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  • Writer's pictureMary

My parents, dementia, and brain health

I got married 6 days before my 40th birthday. Since I was an older bride, I was so happy that my dad was still alive to walk me down the aisle and dance with me at my wedding. He was 82-years old in the photo below and already had signs of cognitive decline that we as a family would not be able to ignore much longer.


After the wedding, he got much worse and developed mobility issues in addition to memory and behavior issues. My mom was doing the best she could to care for him at home, but she was not able to manage him on her own. He had several falls that required paramedic help to get him off the floor. Finally, he ended up in the hospital for a brief time and was transferred to a skilled nursing facility for rehab to regain some mobility and strength.


Below is a photo of my mom visiting my dad at the nursing home.


Although my mom visited my dad daily for lunch, he would not recall this by the time I stopped by a few hours later on my way home from work. He could not tell me if she had been over to see him or not. Fortunately he was a happy, confused person. He enjoyed the food at the nursing home, sang to the staff, and forgot about wanting to go home. He even forgot he was married to my mom--that was sad and tough on her.


I was glad he got to meet my son. For the next 3.5 years, my son and I would visit him out on the courtyard of the nursing home. My son enjoyed the birds and tropical fish at the facility. Here is a photo of my dad meeting my son.




Sadly, my dad never regained the ability to walk and remained in the nursing home until he passed away at the age of 86.


I never saw cognitive decline coming for my mom but it did. Unlike my dad's slow decline, my mom's came on quickly like a switch was flipped on. One day she was fine, then she was not. I spoke with her every day on my drive home from work. One day she told me she was talking with her sisters from Ireland all day. I was curious how she was doing this and wondered if she had used Skype. She went on to tell me no that the voices were just there all around her at the house. Concerned, I drove over to her home and when I got there she asked me if I could hear my aunts talking. I could not. She could. This lead to many frustrating medical appointments without many answers§z.


No one completely figured out what was wrong with her. She was paranoid, hearing voices, and not safe to live alone. She thought I was getting arrested and she thought there were pornographic photos of her all over the internet. She worried when I visited her because she imagined attackers in the parking lot waiting for me. She had no Peace and this was tough to see, especially since she was always such a calm, peaceful, prayerful person.


We moved her into an assisted living place at first, but the voices she heard, told her to leave and to go to the bank to check her money. She left the facility a few times without permission and we were told she needed a higher level of care in the more secure memory care facility. She was in the memory care for a few months and medications seemed to be helping for a while. Unfortunately, she started to think the medications were poison and stopped taking them. She also started refusing food as the voices told her the food was poison too. She lost a good amount of weight and refused to eat. She was unable to stay at the memory care with ongoing weight loss, so we brought her home on hospice. She passed away in 2017 at the age of 86, just like my dad.


Watching my parent's health decline over the years and losing both of them in a 5-year span was stressful and difficult for me. I coped by eating comfort foods. By the time my mom passed away, my BMI was 36 (Class 2 obesity) and I weighed 237 pounds. I was not feeling well at this weight and wanted to get healthy so that I had the energy to raise my son.


Motivated to reach a healthy weight, I hired a coach in 2018 and started a deep dive into learning all about health, weight loss and the risks of chronic inflammation. I started understanding the link between lifestyle and heart health, brain health and cancer risk. I also did a 23 and me genetic test that showed I have an APOE4 gene that makes me more susceptible to developing dementia as I age. I know that I am not just my genes but that my

environment and what I eat and how I care for myself comes into play. This motivates me to stay focused on living a healthy lifestyle. I want to protect my brain now so that my son does not have to come and visit me at a nursing home or memory care when I am in my 80s.


I saw a blurb in the UCLA Health: Healthy Years newsletter (December 2022) that I found encouraging. They described a study published in the May 25, 2022 issue of Neurology that used the American Heart Associations recommendations of seven lifestyle strategies for heart and brain health, called Life's Simple 7. These 7 habits are being active, eating better, losing weight, not smoking, maintaining a healthy blood pressure, controlling cholesterol, and reducing blood sugar. All of these have been linked to a lower risk for dementia. But a group of researchers sought to discover whether this was true even for people at higher risk for Alzheimer's disease because they have at least one copy of the APOE4 gene (like me), which makes a person more susceptible to the disease. The study included 8,823 European Americans and 2,738 African Americans. The researchers obtained data on how closely they followed Live's Simple 7 in midlife, along with genetic information. Among all participants, those who scored highest on adherence to Life's simple 7 had a lower risk of dementia, including the group with the highest genetic risk of dementia. The information from this study reinforces the need for me to adhere to and prioritize Life's Simple 7 to optimize my health and protect my brain so that I can live independently well into my 80s or even 90s.


I am so glad I hired my coach in 2018 who helped me released 80 pounds and restore my health. I am now maintaining my weight loss and helping others achieve their health goals using my lifestyle metabolic reset program and coaching. If you'd like help on your journey, please reach out to me at mary@weightlosstowellness.org. A healthy life is within reach.


Take care,

Mary Welch, NP



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