Like many people, when I was younger I never really thought about or planned for my future all too carefully. Then I had kids. Suddenly my future was very tangibly tied to theirs and I needed to start making improvements to the way I lived, the way I saved and most importantly, I needed to start taking better care of my health.
Luckily I’ve never smoked, I’ve remained entirely drug free, and my alcohol intake has seen an incredibly sharp decline in the past few years. Thanks to my wife and her vegetarian ways, I also eat far healthier than I had been for many years and have been feeling better because of it.
These days I’ve been more worried about the whole “family history” thing and what it can potentially mean for me. I had a grandfather who had cancer and died from a heart attack. So naturally to combat that, I spent a decade as a lifeguard exposing my pasty Irish skin to the sun and eating massive deli sandwiches. That should be a good way to cut back my odds for both afflictions. “Brilliant maneuvering there, early twenties Patrick.” So not only do I need to worry about those two big ones, but Alzheimer’s is also in my family. Both my dad, and my mom’s mom had it. Genetics, you heartless bastard!! First you keep me solidly away from that 6’ height mark and now I have this to contend with? Consider yourself unfriended.
My dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about 4 years ago, but we had suspected it for quite some time before that. His crazy mood swings were always just par for the course with him, but they started getting more unpredictable and irrational. The main thing that we noticed was the repetition.
“Did I ever tell you about my friend Bobby who wouldn’t drink tea?”
“Yep, about 5 minutes ago”
“Did I?? Oh, well I’m about to make some tea. Do you want some? No?? Who are you my friend Bobby? Did I ever tell you he hated tea?”
At least he’s helpful in his repetition! Plus now you all know where to turn if you want a never-ending supply of fresh brewed tea.
I live about 3000 miles from the rest of my family. They are in NY and I’m in Southern California so I don’t get to see my dad super often. When I do visit I notice the mental decline more acutely than others who are there with him every day. Because of the distance I feel a tremendous amount of guilt that I’m not readily available to help out as much as my sisters and brothers are. I also feel terrible that he doesn’t get to see my kids very much and they don’t get to spend the time with him. But my real guilt comes after I register how frustrated I get after I spend even a short amount of time together. I know I shouldn’t get angry or upset with him and I try really hard not to, but it creeps up on me as the hours and days of a visit pass by. I seriously don’t know how my mom puts up with it full time. Here are some fun quotes of my own from recent visits:
“No dad, it’s 3am. I’m in bed. I’m sleeping and don’t want an ice cream cone.”
“I assure you, I am well acquainted with your friend Frank’s classroom behavior and no, I don’t remember when that happened. I wasn’t alive in 1947.”
“Thanks for unpacking all of my bags for me dad. If my flight home wasn’t leaving in 2 hours that would have been really helpful.“
“NO! I DON’T WANT ANY GODDAMNED TEA!!!”
So yeah, I can definitively add my abruptness towards him to the guilt I already feel. Now I’m looking ahead to my future and wondering what I can do to avoid being the object of my children’s frustration. Not that I’d imagine any of my tremendously entertaining exploits could ever grow stale with repetition, but just to be on the safe side I’d better take precautions.
When I research this, every site I go to generally recommends the same things in order to help stave off Alzheimer’s.
1. Regular exercise
Alright, that’s a good start for me. I’ve recently been very active and now just need to keep that up. Looks like my homemade treadmill desk will get even more use.
2. Healthy diet
Since my wife is vegetarian, I am almost one as well. I’d say 85% of what I eat is vegetarian. The other 15% is In N’ Out-etarian. I guess I can cut that back to 10%…. maybe 13%.
3. Mental stimulation
Mental Stimulation shouldn’t be much of an issue. I’m always reading, trying to create things and I destroy on Jeopardy.
4. Quality sleep
Sleep is never an issue with me. I don’t nap, but I fall asleep sometime in between leaning back and my head hitting a pillow. Usually I get up early, but on occasion I do enjoy sleeping in. “Myra, I’m taking the morning off for Alzheimer’s prevention. See you at noon.”
5. Stress management
I am generally stress free. Sometimes frighteningly so. Anyone who knows me knows this is a non-issue. Even this worrying about my future health will only raise my blood pressure by 1/27th of a point.
6. An active social life
They say “Active Social Life” and I read “More Pizza And Wine Parties On The Beach”. I’ll need to get a prescription written for that. Maybe my insurance company covers those costs. After all, it IS an investment in my health.
Just like everyone out there, I’m hoping I don’t ever have to contend with any of this. However, reality keeps forgetting to consult with me when it comes to the way things turn out. If it didn’t I’d be writing this from my luxury hovercraft. So it’s better to take the precautions now to save my kids from the prospects of future frustration and potential guilt. If it does happen, and they do get angry and upset with me, I hope they can refer back to this article and know that I thought about them in advance. Kiddos, if you are reading this I want you to know that you’re allowed to be as frustrated with me as you want to be. I’ve been there and I understand. Besides, chances are I’m not going to remember anyway!!