FORGETFULNESS is a dangerous shortcoming in the brain. But many people joke and laugh over it, until it may snowball into a mighty problem such as dementia. When I learned on November 13 last year that actor OLU JACOBS who stars in many films as a king was brought by his wife, in a state of dementia, to receive LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD of the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF), I thought of how great a woman she must be. She did not bottle him indoors, to keep him away from his professional and other friends, and from film watchers. Many Nigerian women would rather receive the Award on behalf of their infirm husband’s imagining thereby that they are protecting themselves and their families from public gossip and ridicule. But that is not JOKE SILVER. Her husband was her golden prince no matter what, far away from the klieg light and the clouds, or far deep in the depths. So, to the Award ceremony, she went with him. I did not have the privilege of following the Award ceremony on television. People around me who did say Olu Jacobs looked lean, no doubt, under the well-cut fabric. Some intrusive persons even suggested that he may have been padded up with other clothing! I wondered whose business that was or should be other than his wife and family. But unless you were one of those fellows who could easily notice that five and six were not like one and twenty, it was otherwise like a normal outing for the Jacobs. Joke Silver has done something she probably didn’t know she has done. By bringing her husband up from under the bushel and placing him right on the table-top for the world once again to see…she has enabled us once again, also, to focus attention on brain health. In doing so, our prayers should not fail to gain contact with her husband and family to see them all through this situation.
Olu Jacobs may have looked blanked although the Award ceremony, oblivious of what was going on, unable to catch up with the pace of discussions, and hardly able to fathom all the encomiums speaker after speaker was showering on him. He may have wondered: why am I here? He was suffering from what his wife would later describe as “dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB)”. Dementia is the general description of memory loss by one or a combination of causes. Lewy Bodies are clumps of proteins that overgrow, disturb and kill brain cells. A brain memory cell stores classify, interpret and retrieve information. When many of them are killed by whatever factors, the information they hold is lost with their death.
In a state of dementia, the challenged person may lose all memory, including the name of a wife or husband and even the relationship with her and him. We do not know how Olu Jacobs is coping with this condition. But it would appear his wife is on top of it. We can, therefore, learn about what this challenge may throw up from the experiences of other people to prevent and confront it.
On November 5 1994, American President Ronald Reagan, his wife Nancy supportive, told American people he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and added:
“I now begin the journey that would lead me into the sunset of my life…In opening our hearts, we hope this might promote greater awareness of this condition. Perhaps it will encourage a clearer understanding of the individuals and families who are affected by it”.
This, too, may have been the wish of Joke Silver, real and stage wife of OLU JACOBS, when she opened up on the state of her husband’s and memory.
Reagan’s statement that he was about to begin a “descent into the sunset” of his life should not only frighten every one of us who may be experiencing warning signals of dementia but at the same time impel us into action, into always eating right for our brains. Eating right for our brains encompasses the use of nutritional supplements which complement the diet. I do not know of anyone, however old he/she may be, who is voluntarily ready to begin the “descent into the sunset” of his/her life. It takes only the man or the woman who has lost all hope of pulling back from a crash who says that in a throwing up of the arms…in surrender.
As suggested above, many challenged persons may have had early warning signals that dementia may be on the way but probably joked about them or laughed them over, and did nothing after the hints. Some of the warning shots may be the following…
ONE: We keep the car key in the shirt pocket, empty that pocket or feel it, but cannot feel the key or remember where we kept it.
TWO: We have met a person a number of times. Each time, he was introduced to us by someone. But when we meet him again, we cannot easily put a name on his face.
THREE: We visit someone in an office complex with many rooms. When we are through with the visit, we cannot on our own find the way out to the outside. We enter one office room or the other until someone helps us out.
FOUR: We are at a meeting, and we are speaking impromptu. In the middle of a sentence, we do not remember the beginning of the theme and, so, cannot conclude our thought. Someone may need to give us a cue to, literally speaking, “wake” us up.
FIVE: We drive a person to his/her house in an inner street, maybe even in a housing estate, and cannot return to the entrance gate.
SIX: There are stories of women who shop in the market but forget one or two items on the shopping list they had paid for.
SEVEN: Some people do not remember appointments unless they note them in a diary. In the absence of the diary culture among young people today, many school girls with sugar-laden brains and bodies are caught unaware of the next menstrual cycle.
EIGHT: Some persons drove their cars to work but forgot they took them out and returned home by bus.
NINE: In many offices, the “work order” or the “daily schedule” or the “things to do least” has been introduced to help the staff to remember what tasks they are to perform every day.
TEN: Many school children cannot remember their subject timetable by heart.
ELEVEN: There are children who are sent on an errand but forget the messages halfway from their destinations. Do parents not write out a shopping lists for 15-year olds they send to the grocery market. Does this not advise us that we need to pay attention to their brain and memory? They probably suffer from short-term memory loss, forgetting immediate events.
PEOPLE IN HISTORY
There are many people in Nigeria and abroad who have to succumb to dementia.
1) The mother of one of my professional colleagues had to be locked indoors whenever there was no one available or ready to take her out on a walk, one of her pastimes. The children have had to comb police stations and hospitals several times after she attempted walks on her own.
2) A man advancing in years saw his visiting friends out of his premises. But once they were gone, he did not remember what brought him to the gate. He began to wonder about in the premises, knocking on the doors of other tenants, until someone helped him out.
3) The father of one of my acquaintances forgot how an adult should empty his bowels and bladder. He did them like a baby. He did not even remember how to quietly call for help. It was by shouting that he attracted the attention of his nurses and the cook, whenever he was hungry. When I went to see him at home, the children told me his condition was Alzheimer’s. This was about 20 years ago, a time not many people thought this brain problem existed in Nigeria.
4) CHARLES BRONSON: In 2001, the family of a movie star CHARLES BRONSON announced he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The problem appear to begin after his retirement from 50 years of acting during which he inspired several generations of American film stars. Gradually, Bronson who was famous for his “tough guy” roles in films began to speak “very slowly” with sometimes slurry words. He was no longer energetic and quick-witted and sometimes appeared dazed. He had become a vegetable.
5) MARGARET THATCHER: Arguably one of Britain’s toughest and longest-serving Prime Ministers of the 20th century, the first woman to hold the office, died on 4 April 2013 of stroke related to dementia. In a stroke, a major blood vessel in the brain may leak or bust or become blocked by all sorts of things, including blood clots. In dementia, small blood vessels in the brain are blocked. Margaret Thatcher was 87. Her daughter Carol Thatcher, said her mother began to struggle with her memory in 2000 which previously was as erudite as a “website”, as she described it. In March 2002, she cancelled all speaking engagements on the advice of her doctors. Denis Thatcher, her husband, died in 2003 but she kept speaking of him as though he was alive by the time she passed 10 years later.
6) MALCOLM YOUNG was the co-founder and guitarist of renowned rock band AD/DC. He was 64 when he died from dementia problems which had forced him to retire from the band about six years earlier.
7) ANONYMOUS…Many of us live private lives in Nigeria. Otherwise, it would have been interesting to know how a “brain dead” diagnosis in Nigeria confirmed as such in the United States became reversed to the normal brain in Nigeria outside the hospital system and the subject, an important public figure, was able to still go ahead and earn a doctoral degree.
Dementia has many possible causes. Doctors speak about Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease (from which Muhammed Ali died), Vascular dementia, Lewy bodies (the type Olu Jacobs is challenged with), Multiple System Atrophy (from which my school mother OMOTOLA OGUNKOYA must have died), Inherited dementia, infections such as terminal-stage syphilis, Huntington’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, severe head injuries etc. These events may impact short-term, medium-term or long-term memory or may impact all memory.
There are about 86 billion brain cells in the average adult human brain. Persons whose mothers took generous servings of Omega-3 fatty acids for Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) when they were in the womb are reported by science to have more brain cells than those persons whose mothers did not. DHA is present in fish oil and in plants such as flaxseed. Brain cells communicate in a network. The nearer the cell, the better, smoother and sharper the communication, cognition and memory. The farther apart they are, the lesser are these values. Nature compensates the adult who was born with fewer brain cells but helps himself or herself with dietary supplements of DHA and other brain foods like Grape Seed Extract. Dr Ray Strand, self-confessed former illiterate in nutritional medicine tell us, after he became “born-again”, through his book, WHAT YOUR DOCTOR DOESN’T KNOW ABOUT NUTRITIONAL MEDICINE MAY BE KILLING YOU, why he now has a soft spot for Grape Seed Extract, especially in the treatment of neurological or brain nerve problems. He says Grape Seed Extract easily crosses the BRAIN-BLOOD-BARRIER and is rapidly absorbed by the fluid around the brain from where it is distributed into brain cells and the cerebrospinal fluid for the feeding of nerves throughout the body (more about this later). Under the DHA dietary regimen, say science, the distant nerve cells may project themselves nearer one another by developing dendrites or branches for themselves nearer one another. To understand this, imagine your cell phone service provider (MTN, GLO, 9-MOBILE, etc). If the repeater broadcast stations are distant, signals may be weak and maybe boosted with satellite dishes here and there.
In the human brain, cognition and memory are optimal when the cells are well-nourished and oxygenated, their waste products are adequately evacuated to not poison them, when they are well protected by antioxidants against free radical and oxidative stress, against infections, when mental acuity is maintained through mental exercises. It is not for nothing that it is said that many people weaken mentally and age and die soon after their retirement from active work from sudden momentum loss. The job of taking nourishment to the brain and evacuating its wastes and poisons lies with the heart and blood vessel system. If the blood vessels in the brain are blocked, how can this be optimally achieved? If the diet is poor in the supply of basic ingredients for the manufacture of GLUTATHIONE, SUPEROXIDE DISMUTASE(SOD) and CATALASE, the body’s three natural antioxidants, how can the brain be well protected against free radicals and oxidative stress damage?
This column cannot address all the possible causes of dementia, nor can it even address any single one in all its ramifications. That is a job for the experts, the neurologists, psychiatrists, etc. The information is, therefore, intended to invite attention to some of those behavioural tendencies we tend to joke or laugh over, unknown to us that may be powerful early warning signals of oncoming dementia. The information also attempts to invite attention to brain foods that have helped many sufferers of brain discomfeatures to overcome them. Some of them have several clinical and double-blind placebo-controlled international studies behind them with publications in well respected, peer-reviewed medical journals.
Progressively, it shrinks and kills brain cells, causing memory loss, difficulty in thinking and concentrating. It may predispose challenged persons to sleep disorders, depression, mood swings, delusions and social withdrawal, among other occurrences.
Thought to be caused by a deficiency of a brain chemical substance called DOPAMINE, which is present in some foods and food supplements, this is progressive damage of the nerves. The outcomes may include slight tremor in one hand at the outset, muscular stiffness, sleep disorders thrown up by Restless Leg Syndrome, hallucinations, changes in the gait, loss of sense of smell, drooling of saliva from the mouth, difficulty swallowing, constipation etc.
A protein called alpha-synuclein in abnormal levels is deposited in the brain. The deposits affect brain chemicals which, in turn, cause problems of thinking, movement and mood. Occurring alone or with other sleep disorders, changes are observed in cognition, mood and behaviour, muscle rigidity, vocal weakness and postural abnormalities.
MULTIPLE SYSTEM ATROPHY
Challenged persons may wee or poop on their bodies because of this condition. It affects the AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM which controls basic body functions such as breathing, bladder and bowel control and digestion. It may also affect balance and movement.
As the name infers, this is a genetic condition.
All sorts of pathogens may infect the brain. A baby tapeworm has been found when a SCAN reported a tumour. Worms are also sometimes found, causing death in some cases. Bacteria, such as Syphilis are sometimes implicated in brain conditions.
Rare and inherited, it has the potential to damage nerve cells in the brain, cause thought, movement and psychiatric disorders. It may be one of those cases which “run in the blood”.
Also rare, it is active in the frontal and side lobes of the brain, impairing judgement, diminishing self-awareness, depression. The decline in personal hygiene may be observed as inappropriate social behaviour. Some challenged persons like to eat inedible substances.
SEVERE HEAD INJURIES
Some people are no longer themselves after head injuries. Mohammed Ali received several punches on the head during his boxing career. He suffered eventually from Parkinson’s. Dick Ihetu, a Nigerian middleweight world boxing champion whose boxing ring name was DICK TIGER did the same and ended up with a diminished personality. Head bults have been known to kill some persons outright. Some people survive falls, traffic injuries to the head but suffer alterations in their personalities, memory loss, confusion, vision changes etc.
I share the optimism of my Moslem friends in the teachings of Prophet Mohammed (May the peace of Allah be upon him wherever he is.) He taught that there was no disease that may torment the human body that the Almighty Creator did not foresee could harm man’s physical body before it was created, and for which He did not make healing provisions. It would, therefore, be a part of the struggle of man to survive, like a seed down in the soil coming out of it in search of light and life, to find answers in the healing treasure troves of Mother Nature, a creation agent, for the shortcomings of his health.