I aim for high cognitive reserve!

A friend suggested I enrol on a free online course called understanding dementia, run by the University of Tasmania. http://www.utas.edu.au/wicking/wca/mooc

So far, I have completed two out of the total nine weeks and done the basic introductory sessions – and if knowledge really is power, then I’m definitely feeling more powerful! That’s to say, I’m finding it much easier to deal with mum’s lack of short term memory now I understand about the hippocampus – the section of the brain concerned with memory formation. It helps people order things that happen during the day and contextualise events.

So now, when mum asks me a question for the umpteenth time, I visualise her hippocampus malfunctioning. This intellectual understanding has helped me to keep my cool. I understand there is a physiological reason why she can’t remember what I’ve been telling her for several hours. I understand she really can’t hold a thought because a certain part of her brain is collapsing (well there’s probably a more scientific way of putting it).

When I had to state my reasons for doing the course I wrote: my father died of vascular dementia, my mother is increasingly confused – and I want to be able to recognise the warning signs for myself! I haven’t yet got to that part of the course, but I already know I must develop a ‘high cognitive reserve’. As I understand it, this means creating new pathways for information to flow between neurons, because the more alternatives you have, the greater the chance the brain can find other ways to pass information between cells if it becomes damaged by dementia.

Neurons in the brain build connections, adapt and develop as we learn new skills. Things like learning languages – or doing a course of study – are ways of creating a cognitive reserve. With this in mind, I decided to start speaking to mum in French – just simple phrases such as ‘I’m on my way’ or ‘do you want a cup of tea?’. She studied French when she was at school, in the early 1930’s, and amazingly she does still remember some of it and quite likes that she can work out what I’m saying. And it’s actually making those boring daily task more fun for me too.

A la prochaine!

I miss the bus and burst into tears

Last Sunday, my brother came with his family. It was lovely to see them, but not exactly relaxing for me. Monday was a difficult day. I had to repeat over and over again, ‘I am a mermaid, I am a mermaid’ and I managed to keep my cool. Tuesday, the cleaners were due. I got up early, did my chores, put on a load of washing from mum’s ‘accidents’, cleaned up the house so the cleaners could clean (I know, I know), got mum up and got myself ready – as I always go out when the cleaners come.

I had things to do in the nearest proper town and I wanted to get the 11 o’clock bus at the very latest. The bus leaves the terminus at 11 and if I get out of the house on time, I can catch it as it comes past my local bus stop. But I could not leave the house. The agency carer, who was still there, wanted a word. Ok. The cleaner, who had just arrived, wanted a word. Ok. Then mum decided she needed my movements written down on her memory whiteboard.

I finally escaped and raced to the bus stop. The bus was already there! There’s no pavement, so I had to get across the road and approach the driver from his blindside. When I was 10 metres away, he drove off. To my surprise, I burst into tears. But really, tears. Like a kid. Boo hoo, boo hoo.

I suppose it was the last straw. I’d tried so hard to accommodate everyone else. The only thing I’d asked in return was to catch that bus. Now I’d missed it and was possibly faced with a half hour wait. (The buses are supposed to run every 15 minutes, but you often have to wait much longer and two will come along together.) My equilibrium deserted me. ‘Now I will h-have to wait h-half an hour, I kn-know I will.’ Boo hoo, boo hoo. ‘If the c-carer had come earlier. If the c-cleaner hadn’t spoken to me.’ Then! ‘If mum hadn’t made me write down that stuff, stuff she knew perfectly well.’ This set off a great gale of sobbing.

What was weird was, I really couldn’t stop. There was no reason to, as I was quite alone. I stood at the bus stop and sobbed, and there was something quite relaxing in the crying, like a kind of gentle orgasm.

After 15 minutes, a lady appeared so I had to pull myself together. And then, unbelievable joy! The next bus arrived on time. I sat upstairs, put Loreena McKennitt on my headphones and by the time we got into Chichester I was back to my normal philosophical self.

Strangely enough, since then, I’ve felt more positive and optimistic. Perhaps I really did just need to have a good cry!!!