Outrunning the Demons
December 21, 2015 1:00 AM   Subscribe

Greg O'Brien on running and early-onset Alzheimer's Disease: "After my diagnosis, the doctors told me that I had to ramp up my running. Physical activity—particularly in late afternoon—helps reduce the end-of-day confusion and restlessness common in dementia patients. Known as “sundowning,” such symptoms are caused as light fades to black. This can also be a time of greater rage, agitation, and mood swings; like dandelions, we behave differently at night, our heads closing up tightly as the sun goes down. So every day before dusk, I ran from the demons of confusion, anger, and ongoing depression." (Runner's World)
posted by frumiousb (13 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Alzheimer disease is an absurd illness. If it didn't exist, and you read about it in a scifi book, you'd call out the author for being so on the nose. The most intelligent species on a planet suffers from a disease that causes their main virtue, their mind. To slowly erode away.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:30 AM on December 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

Hardly anyone exercises more than my dad did. It sure as hell didn't prevent Alzheimer's. I don't know: maybe it slowed the disease's progression or delayed its onset, but it is by no means a magic bean that will keep the demon away. And at some point, we thought that my dad being so physically fit was somewhat of a curse: it meant that his body lived on A LOT longer than his brain. And who would want that?
posted by Halo in reverse at 1:37 AM on December 21, 2015 [11 favorites]

Having lost a relative to Alzheimer's, and watched other go through the horror of it, I'm always reminded of Pterry's Shaking Hands with Death (though of course in the end he went through the endgame the same as anyone else, and the choice was taken away from him).
posted by gmb at 2:04 AM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

This tore me up. My mother has both dementia and Alzheimers. Visiting her requires an international flight, but I saw her last month and the change in the couple of years since I saw her last was frightening. I cannot imagine what it must be like for her, to lose skills such as typing, her mobility - she can no longer drive - and even her memories of day to day events, to feel her world inexorably folding in on her with no way out. I try, but my imagination veers away from it. I hope I would find the resolution to kill myself. She has no such option: her beliefs prevent it. And so she sits and watches TV, dying.

Good on this guy for fighting. He will lose - is losing - but his article is asperational on so many levels and is beautifully and clearly written.
posted by Autumn Leaf at 3:55 AM on December 21, 2015 [9 favorites]

I lost my mother a couple of weeks ago to this disease. This was a very sad story to read, knowing what's in-store for O'Brian. The only salve I can offer is that, at some point down the road, he won't be aware of the things he's lost. I look at the photo of the hand-made labels on the mouthwash and rubbing alcohol bottles and know that, sooner than later, he won't be able to read those well-intentioned labels. He probably knows that, too, deep down.

But, good on him for keeping a tight hold on his running. He should enjoy it as long as he's able.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:35 AM on December 21, 2015 [9 favorites]

One of the things that people recommend for Alzheimer's patients is to develop physically satisfying routines and hobbies that can persist after the memory loss really takes hold.
posted by srboisvert at 6:26 AM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

One of the things that people recommend for Alzheimer's patients is to develop physically satisfying routines and hobbies that can persist after the memory loss really takes hold.

In retrospect, one of the first signs of Alzheimer's for my Grandma was that she forgot how to crochet. Pick those hobbies carefully.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:54 AM on December 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

My father-in-law also exercised every day of his life. He may have developed Alzheimer's later than he would have, but man, at 85 years old, his body is still going strong while he can't remember how to eat or go to the bathroom. It's painful.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:53 AM on December 21, 2015

I, too, fantasize that exercise -- either physical or mental or both -- will beat back Alzheimer's if (or more likely when) it comes for me. It may be only a placebo, but the tragedy of this infinitely cruel disease is that placebos are virtually all that's available to grasp onto for any shred of hope.
posted by blucevalo at 9:11 AM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

FWIW, my mother was a lifelong fan of crossword and word-search puzzles. She also did crochet and crafts. It's not that she forgot how to do them...It's that she forgot they even existed. Or, more correctly, she didn't understand what they were when she saw them.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:31 AM on December 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

Echoing the sentiments of others here - I lost my own healthy fit mother to Alzheimer's after 10 long years of decline. She was so very healthy that it seemed she would never pass, but at 94, influenza got her.
She witnessed others in the family go through this, and always said "If I *ever* get like that, please just shoot me!"

Of course, no such thing is allowed, so we spent all her money on care, and the taxpayers picked up the last few years.

I'm counting on a cure in the next 20 years - or some way to wrest control so I don't go through the same thing.
posted by dbmcd at 11:31 AM on December 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I sometimes wonder if the rise in dementia correlates with the rise of low-fat diets. The brain needs fat to protect itself. The amyloid plaque and tangle theory is insufficient--the Nun Study showed that people's brains can be full of these and yet the person shows no cognitive impairment, similar to the way 99% of us die with cancer in our bodies, but most don't die of cancer. But the neuron sheaths which are made from fat forming poorly due to lack of fat...I just wonder.

Cheeseburger and a Manhattan for me, please.
posted by Riverine at 12:23 PM on December 21, 2015

I'm pretty physically active and this is my big fear, Alzheimers or dementia. As a single man if I end up with either I'm fucked. Most likely the steroids I take for my asthma will kill me before this, but the nature of fear is that it's not always rational. I don't want to live as a burden on relatives, so I'm considering what my possible exit strategy (ies) should be. I know in our culture suicide is a big no-no but I've never been a believer either in the dominant religious or cultural views. People tell you that you are harming the people that will miss you but as a cranky old punk rocker, that number is dwindling by the day, and it was never very large to begin with. Telling me that lots of running will possibly solve this problem gives me hope, mainly though I'm putting my money on getting hit by a bus or car.
posted by evilDoug at 5:09 PM on December 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

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