Although I find it hard to believe, it’s been 26 years since I graduated from nursing school. That’s long enough to remember having to wear the little Dixie cup caps on our heads during training (mercifully discontinued by the time I entered the work force) and manually titrating IV flow by counting the drops against a second hand on my watch.
Ah, the not so good old days. Back then, working a neurology hospital floor, I heard the word “senile” many, many times from the mouths of well-meaning medical professionals. Elderly, forgetful – aren’t those words synonymous? We’d sigh and cluck our tongues – there was no medicine to interfere with the inevitable and only nursing homes welcomed the cognitively-impaired in their final years.
Fast-forward a quarter of a century. Enter the age of elegant assisted living facilities, brightly-painted memory care cottages, in-home personal attendants, “adult day care” and the like. But where are the magic medicines and the promised cures to fix the brains of those who forget? Where is the so-called “Alzheimer’s vaccine” to thwart the projected explosion of the dementia population?
And when are we going to give up the fantasy that the brain can be “fixed” and focus on what keeps it ticking (like its neighbor to the south, the heart)? In other words, as more and more research reveals, the brain must get its exercise and take its vitamins, in a manner of speaking, to stay sharp. Indeed the mantra of brain health has shifted from “wait for a cure” to “don’t wait a single minute longer”. Even skeptical professionals are acknowledging that preventative habits – nutrition, physical exercise, brain exercise, stress and sleep management – are critical in retaining cognitive health.
I speak to many, many people about dementia, now the most feared disease of all. Most of them, regardless of age or gender, are ready to be pro-active and want to know more. Especially those who have seen dementia first hand through a loved one’s experience – a long, protracted journey that can last for years.
I think it is no coincidence that we are starting to question the very foods we eat, the stresses we impose on ourselves, the pharmaceutical advertising that seems to be everywhere. My Brain Health classes are full of people with such questioning attitudes. And together we are looking for answers.
Blog Post by Guest Author:
Meredith Patterson, RN, BSN,CRRN