Tag Archives: Alzheimer’s disease

MY Life, MY Brain and how to spend 20 minutes of my precious time

I just spent several hours reading the most recent book by neurologist Oliver Sacks, and writing about it. (See preceding blog post.) Then I settled down to decide whether I should resume use of the website “Lumosity”, which claims to train my brain.

I signed on with Lumosity last March, encouraged by my personal physician, (yet another) new provider, in whom I had confided my concerns over absentmindedness. Hey, I’ve got sketchy genes – my mother was disabled by Alzhiemer’s when she was younger than I am now. So of course, when asked about general health concerns, I mentioned cognitive decline, aka dementia. I was advised to try an on line brain training program.

Lumosity presents me with five “games” each day, taking twenty minutes or less. The website tracks my performance, letting me know if I’ve accomplished a new personal best or “top five” performance. I can review my scores. Most games are offered at many levels – I move up automatically as my skills become sharper.

What did I accomplish in 4+ months? After initial fluctuations, I seemed to be on a steady, slow upward trajectory. My strengths are problem solving and verbal fluency; my weaknesses are attention and flexibility.

Lumosity claims to be “fun”. Nope. The only game I actually enjoy measures verbal fluency, and it comes up only once every week or so. A few games are so frustrating that I reject them. (I can request a substitute game at any time.) One involves remembering two steps backwards in a sequence. Another shows billiard balls bouncing off “bumpers”. I find it hard to predict or remember their movements.

Another game I find challenging involves figuring out a “rule” for acceptance or rejection of patterns. The number of characteristics (shape, color, number, etc.) increases over time, up to a current total of six. I can succeed if take notes. But I don’t know if that is “permitted”.

Did I get “smarter”? Very hard to say. I continue to feel that keeping organized is getting harder. But I also continue to work at a job that makes significant intellectual demands. I work daily with a database system I can only describe as hostile. I assemble and manipulate data. I answer random questions, almost all quantitative. It’s hard work. I worry about errors. I have to document my data management activities very carefully, or I won’t be able to resume where I left off.

After 4+ months of daily Lumosity exercise, I took a vacation, a series of road trips. I don’t own a laptop, and still habitually go “off-line” during vacations. (Yes, I know about smart phones and i-pads. I own a smart phone. Don’t nag.) I skipped my brain training for a month.

Back from vacation, I pondered resuming my daily Lumosity sessions. They are a minor chore, providing satisfaction similar to loading the dishwasher. (As in, at least I accomplished SOMETHING today…) But I can think of more satisfying ways to spend my time. If it’s my computer time we are discussing, I would rather write posts for my blog. (Hello, friends!)

But my doctor recommended continuing with Lumosity, at least for the remainder of my one year subscription. So today I started again, then checked my scores against past performance. Overall, I dropped about 1%. So, is Lumosity a good use of my time? Uncertain, but I plan to hang in (aiming for 5 days out of 7) until the next time I need to make a decision, which will be in March, when my pre-paid year expires.

Oliver Sacks, by the way, offered nothing AT ALL to help me make this decision.

Friends, if you have used an on-line brain training site, I would love to hear about your experience! And anything else you have to say on this subject. Stay sharp, now!

Terry Pratchett (1948 – 2015) Rest in Peace

I just checked my shelves to see how extensively Terry Pratchett was represented. I found six hard covered books and sixteen paperbacks. Two of my favorites are missing. They are The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents (which might have been my very first Terry Pratchett book) and The Wee Free Men; loaned out, no doubt, to family and friends who also love Pratchett’s zany humor.

One Pratchett character who made his way into our ongoing family chit chat was CMOT Dibbler. Yes, Cut-me-own-throat Dibbler, seller of highly suspicious meat patties. When one of us gets something “odd” in a restaurant, CMOT is mentioned.

Considering our employment at a local college, references to the irresistibly whacky Unseen University are inevitable.

It’s sad that Pratchett died at the relatively young age of 66, but beyond sad that he died of Alzheimer’s disease. Its hard to say if it was better or worse that he suffered from a form of the disease that was diagnosed while he was still entirely able to understand his grim prognosis. Pratchett looked death in the eye for years, and did so with amazing composure and strength.

Pratchett moved the discussion of death with dignity and assisted suicide into new and difficult territory. Most “aid in dying” laws, like the law in the state of Oregon, are designed in support of people with relatively short expected survival horizons, like six months. I don’t think any physician will make predictions about Alzheimer’s, as patients may live many years with the disease. And if an assisted suicide decision must be made by a person “of sound mind”, at what stage does a sufferer of Alzheimer’s cease to qualify?

I ponder these questions with particular care, because my mother died of Alzheimer’s in 1983, the same year Pratchett wrote his first Discworld novel. My mother would have loved Pratchett’s books! The Wee Free Men would have delighted her! She actively encouraged us to play “make believe”. I think maybe she believed in fairies. She might have liked the term Pratchett coined to describe his Alzheimer’s diagnosis – he called it an “embuggerance”. Pure Pratchett – if there isn’t a word for something, make one up!

So rest in peace, Sir Terry Pratchett! Thanks for all the laughter.