Monday, November 28, 2011

Exercising for the "Little Gray Cells"

When Mother learned that her mother had Alzheimer’s, she began in earnest to ward off the disease. First, she walked vigorously up and down the graveled dirt road that ran from the highway, winding up a hillside to their Little Cabin in the Woods, as she called it. The home was, in fact, quite large and quite a distance from the highway so Mom walked a far piece, her dog close by, up and down the road. She stopped to harvest wild blackberries when they were in season and detoured across pastures to collect various grasses and plants that she dried and used as seasonal decorations.

Later, after Mother and Dad had sold the big place and built another home, smaller, with wider doorways for their declining years, Mother continued to walk the sidewalks in her neighborhood. Today, when her companions suggest a walk, Mother must slow down to allow them, one about fifty years younger, to catch up. Mom’s legs are strong, her lungs just as strong.

Three days each week, Mother participates in water aerobics. She loves the ease with which her joints work while under water, but the cold temperature in the pool has begun to trouble her. Still, she goes more days than she misses even though she can no longer manage the drive to and from. Her companions take her back and forth.

Mother also became a vegetarian for a time, and she bought cookware without any aluminum whatsoever when aluminum became suspect for a time. She played bridge as often as she could find a foursome and subscribed to Reader’s Digest so that she could take the monthly vocabulary quizzes. All these practices, experts assured her, would keep Alzheimer’s at bay.

In fact, they do not, or more accurately, they did not for my mother. I cannot speak for everyone. Someone may be vegetarian and nearly 83 without Alzheimer’s. Another may have exercised vigorously all his days and believe that exercise locked dementia outside his gates. But science now hesitates. It isn’t sure that an active body and mind will make enough difference for everyone. We only know that active bodies and minds are better every day for as many days as any of us are granted.

I admire Mother for fighting the good fight, and she continues the fight today. She refuses to yield to a nursing home; she still exercises by walking and swimming. She asks for help now and usually accepts help when it is offered. Many others are incapable of persevering in the face of setbacks. Mother is not one of them. Hers is the type of courage I hope to have.