Friday, May 10, 2019

Too many genes

After I was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2015, I was puzzled.  The year before I had been doing research for a writing project about my forebears in the Northwest. Here is what I learned. With the exception of my grandfather, who died in a logging accident in 1940, there was no smoking gun among my grandparents. I hadn’t learned yet that Alzheimer’s can be caused by environmental causes. My dad was a commercial fisherman. One theory of mine is that as a small boy, I often accompanied my dad to his web shed, where toxic fluids were kept in the harbor. That was my theory.  But that was irrelevant.
But Randy Garten and Mary Bessmer don’t need evidence at all. The couple’s tree is riddled with cases of Alzheimer’s, going back to the era when people rarely called it “Alzheimer’s.” One euphuism was “hardening of the arteries,” as it was  a concern of the heart and lungs. As Mary put it: “I couldn’t stand Randy’s dad in his final months. And he said, “Randy will have it too.” Sadly, Randy’s dad was clairvoyant, despite his Alzheimer’s. Randy did had Alzheimer’s: Randy himself was diagnosed in 2016: Randy left his job from his longtime position in the state Health and Human Service Department, working under Alice Bonner in the state administration of Charlie Baker.
For families like Randy’s and Mary’s, it can be difficult to unravel to understand the relationships. After all, genealogy can span beyond a century or more. Who was “Big Al?” Did his name suit him?  And what about Maurice? Might
that name still in currency? But what about the stigma? Over the last two decades, there have been leaps and bounds in understanding this disease. But when a young adult learns that he or she is likely to end up with Alzheimer’s in middle age: That could stress the parent-child relation in a very big way.
Of course, it’s possible that Alzhiemer’s will find a cure will find in the generation of Randy’s and Mary’s kids benefit in a huge way. Are you skeptical? Over  the last 18 months, there was serious hype about ending Alzheimer’s. And if you are of those one those adults whose families has the APOE4 gene. Don’t become fatalistic. Money speaks. And one of these years, there will be a sea-change.
The Mediterrean Diet is not some fad.  The evidence is in.  And it does have its drawbacks. Many people can’t  the taste can’t abide, even when herbs like rosemary or thyme. And, if you are fairly heathy, walking is a simple way to improve one’s mood.  Just remember, if you are walking on your own, you better be familiar with the route. Cellphones can literally save lives, but if you don’t charge your phone battery,  you can end up like I did: Having my college-age son bail me out. The result would have been impoundment in the nation’s capital. How priceless would have  that have been?

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