This column, That Nature Show, is about the nature right under your nose: in our backyards, playgrounds and parks! Stop and look around, you’ll be amazed at what surrounds you.
My paternal grandmother (I called her Nana) died of Alzheimer’s when I was in college. In the ten agonizing years before her death, she became mentally lost, increasingly drifting like a seaweed and as sentient. It was horrible.
A lot of you dear readers know what I’m talking about from care-taking your own family members with the disease. According to the National Institute on Aging, “Estimates vary, but experts suggest that as many as 5 million Americans age 65 and older may have Alzheimer’s disease.”
Signs that could be laughed off showed up first with my Nana. She put the eggs away in the freezer (Ha! Hadn’t I done that too?) She forgot the dog’s name and called her Whatever Her Name Is (which was funny.) Then she forgot my dad, her son, and then slowly and then very suddenly she ceased to know everyone else including me.
I tested positive for some of the disease’s genetic markers. And I already have a raging drooling Anxiety Disorder as big as a rabid Newfoundland dog. So that news was not good. It was like, oh hello, welcome, and stay for awhile my good friend, Hypochondriasis.
However, this week I have some hope. Poet Emily Dickinson famously said, “Hope” is the thing with feathers – but hope for an Alzheimer’s breakthrough is furred. It takes the form of Duke University lab mice (I imagine them like this. We can do it, Cinderelly!).
Alzheimer’s may be caused by the misfiring immune system, the research suggests. The research suggests possible new avenues for treatment, including “blocking the arginine consumption process.” I don’t really know what “the arginine consumption process” is, but I am hella excited about it.
I’m lucky, I can wait for a cure; I’m middle-aged. But my dad is 73. I don’t want to say that he’s starting to show signs and jinx it, or say he’s doing little things that can be laughed off like getting befuddled by the bakery case at Patisserie Poupon. But my dad lived outside Lyon, France, before I was born and he knows French pastry yet he looked up from the bakery case and asked me wonderingly, What’s a macaron? Do I like them?
Let’s move this thing along, little mice.