Successful Aging and Your Brain (on Parkinson’s)

Last night Chris and I attended a fun JCC Parkinson’s Holiday Party. After rounds of singing and before the raffle, music therapist Barbara Yahr, and Parksinson’s docs Alessandro DiRocco and Rebecca Gilbert spoke about ways to successfully grow older with the disease.

Here are four take-aways — and these apply to everyone:
1. Get more social. Apathy is a real problem for people with Parkinson’s (and thus, their families), because the dopamine, the reward mechanism in the brain, dwindles. To combat this, make sure that you’re getting out and continuing to wire new neuron pathways through interesting conversations and activities. Change your routine. Don’t do what you’ve always done.
2. Eat well. Best foods for Parkinson’s? They really don’t know. Someone from the audience recommended non-inflammatory foods, but the doctors on the panel could not confirm that this was the optimal diet. There was some consensus that the Mediterranean Diet works well for everyone as we age.
3. Be active. What’s the best kind of exercise? The one that you do! If you have Parkinson’s, exercising for 45 minutes six days a week will likely stave off the steady decline.
4. Make a joyful noise. Music helps. Anecdotally, Yahr spoke about the magical powers of music — a way to communicate when speaking fails. And the docs emphasized that any way of making or participating in artistic endeavors — fine arts of performance arts — is good for the brain.

Caroline Kohles
Caroline Kohles: Chris always says she should receive a genius grant. One of the amazing JCC Parkinson’s teachers, Caroline sparks health through exercise and a growth mindset in her NIA class. (photo courtesy of NIANow.)

So, as the moderator of the panel and Chris’s great friend and brilliant teacher Caroline Kohles summed it all up: “Keep a beginners’ mind.”

Keep growing mentally because the brain, at any age, has neuroplasticity. Instead of a fixed mindset, a growth mindset, built on a foundation of persistence, hard work and optimism, provides maximum health benefits.

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Fun with Colonoscopy

What better way to celebrate a rough week than to get a colonoscopy?

No one wants to get their colon checked. But my wonderful primary care doctor, Dr. Etta Frankel, told me that I’d hit the age where I needed to. Besides, I’m losing my health insurance in a couple of weeks and wanted to get all my preventative care procedures done. Nothing like the thought of impending doom to get your house in order.

In early November, I got a postponement on my first colonoscopy due to Hurricane Sandy’s reshuffling of patients in New York City hospitals. All elective-type surgeries were canceled or rescheduled that week.

Happily, no NYC hurricane hit this week. Although the concoction I had to drink the night before the procedure worked like a Hurricane Sandy on my digestive track.

Here’s my recipe:

  • 2 bottles of coconut vitamin water
  • 2 bottles of green gatorade
  • one whole container of MiraLax

I mixed my concoction in a pitcher and in under two hours, I finished it. (Much like the 5K!)

a book that helped me through the night before my procedure, The Cookbook Collector:  A Novel by Allegra Goodman
a book that helped me through the night before my procedure, The Cookbook Collector: A Novel by Allegra Goodman

Everyone warned me, and so I was prepared, that this was hardest part of the colonoscopy — the drinking of the concoction. That, and the endless time in the bathroom to clean your bowels. To get through the evening, I reminded myself  that, “If I can run a 5K without stopping, I can drink 64 ounces of some sugary mix and spend an evening on the toilet.”

Also, I had a good book, Allegra Goodman’s Cookbook Collector, to keep me company.

The night of my internal storm in the bathroom, my son was very caring. Holed up in the bathroom for hours, occasionally, there’d be a gentle knock on the door, “You okay in there, Mom?” I truly loved that kid then. (I know I’ve complained about my kids on this blog, but they are basically kind and wonderful souls.)

Earlier that day, I’d fasted, which made me very crabby. (Yes, this is where the kids get their low-blood sugar crabbiness!)

The procedure itself was not a breeze. Everyone told me, “It’s the easiest part.” But I remember twice, half in a twilight sleep, coming to, in order to complain, “That hurts!” It felt like someone was poking me internally with a pool stick. Irksome, but not deadly.

Also, last night, the night of the procedure, I was very crabby. I felt my husband was not solicitous enough. Yes, he has his own health concerns. And yes, when he did ask, I told him, “I’m fine.” But when will a man realize that when a woman say, “I’m fine,” the day of a surgical procedure, what she really means is, “Please baby me the way I baby you when you’re sick! Bring me soup in bed and say, ‘Poor baby! Good that you’re taking care of your health!'”?

So, to reward myself for taking care of myself and surviving the storm of a colonoscopy, I went to a fun, girls’ night out, a jewelry sale to benefit a public high school. I bought some pretty little earrings. I giggled and had deep discussions with my girlfriends. That indulgence made the whole crappy week and day of the colonoscopy a little brighter.

My stupid feet

Yesterday I was back at the podiatrist’s. I really have to take care of my Plantar Fasciitis. The bottoms of my feet hurt all the time, but especially when I wake up in the morning and after I do any sports.

Tennis season is coming up. I want to keep running. I want to be an active person, beyond doing my beautiful pilates and yoga and occasional swimming.

My podiatrist told me I MUST do the assigned stretches for my feet every day. She gave me a (cortisone?) shot in one foot and told me to come back for two more on that foot and then we’ll do three shots on the other foot. The shot hurt. I don’t want shots.

I know as we get older, like an old car, we start to break down. But I need to stay fit so that I stay sane and can destress. I don’t want to break down. I want to keep running smoothly. With Chris’s illness, I have to and want to stay healthy for the kids (and for myself).

Last night I couldn’t sleep. My forehead is still recovering from the basal cell carcinoma surgery two weeks ago. And now I’m concerned about my feet. These are small, even insignificant problems, certainly not life-threatening.

But even ordinary health problems can be irritating, slow me down. I’d like to write more about this, but I have to wake the kids and do my stupid physical therapy for my stupid feet.

Healthy Eating

Went to Dr. Etta Frankel yesterday for a check up — bored her with my recent medical sagas of basal cell carcinoma and plantar fisciitis.

Dr. Frankel is normally even-tempered, but she was mad. “I see you tan and freckled. That is not good.” When we sat down in her office, she wrote out some internet sites to buy SPF clothing and handed me the prescription.

She asked about my husband’s health. “It’s difficult,” I said. “Living with someone with Parkinson’s.”

When I pointed out the slight uptick in my weight, she looked back at her records. “Yes, you were 133 in 2003.”

A bit more than a pound a year. Again, “Not good.” So she handed me a diet sheet mimeographed from the early 1970s. On it, there’s a long list of what not to eat and drink, like pasta and wine.

So when I came home, after the doctor’s appointment, then work, to surly children and a difficult spouse, I poured myself a big glass of wine and made pasta for dinner. It was Chris’s idea.

I’m not at all a food blogger. But this was good.

Start water to boil for pasta.

  1. Sauté white onions, sliced thin, in olive oil
  2. Add cherry tomatoes cut in thirds
  3. Add black olives
  4. Slice fresh basil into little ribbons. Set that aside with a bunch of little mozzarella balls.
  5. Cook the spaghetti
  6. Then add the set-aside mozzarella and basil and any old thing you find — pine nuts, broccoli, chunks of salami — into the olive oil mixture

Toss it together. Great summer dinner. On the side sliced strawberries and grapes. Chris spread sourdough bread with an olive tapenade.

We sat down to eat, all civilized, C. asked, “How was your day, Mom?”

“Good, I went to the doctor and got a good report.” I’ll start the healthy eating tomorrow.

When I mentioned that I might blog about our yummy dinner, Chris said, “Michael Tucker blogs about his meals.”

Name drop alert: Yes, he does. Chris’s friend, Michael, is an awesome actor and writer. Chris is featured in one of Tucker’s blog posts where Chris  is fondly referred to as one of the Fat Boys. The Fat Boys better go see Dr. Frankel for some dietary suggestions. Here’s Tucker’s blog. (Incidentally he’s married to the fabulous actress Jill Eikenberry, who brought a lot of media attention and awareness to breast cancer when no one else was talking about it. We refer to Tucker and Eikenberry as the Tuckenberries.)

http://notesfromaculinarywasteland.com/2011/04/12/fat-boys-ravage-queens-the-borough-i%e2%80%99m-talking-about/