Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Iris - Windows to the Soul Gone Dark with Dementia

Tonight I watched the movie Iris, a true story recounting the life of Iris Murdoch -- famous British author and philosopher who slowly lost her life to Alzheimer's Disease as her devoted husband watched in horror. My grip of the kitty on my lap steadily tightened as the movie drew to its inevitable close -- death of the brilliant, but now absent-minded Iris.

From the start, I couldn't help but think of our aging Co-op members. We promote cognitive health often, carrying a variety of supplements to boost brain power and hopefully beat the odds against dreaded dementia. However, cognitive health isn't usually a glaring priority for most of us. It lacks the measurability of cholesterol and the instant emotionality of cancer. No one thinks they're going to lose their mind. The mere thought doesn't even cross our minds until symptoms are already nipping at the heels of our consciousness.

Take my grandfather for example, a retired police chief, who I've watched slowly become estranged from his mind over the last year. The footprints of an ant would have once grabbed his attention. Now he can barely discuss the weather without becoming lost and repetitive.

Unfortunately, his plight comes with no surprise. Poor diet, extra pounds, and unfavorable genetics have slowly chipped away at his health for years. The major heart attack that forced his retirement came when I was only three. The stroke that strangled the mobility of his right side came years later, leaving a once powerful man unable to climb his own stairs.

Dementia was once viewed as an isolated condition, but more recent research continues to link it with inflammation, heart disease, obesity and other degenerative conditions. If I've learned anything in my years at the Co-op, I have learned that a cell is a cell and it's frighteningly safe to assume that if heart cells are struggling to thrive, brain cells are too.

While I've got quite a few years ahead of me (knock on wood), I'm going to do everything I can to protect my little cells. This means I'll be taking my supplements and as my good friend likes to say, "eating lots of yucky vegetables and depriving myself of delicious foods." Good thing I have a liking for those yucky vegetables and can get by on a timid vice for dark chocolate.

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