This was the day that I met with the doctor. This was the day that I found out if I qualified for the study, if my brain was already showing suspicious signs of potential disease. My friend, Larry, drove me to the office because I wasn’t sure of my reaction to the news and was aware of a remote possibility that I might not be able to drive home.
Christine has been case manager every step on this journey. So, after drawing still more blood (this time to do an in depth look at my underlying genetics so they can see what might be to blame in my DNA if my response to life in general is unusual or interesting) she escorted Larry and me to see Doctor S.
The doctor gave us an overview of the brain in general, how the PET scan works and wanted to know if I had any questions. Larry was cringing with impatience. He is a get-to-the-point kind of guy. I, on the other hand, was glad to be eased into the conversation.
Finally, we looked at my scans. My brain looks pretty good. Most brains shrink with age. I am 65 and my brain is still full size. Yay me!
My brain also has two small sections close to the back of my head that contain plaques. So I am in this study that I didn’t want to qualify for.
Here’s the deal:
Back to my ApoE genes, the ApoE 3 that I got from Dad and the evil 4 that I got from Mom. These genes construct a protein that cleans waste matter (amyloid) from the brain. It does a lot more (mostly concerning the metabolism of fats in the body) but I don’t really care at the moment about that. All of you experts out there, hold your snarky comments. This is the simple version for those of us who didn’t go to medical school and might be a little intimidated in science classes.
So, I have one set of hard working “3” proteins and one set of slacker “4” proteins. This, sadly allows for a possible buildup of amyloid which leads to a possible buildup of plaques, which leads to a possible case of ALZ sometime in a vague and hazy and unpredictable future.
I am not particularly upset. I didn’t want to qualify for this study. I qualify, but I still have a lot going for me. I am, as the doctor said, “robustly healthy.” I have two post graduate degrees, a master’s degree and a J.D. Higher education is somehow protective. No one seems to know why. I have low cholesterol. These are all statistically helpful.
Still, we don’t know if other genetic factors are working against me. Maybe with all the blood they continue to draw from my body they will find something out. My ApoE 4 gene only raises the odds that I will get ALZ. It doesn’t guarantee that I will. The PET scan is a bit troubling but plaques do not guarantee that I will ultimately get the disease either.
So, It’s hard to get overly upset over something that may or may not happen in the next 15 to 20 years. Who knows. This mystery pill they are testing may be the miracle everyone is hoping for.
Still, there are things that I can do (or have been doing) to help my odds.
- Exercise: The doctor who did my initial neurological exam reminded me that exercise is the single most protective thing I can do. I was slacking off but now I have a really good reason to get moving. I have started by redefining what house work means to me. It’s no longer mindless drudgery. It’s useful brain cleaning exercise. Actually, it’s still mindless drudgery but I strive for a better attitude.
- I am increasing my social contacts and looking for ways to build community. This is difficult for me as I am very shy but I’m working on it.
- Diet! I just read in Wikipedia that there is a group of people in Nigeria who have the highest rate of ApoE 4 genes in the world yet they rarely get ALZ. Speculation is they are protected by having very low cholesterol. This is something I have control over.
- The Mayo Clinic has offered a list of foods that help lower cholesterol. These are:
- Oatmeal, Oat bran and high fiber foods. Check, already my breakfast.
- Fish and Omega 3 Fatty Acids. I am allergic to fish but not fish oil pills. Go figure, but I can also get Omega 3’s from the flax seed oil that goes on my morning oatmeal.
- Tree nuts
- I live in Texas. Avocado is one of the major food groups here.
- Olive oil. The only oil in my house besides flax.
- Foods with plant sterols or stanols. I think they are just saying to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables.
- Whey protein. This is a powder derived from milk available in the grocery store. I tried it and I may have to depend on all the other foods. It’s really not working for me.
- Then there are the things to give up. Trans fats, fatty meat, smoking and being fat. I gave up trans fats years ago. I have never smoked and I have always had a good BMI. The only meat I eat is poultry and I’m working on smaller portions.
So if all this sounds a bit like whistling past the graveyard, Of course it is. BUT I have to take control over that which I can control. To do otherwise is to go down the road to madness.