Feb 13, 2013

Did I Save Dotty's Brain From the Rapid Deterioration Caused by Dementia

The hippocampus is the first area of the brain that is attacked by Alzheimer's disease. When the hippocampus stops working properly, new memories no longer get converted and stored in the brain.

By +Bob DeMarco
+Alzheimer's Reading Room 

Recently, I was speaking with Rudy Tanzi.

Rudy is a neuro scientist, and one of the world's top experts on Alzheimer's disease. Rudy is also the Chairman of the Cure Alzheimer's Fund Research Consortium.

I started talking to Rudy about how I first learned that my mother, Dotty, who lived with Alzheimer's disease was capable of more than I could ever imagine. My mother was more there than I could easily imagine with my own brain.

I explained to Rudy that we, the Alzheimer's caregivers, are often constrained by our own brains. It is a bit ironic that our own brains constrain us when you think of this in terms of Alzheimer's disease.

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Did I Save Dotty's Brain From the Rapid Deterioration Caused by Dementia
I started by telling Rudy about the remarkable change that came over my mother after exercising. This story of course interests many because I took my mother into the gym for the first time in her life when she was 88 years old.

The scenario was always the same. I would say mom, we are going to the gym in an hour. She would respond, I'm not going. This would lead to a chain of events that were very burdensome in the beginning.

Even while I was putting on my mother's sneakers and tying them she would still be saying, I'm not going.

On the way to the car her negative reaction would increase. She was angry and by the time we were in the car she would begin "cursing me out". "I am not going into the GD gym".

As I opened the door of the car to guide her into the gym she would inform me, "I'll go in but I am not going to do anything, I'll sit there". She usually add a few harsher words.

As we walked in the door of the gym my mother would become almost zombie like. She could barely walk. As I was holding her hand, or as she was holding my arm, she would become heavier. It was almost like she was going to collapse, to drop to the floor. The look on her face was horrific.

If I didn't know better I would have concluded she hated me.

In the beginning, once I had her on the treadmill she would refuse to look at me. In fact, she looked away - intentionally. One thing for sure, my mother hated the treadmill.

After 22 minutes on the treadmill, about 25-28 minutes total since my mother would stop and start, we headed to the weight machines. Oddly,  my mother actually liked the weight machines.

We started slowly but while in her 90s my mother worked with 30 pounds on the shoulder, chest, and leg machines. She did three sets with twelve repetitions. In her early 90s she could have done more, but I never increased the weight above that level because I feared it might cause an injury.

Could you imagine a 90 year old living with dementia doing 22 minutes on the treadmill, and 36 repetitions on the shoulder, chest, and leg press machines in the gym?

Here is the most important part of this story. Once we concluded our workout regimen my mother transformed to a new and different person.

On the way out of the gum, she stood up straighter, and walked right out of the gym on her how power without any assistance. She actually walked faster on the way out then she did on the way in. Even in the later years when I had to assist her while walking, she stood taller and walked faster after exercising.

The result of the exercise were always the same. The next hour or two were the best hours of the day. My mother was happier, more communicative, cooperative, and easier to deal with.

Could you imagine that?

Sadly, the remarkable change brought on by exercise eventually wore off.

However, there was something else happening that I did no realize until I read the book Super Brain (co-authored by Rudy Tanzi and Deepak Chopra). What was happening really sunk in when I heard Rudy talked about Super Brain on PBS.

The short version goes like this.

Rudy explains that regardless of age, no matter how old you are, you can grow new brain cells. You can grow new brain cells and connection in the hippocampus.

The hippocampus is the first area of the brain that is attacked by Alzheimer's disease. The hippocampus is the region of the brain where new memories are consolidated and turned into the long term memories. When the hippocampus stops working properly new memories no longer get converted and stored in the brain.

Near the end of our conversation I asked Rudy, is it possible that we slowed down the deterioration of my mother's hippocampus through exercise. He answered yes.

Can you imagine that?

Unfortunately, Rudy had to go for a conference call and we have not yet continued that conversation. I fully intend to ask him some questions around this issue and get them published here on the Alzheimer's Reading.

Just so you know, it was not just the exercise that helped slow the deterioration in Dotty's brain. Over time, I introduced bright light, socialization, our own personal dementia friends program, and a lot more into the equations. You can search the Knowledge Base (look over on the right hand side of the page) for more information on these topics. We now have more than 4,000 articles.

I am still learning a lot about Alzheimer's and Alzheimer's caregiving. I am also digging deeper into the positive effects of what I did with Dotty, and why they occurred.

I fully intend to continue sharing this information with all the readers of the Alzheimer's Reading Room, and soon I'll be out there in the world talking more concretely about, well, Dotty and me and how we stepped off the path of greatest burden and on to the path of Joy.

One thing is clear to me. No matter how hard I tried I learned over and over through the years that Dotty was capable of more than I could imagine. She just kept on amazing me over and over.

There is more to the brain than the hippocampus. And, there is a lot of information already stored in the brain before dementia attacks. You just have to figure out how to unleash that information.

Dotty went to Heaven on May 25, 2012.

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Bob DeMarco
Bob DeMarco is the Founder and Editor of the Alzheimer's Reading Room. Bob is a recognized Influencer, speaker, and expert in the Alzheimer's and Dementia Community Worldwide. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.
Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room