COLUMN: Clock is ticking on brain-healing

Dementia. I hate that ugly word. It implies, wrongly, that the patient has ceased to be a thinking, feeling human.

Dementia. I hate that ugly word. It implies, wrongly, that the patient has ceased to be a thinking, feeling human.

I hope and believe that most of the disabling gaps in individual nerve-signal systems can be bridged in this half-century (starting now) by science and technology, politically organized effort, human kindness, and public money which can save $2 for every $1 invested.

I witnessed a demonstration of short-term achievement when I watched two people playing old songs together at the piano – an 80s-age woman and her 50-plus son. The memory keeps nagging at me. I heard those duets on visits to the senior-care side of the Gorge centre in the 1970s.

Nowadays music is academically and socially recognized as a temporary wake-up device for partly-clouded brains.

My slow wits took years to absorb the mind-awakening value of familiar tunes and new variations. Canada’s governing Conservatives are even more slow-witted. In the brain-healing department, American political action beats Canadian lethargy.

Americans limp behind the rest of the wealthy world in delivering health care. But in this one health care realm, the U.S. is a pathfinder. Congress has enacted a national dementia strategy. Canada has no national equivalent.

Such devices as music therapy, plus loving personal care, will play a part in the plan, linking to awareness deeper than words and numbers, within the emotionally sensitive regions of the brain. Scientific research will overarch and co-ordinate the brainpower enterprise.

If a political near-miracle pushes the array of changes ahead in the U.S.A., it will save billions of dollars, reduce human suffering, create thousands of jobs and set an example to the world.

Canada’s public health care story suggests that national brain-strengthening has a better chance here. The awakening seems unlikely on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s watch. He disapproves of nationally co-ordinated action for anything beyond the armed services, the “put more people in jail” campaign and oilsands pipelines. But the Harper mindset could change under political stress.

On the problem-solving side of the political fence, Claude Gravelle, NDP M.P. for Nickel Belt, Ont., introduced a private member’s bill in 2011 for a national dementia strategy. He was supported by NDP health critic Libby Davies (Vancouver East), and NDP seniors’ critic Irene Mathyssen (London-Fanshawe, Ontario).

After searching through the record of failed pills and potions (the half-successful ones do delay Alzheimer’s briefly), and sampling leading-edge literature while striving to avoid false hopes, I believe part-success can be achieved now – not soon enough to prevent or cure the D-condition immediately, but in time to help some of its victims feel more comfortable, eat and exercise better and make temporary improvements in mental performance.

I am optimistic enough to guess that a high degree of control over the D-word is within reach before year 2030.

Scientist Ruth Itzhaki of Manchester University found cold-sore virus in the brains of Alzheimer victims. She speculated the virus might be important enough, among multiple factors, to be the basis of a preventive vaccine.

The drug BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor) when infused into the brains of very old mice, “has increased the animals’ performance in various behavioural and memory tests,” Dr. Kaylene Young, Research Fellow, Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research, London, pointed out.

Future science gives me hope for myself, and for others. Musician Mendelson Joe composed a guitar-accompanied song entitled: “Think I’m losing my marbles. I tell you it’s a doggone shame.”

 

One day I may sing that song, but I’m not ready to sing it yet.