If Aging is Inevitable …


It really is unfortunate that Trump decided to pause his retirement to be a part time president.  He’s happier golfing, or lying in bed eating cheeseburgers, and I think we all would be delighted to see him go back to those pastimes full time. trump in bed w chzburgers

That being said, being aware of the declining thought processes of a 71 year old person who insists on being the center of attention 24/7 has, for good or ill, has shone a spotlight on how to age disgracefully.

Trump embodies much of the fears, confused thinking, and self indulgence associated with declining mental health.

One of the first and most important signs of this psychological decline is what is called ‘doom thinking,” or thought processes becoming instantly hostile, stressed or sad. With this mindset, anything that doesn’t resemble the familiar is perceived as threatening.

Another sign is extreme mood swings, with periods of elation, anger, depression or even rage. Disorganized speech, evasive answers to even the simplest questions, and a tendency to wander mentally while responding are also warnings.

Cognition EqualsPaying attention to our own physical and mental needs as we age should be a top priority for everyone – not just for our own good, but out of respect for those who will share those senior years with us.

I recently entered a study that focuses on the impact of aging on memory. I’d noticed myself having more difficulty memorizing song lyrics; I could remember the words to songs I’d sung 40 years ago, but was struggling to remember new lyrics at rehearsal. I also found myself having a tough time coming up with just the right word to use, whether in writing a column, or in discussion with others.

accept responsibilityBut it wasn’t until I began the interview process of  the study that I realized how many workarounds I’d unconsciously adapted, in order to conceal the normal mental decline we all face during the aging process. I also began to notice how often I blamed circumstances or other people when I made an error, rather than recognizing that the error was my own fault.

Our brains are wonderful things; they are extraordinarily adept at finding the least difficult way to do things.  And that is great, during our youth and middle age, when we’re negotiating our way through school, a career, relationships and all the matters that we have to contend with in the full throes of life.

But as we approach and enter retirement, a lot of the distractions have faded away, and we have less worries to occupy our thoughts. That’s when we may discover that we’ve lost some of our mental agility, along with the supple physicality of our youths.

brain stimThe study that I’m a part of requires confidentiality on the specifics, but I can say that it involves electrical and cognitive brain stimulation on a daily basis, and includes cognitive remediation (computer games) for an eight week period.

It also includes daily discussions on known methods of combating mental decline. Most of these have been around for quite some time, but so many of us fail to plan for a time when we no longer have to answer to anyone but ourselves.

Everyone approaches retirement differently, and how we hope to spend our days is often based on how we have spent our time in the previous four decades. Some are looking forward to afternoon naps and endless NetFlix, while others want to get into volunteerism, cookery, or further education.

If one’s daily work kept the wolf from the door, but didn’t fulfill an artistic urge, this might be the first chance some will have to finally pursue their ambitions.

The most important thing is to HAVE a plan. Drifting into retirement without any idea of where you’re going next, will ensure you go nowhere of interest  Time will pass; whether or not you enjoy that time is up to you.

retire happy(A good book on planning for retirement is one I read a few years back, by Canadian Ernie J. ZelinskyHow to Retire Happy, Wild and Free. It’s a great follow up to his previous book … The Joy of Not Working: 21st Century Edition – A Book for the Retired, Unemployed and Overworked. The focus of both books is on enjoying life and both encourage physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being and improvements.)

So, what are a few things that anyone can put into practice to build new brain cells, and alleviate mental decline?

Cognitive impairment is not inevitable. You can really reduce the risk of age-related memory loss by keeping mentally stimulated, through activities that stimulate new connections between nerve cells. To develop neurological ‘plasticity’, indulge in mentally stimulating activities, like crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and crafts like drawing and painting, that require manual dexterity as well as mental effort.

healthy eating. jpgIt is tempting to ease up on our diets as we age, but it’s probably more important  to be nutritionally wise as you age, than it is during the more physically active years. It’s not just about how much or little you eat, as it is what you’re eating. Reducing consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol from animal sources and of trans-fatty acids from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, along with a concentration of foods high in the B vitamins can help lower your homocysteine levels, which are often linked to an increased risk of dementia. Eat your greens, and enjoy more grains.

The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet combines elements of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which is designed to reduce blood pressure, but could also protect against dementia.

The ten foods considered healthy are:

    •    green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale 
    •    other vegetables, such as red peppers, squash, carrots and broccoli 
    •    nuts 
    •    berries, including blueberries and strawberries 
    •    beans, lentils and soybeans 
    •    wholegrains 
    •    seafood 
    •    poultry 
    •    olive oil 
    •    wine (in moderation)

Five foods considered unhealthy include red meat, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries, sweets and fried or fast foods. So .. all the fun stuff. <le sigh>

 Beyond staying lean, it’s particularly important to keep a stern eye on your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels. Diabetes is not a given as you age.

Although you may not want to hear it, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol intake are pretty much essential. Some say up to two alcoholic drinks a day is safe for men, with slightly less being ideal for women. Excessive drinking is a major risk factor for dementia.

Good, refreshing sleep is probably the greatest gift you can give your brain cells. A deep, REM sleep of from six to eight hours a night replenishes the brain, and allows ‘janitor cells’ to clear away dead cells and make room for the new. There is some evidence that sleeping on your left side makes that process easier for your body.

https://dailyhealthpost.com/6-hidden-health-benefits-of-sleeping-on-your-left-side-that-you-should-know-about/

Anxious, depressed, sleep-deprived, or exhausted people are at an increased risk of cognitive decline in old age. Keeping control of our emotions will help. Having a circle of friends and acquaintances with whom you enjoy interacting is also very important for keeping a positive attitude.

Despite the aches and pains often associated with aging, older people who routinely partake in physical exercise can reverse the signs of aging in the brain.

MDS LogoExercise is known for promoting both body and mind, with the elderly seeing especially great improvements. But it is not known which type of exercise is best for the elderly. To help address this, the traditional fitness group conducted mainly repetitive exercises like cycling or Nordic walking, while the dance group was challenged with something new each week.

Consistently changes in dance routines of different genres were implemented. These included the likes of jazz, square, Latin-American, and line dancing. To help keep the dances more challenging, speed and rhythms were changed every week to simulate the learning process as the seniors learned new routines.

Both groups were found to have increases in their hippocampus regions of the brain – an important area prone to age-related decline and affected by neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s. the hippocampus is also known for playing key roles in memory, learning, and even balance.

 “Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity. In this study, we show that two different types of physical exercise (dancing and endurance training) both increase the area of the brain that declines with age. In comparison, it was only dancing that lead to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance,” says Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, based at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Germany.”

Aging is not for sissies .. or the lazy. But with mindfulness, self love, and an open mind, it can be the best time of your life. Live! Love! Dance!

admire kind people

For more information on the paid study on aging and memory:

http://www.camh.ca/en/research/research_areas/studies_and_recruitment/study-websites/Pages/PACt-MD.aspx

 

Shock the Monkey


It’s been nearly four months, and still, several times a day, it feels like a rat is trying to gnaw it’s way out of my belly. I’m still craving the instant hit of nicotine that was my constant companion for nearly 50 years. smoke_smoke

I remember precisely when I first inhaled a Benson and Hedges menthol cigarette … I was 13 years old.

A friend had come in from Edmonton to enjoy the wonders of Montreal and Expo 67, and she brought me the habit. I’ve never forgotten that day. french inhaleWe giggled even as we gagged, and blew the smoke out of my bedroom window. I felt very grown up, as she showed me how to ‘french inhale.’

She also turned me on to shoplifting, but I was such a terrible thief that my first attempt in the downtown Woolworths found me nabbed and ‘barred for life’ from the store.

But back to cigarettes.  My grandparents smoked into their nineties, and both of my parents smoked, as did most peoples’ parents back in the sixties. People smoked, and they smoked EVERYWHERE. At the local Steinbergs, a large grocery chain store, there were ashtrays affixed to the shopping carts, so that you need never go without your nic fix as you weighed your bananas.

We smoked in offices, in hospitals, in church basements, in stores, on elevators, in restaurants, on the street, on airplanes, in our cars, and in our homes. MPs smoked in Parliament. Talking heads smoked during television interviewers. Doctors recommended brands in print and TV ads. Even cartoon characters smoked.

We smoked indoors and outdoors, and few, if any, ever waved a hand to shift the smoke from their faces, or the faces of their children.

cig pack in sleeveAt that time, 50% of Canadians over the age of 15 smoked. I’m guessing it was closer to 80% in Quebec, where no macho, hockey playing, swaggering boy would be seen without a fag hanging from his lip, and a deck tucked up inside his white t-shirt’s sleeve.

Cigarettes were quite inexpensive, less than fifty cents a pack, and were even cheaper in the States. The top tobacco brands competed fiercely for market share, in both Canada and the U.S., but the magazines that came from America almost always included coupons for free packets of ciggies.

effects of smoking.pngBut there had been rumours coming from the United Kingdom (where 80% of males smoked) as early as 1950, that a Dr Richard Doll had discovered a link between smoking and cancer, while pursuing a possible link between the tar in road construction and patients with lung, stomach, colon, or rectal cancer. Over a period of several years, he interviewed patients, and over 40,000 British physicians, and came to the inevitable conclusion that smoking was a main factor in lung disorders, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

Since no one wanted to believe that our delicious smoking habit could possibly be bad for us, most people thought it was just some nonsense brought up by do-gooders who had a hate on for smokers and drinkers. After all, 9 out of 10 docdoctors smoke camelstors said Camel cigarettes were ‘toastier,’  while  dentists recommended Viceroys!  Clearly your health and safety concerns were just a question of finding the right brand.

But the evidence was mounting. In 1963, Canada’s federal health minister, Judy LaMarsh, warned that smoking contributed to lung cancer, prompting the Canadian Medical Association to urge doctors to stop smoking, at least while attending their patients.

And despite the 1964 report from the U.S. Surgeon General that linked cigarette smoking to lung cancer in men, and possibly in women, despite that same report citing smoking as the most important cause of chronic bronchitis,  and despite the fact that I was studying voice and music, and considering a career as a vocalist …  I took up smoking in 1967 and didn’t look back for decades.

In 1972, the first ‘warning’ messages began to appear on the side of cigarette packages, and by 1989, it was made mandatory for packets to have a health warning . By 2001, Canada mandated picture warnings that covered 50 per cent of the boxes.

Like most conscientious, quasi-hippies of the sixties, I quit smoking and drinking while pregnant with my daughter, and stayed off cigarettes for a few years after her birth. But nicotine is highly addictive, so by 1976, I was back on the demon weed, despite now pursuing full time singing gigs. I was young, healthy, and I couldn’t feel any side effects from my habit, so why not?

For a few years I’d continue on an on-again/off-again pattern, quitting sometimes for years at a time. But despite trying every trick in the book, from acupuncture to hypnotism to counselling and medication, nothing worked permanently. I was always just an excuse away from sliding back into the addiction.

CAMH STOP_programAnd then, about four years ago, I heard about a paid research study on nicotine addiction being done by CAMH, (the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Care,) and decided to give it a go. They’d pay me to be in a double blind study that focused on the use of Zyban, a nicotine replacement medication. AND they’d give me the medication for free. Only thing was, I wouldn’t know if I was on the actual drug or a placebo. Still, I was game to give it a whirl.

Beyond the medication, the study focused on mindfulness, and an understanding of what part our addiction played in our day to day lives. The study required that I make a note of every cigarette I smoked during the day, and any emotion I was feeling when I felt the urge to smoke.  Since I had been using an old fashioned cigarette making machine with tobacco and tubes for my daily fix, I hadn’t any idea that my cigarette intake had risen to 40 cigarettes a day.

I also discovered that I had certain attitudes about smoking. Years of social conditioning had convinced me that I could neither relax nor concentrate without a smoke, and that I certainly couldn’t write without a cigarette smouldering away in the full ashtray beside me.

woman smokingWhen I’d talk to other smokers, the males would commonly exhibit bravado about continuing to smoke, despite health concerns, while most of the women would agree that sneaking a cigarette break really meant allowing themselves to stop the world and it’s unending demands for a minute. Even though we intuitively knew that we were doing physical damage to our bodies by smoking, we still had a “this I do for me” attitude about the habit.

When the study concluded, I was nervous about keeping off the ciggies on my own, so I was referred to the CAMH Nicotine Independence Clinic, where I would have access to outpatient treatments, assessment, medical consultation, group counseling and medications to quit/reduce smoking.

I’m so glad that I lucked into that clinic. From my first visit, I was welcomed by their friendly staff, and treated by top notch doctors and nurses that encouraged me to fight towards nicotine independence. Month after month I’d have to face those professionals and explain why I, an intelligent, motivated, woman, could not seem to get the nicotine monkey off my back.

The first surprise was that I had spent three months on the placebo, rather than the medication. And when I was prescribed the actual Zyban, I discovered that I couldn’t tolerate the drug; I wasn’t smoking, but only because I couldn’t stop vomiting.

nic replacementsHowever, with the clinic’s support, and a constant supply of free nicotine replacement treatments, (patches, lozenges, gums, inhalers) I struggled through the next four years, promising myself and my mentors that I would indeed quit .. soon. Just not today.

During a particularly harsh Harper budget year, the rules for the clinic were changed; patients could now only receive the nicotine replacements for six months at a time, although they could continue receiving medical consultations and counselling. After a further six months, patients could again receive replacements. Those six months on/six months off made it very hard for many to stay nicotine free.

beer smoking treadmillWhen I returned to the clinic last fall to begin yet another six months of treatment, I desperately wanted to get off the addiction treadmill. I was sick of being sick, of seeing the effects of years of nicotine use etched on my face, and in it’s detrimental effects on my health. It had almost become a joke that I had been attending the Clinic for longer than some of their staff.

I waved a breezy ‘hello’ to Natalie, the receptionist. But it was the sight of a woman patiently waiting to see the doctor that really gave me pause. The woman was chipper and in good spirits, despite being hooked up to oxygen tanks, and needing a walker to get around. She happily told me that she was certain she could finally quit smoking, although it was too late to do much more than halt the progress of the COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) that she’d acquired through her years of smoking. The woman confided that she was a decade younger than me.

When it was my turn to talk to the doctor, I told him that I could deal with aging, but I couldn’t deal with being a sick old lady. I wanted to bang away at this nicotine monkey with everything I had, and that they could give me. The doc loaded me up with patches, gum, lozenges and inhalers, and wished me good luck.

because you're worth it.jpgFor all my good intentions, however, and even while wearing nicotine patches that added up to 63 milligrams of nicotine replacement to my blood, I still found myself smoking to ease tensions and relax. I could tell myself that the stress of selling the house and moving gave me an ‘out.’ I DESERVED  the occasional cigarette, dammit!

And the story might have ended there, in an endless loop of me going to the clinic, getting medical help, and still smoking, except for a bad thing that turned out to be a good thing.

November and December were tough months, what with the move, the weather, and all of the physical changes in my life, which culminated in a bunch of health issues, including a cold that turned into bronchitis and then into a nagging cough that just wouldn’t go away. I coughed 24/7, even in my sleep. I coughed so constantly and theatrically that I finally had to find a new doctor that might be able to help me stop coughing, and allow everyone to get a decent night’s sleep.

This doctor listened patiently to my story, and then produced a medication. “The good news, ” he said, “is that this medication will stop the cough. The bad news is that, if this medication works, you likely have COPD.  We’ll have to do testing to find out if that is the case.”

In that moment, time stood still.

Although I’d have to wait a week for the tests to be done and assessed, I knew that I had finally passed the threshold I’d always dreaded; I had done terrible damage to my lungs, and now I’d have to pay the price.

Dont just dontI stopped smoking that day, nearly four months ago, and haven’t had a cigarette since. The tests came back, and although I’d done a lot of damage to my lungs with the smoking and the coughing, I did not have COPD.  With care, and time, the damage would repair itself. All I had to do was not smoke.

So I didn’t. And I won’t. Even when the craving is so intense that I feel like screaming, my mind flashes back to that moment in the doctor’s office, and I don’t light up. I dodged a bullet – no way will I put myself back in it’s path again.

I’m still wearing the nicotine patches, although with time, I’ll wean myself off them. And I have nicotine replacement inhalers in every pocket, purse and room of the house. I have the support of my family, friends, and doctors, all of whom remain cautiously optimistic that I’ll keep on the straight and narrow.

I’m not saying it’s easy, nor am I throwing myself a ticker tape parade, but I’m very grateful for the help and support I’ve received, and quietly confidant that I’m too sensible to let my addiction wiggle it’s way back into my life.

I smell better. My clothes and my house smell better. I no longer have to worry if my smoking will harm other people, nor do I have to fear long periods of time in places where you can’t smoke. I don’t have to leave an event and traipse out into the cold or rain to have a ciggie.  I don’t look up at a gratefuldarkening sky and wonder if I have enough cigarettes to last through a snow storm. I don’t have to calculate the cost of cigarettes into my budget.

I no longer have to justify a habit that took the lives of my father and mother, amongst other millions of smokers.

I am a non-smoker.

 

(first published bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2017/03/26/roxanne-tellier-shock-the-monkey/)

 

Philip Morris International Is A Big Fat Bully


The sixties and seventies were great times to be young and sure of your thoughts and beliefs. I protested everything back then; it was fun, and in my arrogant, know-it-all way, it appealed to my sense of theatre. And I smokedrolly rollies, which I lit with a wooden match struck against my jean zip.

Then Life (with a capital L) intervened. Marriage, a baby, and the pursuit of a career (or two or ten) kept me sidelined from the news and politics. It was all too much trouble. I’d let my husband and his friends yammer on about the world; my girlfriends and I had fun things to talk about, and politics was not fun.

I adapted a philosophy based on something I’d heard along the way: “if little children won’t die from it, then don’t worry about it.” It made sense to me.

As a Canadian, my life had not been touched much by wars around the globe. I lived in a free and democratic society, and was free to speak my mind, and vote for whomever I thought might do a good stuff of governance.

But a few years ago, I began to realize that a lot of the things that I hadn’t worried about had gone from minor annoyances to global issues. Worse still, it seemed like my freedom, along with many other people’s, to speak their mind had become not a freedom, but a privilege, able to be snatched away at any time, by anyone who questioned my words.

And that ain’t right. And little children ARE dying from it.

Our not speaking up, our having ‘better things to do,’ is catching up with us. There are a lot of bullies out there, bullies with money and power, and there’s no limit to what they feel they must shove into their greedy maws.greedy desire

So it’s time to speak up. BUT – now it’s scary.

How scary? Well, I realized just how scary it’s become to speak up when I watched John Oliver deliver a show that focused on how Big Tobacco wages war against the laws of small countries, even going so far as to threaten to sue countries if they can’t have their way. I actually worried for John Oliver.

And that ain’t right.

So my little part of speaking out today, is sharing John Oliver’s investigative report. And I urge you to pass it on.