Are holidays ever as carefree as we expect? For as long as we’ve been married, Thom and I have spent Christmas at the old family house where his mother and aunt live. They are now both experiencing memory and physical issues, and this year’s visit was alarming, sad, and stressful at multiple levels.
I packed as I always do for the trip – a book plus my Kindle, some crocheting, a pad of paper for anything I need to write, some work, my laptop – but hardly touched any of that. There was a lot to deal with and at the end of each day I was exhausted. There was no mental space to be creative or studious.
So it was fortuitous that the weather made us drive home a day early, giving us an entire weekend before the return to work. Freezing rain, sleet, and snow kept us at home for the first day, but luckily our pantry and freezer can always yield some meals without fresh inputs. The coziness of home was a perfect antidote for the chaos, clutter, and stress of our trip.
No one ever knows what a new year holds, but after realizing the full situation of my in-laws (which had not been apparent in phone calls) and how much their mental status has changed since our visit 6 months ago, this year feels more uncertain than usual. In addition to the emotional pain of watching the slow march of dementia, their care is likely to require multiple roadtrips and unanticipated financial support. The other big question mark of this year will be Mari’s college decisions – where, what, how, and, of course, how much… cost.
I’m not a New Year resolutions maker. I usually try to make change whenever motivation strikes, and that is rarely after our big holiday road trip. But in light of the mental, emotional, and physical reserves that I expect to draw on this year, I have already begun some lifestyle improvements. My goal is to make my brain more resilient to the aging process now, building habits that will make a big difference today and in the future. I do not want to experience the memory loss that I see in my mother-in-law, who completely forgot two conversations that we had on separate days. I also do not want Mari to be burdened with caring for me in a few decades when she should be building her own adulthood. I watched my parents care for my Oma, who lived with dementia for at least 10 years, during which she slowly lost her memories and her personality.
Some years ago I ran across an article that detailed improvement from various phases of dementia in 10 specific patients. It was a remarkable finding because, as most people are aware, there is no drug that can do this, and no protocol had previously been found to delay or improve dementia. At the time this caught my eye because a cousin was noticing the beginning of dementia in her mother, so I saved the article and sent it to her.
I found that article and reviewed it. Turns out the author is Dale Bredesen, who published the book The End of Alzheimer’s a couple years ago (along with another peer-reviewed article of research findings). I’m reading the book now, but the article was a good head start. I already had a fairly healthy lifestyle, and, like most people, knew where improvement could be made, but this is extra motivation to improve my sleep, diet, exercise, and habits. It turns out that weighing a little less isn’t enough for me to avoid sugar, but avoiding dementia is.
Today will be a beautiful day, sunshine on fresh snow, time with family and close friends. A perfect way to begin a new year.