Watching someone I love, already isolated by blindness and loss of hearing, become even more inaccessible due to memory loss and confusion, was one of the most frustrating and sad experiences of my life. I’m a fixer. When someone I love hurts or has a problem, I’m compelled to try and help, but I didn’t know how to fix this. How could I fight age and DNA?
This was the difficulty I found myself facing as my husband, Mr. D, became confused. His dislike of doctors compounded the problem. The only doctor he was willing to see was his cardiologist. When we arrived at our appointment, I wanted the doctor to solve all of Mr. D’s problems, but he couldn’t. He immediately took Mr. D off the statin drugs he’d been taking for twenty years and commented that some people called it the Alzheimer’s drug. Why did they give it to him if it causes Alzheimer’s? But I knew the answer. They’d been trying to keep him from having another heart attack. They’d been trying to keep him alive.
Mr. D has had many health issues over the years. Two heart attacks, bypass surgery, two strokes, glaucoma, bladder cancer, and now this. As I left that doctor’s office, I realized that there was no doctor who could solve all of Mr. D’s problems. I was going to have to be his advocate in this war to save his mind because he couldn’t do it himself. Oh, Lord, help me. I didn’t have the slightest idea what to do, but I knew I had to fight.
It took six weeks for the statins to get out of his system. The horrible hallucinations got less frightening as each week passed. We had won a battle in our war – there were no longer foot long bugs flying across the room. But Mr. D was still terribly confused. We needed to keep fighting.
My next step was to take him to see a doctor of Internal Medicine. She gave him a memory test and did all kinds of blood work. His blood work was fine other than his cholesterol, which was too high since he was no longer taking statins, but he failed the memory test miserably. She prescribed Donepezil, a drug for dementia and Alzheimer’s for his memory issues, but decided to do nothing about the cholesterol. That was my first experience with the pitying look and the phrase, ‘at his age…’ Why does she make it sound as if little can be done for him because of his age? He’s only 74.
The Donepezil helped, not dramatically, but enough for Mr. D to be able to move around our home alone, most of the time. We had won another battle, but only a small one. The war was still looming ahead of us.
After six months, we went back to the cardiologist for a follow-up appointment. He was concerned about the rising cholesterol, but he agreed that adding a cholesterol medicine to all the other medicines Mr. D was already taking was probably not wise. He suggested we try large doses of fish oil to lower the cholesterol. Again, I got the pitying look and the phrase, ‘at his age…’
I’m several years younger than my husband. When doctors look at us, they seem to see me as a much younger spouse having to deal with Mr. D’s health issues. Perhaps their pitying looks are because they feel sorry for me. Perhaps their words, ‘at his age,' are designed to keep me from getting my hopes up and expecting them to be able to make Mr. D all better again. I know their intent is kindness, but it is important for us to have hope. If we surrender to the disease, what is left other than misery and finally death? We must keep fighting.
One thing both doctors agreed on was that a healthier diet might be able to improve Mr. D’s condition, so we decided to give it a try. I researched how different foods affect the brain. Mr. D gave up his Cokes and the sugar in his coffee. He gave up processed and genetically modified foods. We reduced his intake of saturated fats and red meat. I started buying organic fruits and vegetables when possible, and I eliminated food which contained nitrates and preservatives. (See my blog post, Food: Poison or Medicine for more details on my research.) Yes, it’s a lot of work. Sometimes I get so tired of worrying about what we should eat I want to give up food entirely, but I can’t do that. I must keep fighting because of the remarkable results we’re seeing.
Healthy food has proven to be more effective than anything else. Mr. D is better than he has been in years. He is no longer confused, except when his routine or environment changes, and then the confusion is that of a blind man who can’t hear well, not someone who’s mind isn’t functioning correctly. He finds his way around the house without a problem, and we can have wonderful, meaningful conversations again. He has such a fine mind and a charming sense of humor – it is a blessing to have my husband back again.
We have won a large battle. We have made the enemy retreat, but the war is not over. I have no idea what will happen in the future. I don’t know how many times I will get that pitying look or hear the words ‘at his age…,’ but it doesn’t matter. Hope and love are powerful weapons, and if we keep holding on to hope and keep looking for things to try then the war is not lost.
Why have I shared this story? I shared it because I am in awe over the improvement a healthy diet has brought about in Mr. D. I can’t keep this to myself if the diet might also be helpful to someone else.
As I learn more about the effect of food on our bodies, I’m discovering that a healthy diet can help not only patients with dementia, but those with heart disease, MS, diabetics, high blood pressure, and many other problems as well. Give up that sugar! Do some research, and learn how to eat healthily. But most of all, don’t give up hope. Hope is a powerful weapon in whatever war you are fighting.