Luckily for me, whisky does help prevent dementia, because that particularly evil symptom of middle age worries me more and more.
Middle-aged women who suffer from serious anxiety should never watch movies like Still Alice.
I’ve watched it twice.
For those who haven’t seen the movie, it stars Julianne Moore as Alice, a linguistics professor, who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the premature age of 50. The actress won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance, in spite of being middle-aged and not taking her clothes off.
Memory loss or ‘dementia’ is one of the most debilitating side effects of the ageing process to come to terms with. When I was younger, I assumed that, like bladder leakage, it was something only seriously old people suffered from, but I know now that for many people it can be a gradual process that can start around the time your brain cells stop developing at the rate they reproduced in your youth, and worsens if you don’t exercise your brain.
Which is why many doctors recommend that people not give up work until they absolutely have to. The brain is an organ that needs to be used.
There is a memorable scene in the movie when Alice first goes for tests and the doctor asks her to remember three facts that he will ask her about again at the end of their conversation. She struggles to remember them only five minutes later. I swear I could actually see all the middle-aged people in the audience mouthing those three facts (like I was) for the longest five minutes of our lives, to check they were okay, thereby ignoring the film and the sad fact that Alice’s had forgotten what was going to come up.
The movie takes us through Alice’s journey post-diagnosis and the effect her illness has on her family and her career. She even takes us to a home for Alhzeimer’s patients, who are beyond self and family care, yet still human beings – who could be my mother or yours – living in their own private hell of isolation and confusion.
There’s no doubt that dementia is a terrifying outcome of old age, but it is even more devastating when it happens prematurely. As we age, we are continually made aware that we need to look after our hearts and our guts, but most of us ignore the epicenter of our being – our brains.
Like many of you, I expect, I often joke about the effects of my own memory loss as another symptom of menopause and old age, but when short-term memory loss becomes really noticeable, it is frightening. A couple of years back in the lead up to Christmas I found myself in the awkward position of losing the car in the car park and searching each level of the car park with a 6ft Christmas Tree in my trolley, gradually falling apart with relief and shame when I finally found it. Sure, it was Christmas, the mall was busy and I was super-stressed, but that type of situation becomes more and more common as we get older.
All of a sudden we forget common words in conversation, start putting the house keys away in the fridge, running through lists just to leave the house and before we know it we become helpless in a world that once felt safe and has suddenly become a terrifying, threatening place to live in, surrounded by people who for the most part have little tolerance and understanding of the disease, and who treat sufferers like idiots.
After watching the film, I downloaded the Scrabble app to my phone in a panic. Alice uses it to exercise her brain, but it won’t hide the reality of just how dependent I am already on simple props such as daily lists to function, rather than getting to the source of the issue and taking the time out to train my brain, like I do for the rest of my body. All I’m doing is developing coping mechanisms to manage my brain’s new limitations.
Train your brain, peeps.