activates synapses in the whole brain, including the memory areas,” says Marcel Danesi, PhD, author of Extreme Brain Workout. Whereas scientists used to believe brain development was static after a certain age, they now recognize neuroplasticity – the brain can develop new pathways. Games and memory exercises encourage neuroplasticity.
Lori is well aware that Parkinson’s can lead to memory problems so she exercises her brain just as she does her body. She says, “To exercise my memory I play bridge twice a week for three hours at a time. And that has helped a lot because there is so much memory in the game. When I was in the hospital, someone brought me Suduko, a game of number patterns. That’s good for your memory too. I do more reading than I used to, which also helps me with words I can’t come up with. I went to a store called Marbles that sells games, mental exercises and other tools for your mind. I bought a memory game that is about an art auction where different things are auctioned off and they are all pre priced. You have to remember what the pre price was and what the final auction price was. All of these may not protect my ability to function intellectually, but they surely seem to help. And, you know what? They’re fun. I’ve learned that if I can make mental exercises fun, I’m far more likely to do them.”
I learned long ago that I think better after I exercise so I do my best to get some form of vigorous activity before I write. I try to exercise every day, but many weeks I can only do six days. Three times a week I practice a workout routine with a half hour on the bike, plus weights, crunches and stretches. I mix it up with yoga, tennis and three-mile walks with friends. I feel like it gets the blood pumping to my brain.
Since I figured this routine out myself, I was deeply interested to learn that exercise is a key part of Lori’s attack on Parkinson’s. Her specialist, Dr. Michael Rezak, says that Lori’s exercising has definitely slowed the progress of the disease. Lori dedicates four hours a day to exercise. She stretches when she gets up. For endurance and strength, she walks on the treadmill and lifts weights. Ballroom dancing and tai chi improve balance. Lori plays the harp develops finger control so Lori can help prevent the trembling hands that are a symptom of her disease. As a former aerobics instructor, all this comes naturally to Lori. While P.D. has taken away many things she liked to do, like biking, skiing or roller blading, but she is so much better that she can play golf again.
We were pleased to read that Dr. Dennis Keane, physical medicine and rehabilitation physician, thinks a dedicated exercise program will not only control the symptoms of Parkinson’s but may slow its progression or even prevent its manifestation. He says, “Our brains have neuroplasticity. That is, with activities such as exercise, we stimulate our brains to create new nerve pathways to take over the role of what we may have lost from a neurological disorder.”
I have Alzheimer’s in my family. I hope the same goes for Alzheimer’s.