It’s time we started thinking brain health
I think we’ve almost hidden away from our brains for a long time. Why is that?
Given how important they are to our lives, shouldn’t we be caring for them just like our hearts?
Maybe it’s because they’re hidden from sight? Just because we can’t see it – it’s not a broken arm – problems that we have up there can go ignored. It’s almost a stigma.
But maybe it’s one we’re beginning to overcome. I’m so thankful that, in recent years, we’ve become more comfortable – rightly – in talking about our mental health concerns, which so many of us have surely struggled with in our lives. And maybe this movement has paved the way for us to start talking more widely about the brain, and protecting it from harm.
It’s encouraging that the evidence has reached a point where we can start getting the message out that there are things within our power that could help reduce the risk of disease to our brains.
I pay a lot of attention to my health, and I’m always aware of how the way I’m living my life affects my wellbeing, so I really welcome Think Brain Health as further fuel for making the right decisions about our lifestyle.
When I think about what’s at stake, I think about my Grandmother – my Mum’s Mum – Mary, who died with dementia. She was, and still is, one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, with the most incredible dry sense of humour and wit. I was very close to her because she lost her husband, my Granddad, when I was just seven, and for a long period of time she lived with us as I was growing up.
She had a great no-nonsense way of saying what she thought about life, which heavily influenced me. No filters! I think it’s quite a Midlands thing too. When I was 13 I had to miss a term of school with glandular fever, and she looked after me. She taught me to play cribb and we whiled away the hours watching Neighbours. She was more like a friend really, and all my friends knew her too, and lived for her egg and chips on a Monday night.
She was a huge part of my life, and she lived a long and wonderful life herself, but, sadly, during the last few years, she developed Alzheimer’s. It came after she had a fall, breaking her hip and ending up in hospital. She was never the same after. We saw signs of things that weren’t right. She was very forgetful, fridge items ended up in cupboards, or the opposite, and she forgot to collect her pension. The problems were getting worse, and we were worried of dangers, so she moved in with my parents.
There were tough moments. I remember her saying to me “what’s wrong with me?” and I did my best to answer without scaring her, but she looked back at me, as she often did at those times, with wide, bemused eyes that spoke too plainly of her confusion.
It was really sad watching my Mum deal with what was happening, because it was so impossible to deal with. And there came the moment when Mum realised she wasn’t able to do a good service to Nan, and that she needed professional care in a home. It broke all our hearts. It broke my Nanna’s heart too. It caused difficulties between her and Mum, who felt she had betrayed her mum, even though we knew there was nothing she could do. She still hasn’t forgiven herself to this day. I know this guilt is so tragically common with families dealing with dementia.
The saddest moment for me was when I sat down to talk to Nan one afternoon, and she just didn’t know who I was. It wasn’t until I left that I heard her say to a carer “that was our Suzi wasn’t it?” It made me feel so angry with this heartless disease. We have to stand by and witness the slow loss of the person we adore.
The day before we lost her, I had gone to see Nan. On my visit, I leaned over her and she put her hand to my face. “You’re an angel” she said. And it was the last thing she said to me. She died later that night as my Mum slept on the floor beside her.
I know our story will be familiar to many. I don’t think I know anyone that dementia hasn’t affected, and looking at the statistics we know it will affect many more in future.
And so really this movement to do all we can to look after our brain health is for everyone.
We need to do all we can to achieve that, to protect our brains, reduce our risk and, hopefully, avoid the heartache of dementia for families in the future.