February 4, 2016

"I'm Grateful" -- David Hilfiker's Blog Post Today Speaks for Me, Too

On January 30, 2013, David Hilficker launched a blog  -- "Watching the Lights Go Out" -- with this opening sentence:
I have been diagnosed with a progressive "mild cognitive impairment," almost certainly Alzheimer’s disease.
David explained that he was "writing this blog to dispel some of the fear and embarrassment that surrounds Alzheimer's and other cognitive impairments."

His blog quickly became one of my favorites. Beautifully written, it gave an excellent first-hand account of his day-to-day life with cognitive decline. Reading it, I often felt more uplifted than depressed as David described his journey not as the end of life, but rather as another phase of life with opportunities for growth, learning, and relationships.

Then in October, 2014, David wrote: "The Last Post....(?)." That piece was not, as I initially feared, a post to report that his lights were about to go out. Instead, David explained that he was suspending the blog after learning that he did not, in fact, have Alzheimer’s disease. His cognitive decline had stabilized.

February 3, 2016

Trader Joe's "Calming Sleep Formula" Works for Me and Reinforces My Case for 5-HTP

At Trader Joe’s a few weeks ago, looking for the vitamin D-3 that I take every day, I noticed a pill bottle labeled "Trader Joe's Calming Sleep Formula." Underneath, there was this explanation: "for occasional sleeplessness."

What really jumped out at me was this information on the label:


I put "5-HTP" above in bold for a good reason: My use of this supplement to treat Parkinson's disease (PD) symptoms has generated more conflicts with my family, friends, and some of my doctors than any of my other self-help endeavors.

Serotonin, 5-HTP, and Me
PD kills the brain cells that produce dopamine, the neurotransmitter that regulates movement (also behavior and emotion). PD research -- and treatments -- have focused primarily on replacing the depleted dopamine.

Serotonin, another neurotransmitter, helps regulate mood, appetite, sleep, and memory. It, too, is affected by Parkinson's, but that connection has been largely neglected until recently.

The gold standard treatment for PD is levodopa, a synthetic substance which the brain converts into dopamine. Levodopa is typically combined with carbidopa, a coupling that helps deliver the levodopa to the brain before the body metabolizes it.

5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is a chemical by-product of the protein building block L-tryptophan. Since 5-HTP increases the synthesis of serotonin, it is used for several diseases in which serotonin likely plays an important role -- including depression, insomnia, and obesity.

Years before my 2009 Parkinson's diagnosis, I used 5-HTP to help counteract the insomnia and low mood that often accompanied jet lag. The neurologist who made the PD diagnosis told me that depression often accompanied Parkinson's, and he gave me a prescription for the antidepressant Elavil.

In addition to depression, there are two other frequent PD side effects -- insomnia and constipation -- and I was experiencing all three. I explained to my doctor the positive experience I’d had with 5-HTP as a treatment for all three conditions, and told him I’d prefer taking that single, useful supplement to taking three different pills, one for each problem.

And it worked… for a while.

January 28, 2016

My Neighborhood Listserv: A Real Asset

I love my Palisades neighborhood which we locals describe as “country living in the city,” the city being Washington, DC. And I love the house that has been my home for over 50 years. I hope to remain here until my "final exit."

But, as an 86-year-old with Parkinson's, I can use lots of help. I'm delighted that our excellent neighborhood "listserv" recently provided me some very helpful support.

For the uninitiated, a listserv is simply an electronic mailing list. You provide your email address and receive the information. Many urban neighborhoods have listservs. Maintained by volunteers, they provide a place for neighbors to exchange information about that new restaurant that just opened, complain (in our case) about the noise from the jet plans, ask for recommendations for good babysitters, etc. This past week our listserv was an invaluable resource as we dealt with the blizzard and shared information on snow plows, shovellers and lots of other issues.

Our Palisades' listserv posts a weekly "Vendor Saturday" message highlighting services offered by entrepreneurs in the 'hood. Over a month ago, I decided to check out the listing for a massage therapist. I've tried massages many times, and I've usually enjoyed them. Still, I was never interested in committing to a regular massage schedule.But after experiencing my first session with this woman, I signed up for a weekly massage.

I sense -- and my research confirms -- that massage helps alleviate the stiffness that progressively afflicts those of us with Parkinson's. So, adding a weekly massage to my routine is a winner.  And my masseuse and I share similar interests and views and are developing a nice friendship.

January 25, 2016

The Blizzard and Me

This morning I got up at 5 a.m. for a bathroom visit and my pills. Since I had slept well, I decided to stay up for one of my "joy of quiet" sessions. I often use this early morning time for non-strenuous stretching exercises and mindfulness meditation.

I got carried away. When I finished and opened the bedroom curtains, I was surprised to see that dawn was breaking and took the photo, above.

The weekend blizzard with its disruption of my normal routines no doubt helped trigger this morning's extended period of contemplation and reflection. The enforced confinement gave me an opportunity to think about "where I am" these days.

The Home Front
The blizzard provided yet another reminder of how fortunate I am in my current living situation. Most of us elders want to "age in place"... and in my case, it's a place I've loved for over 50 years. But living alone later in life isn't easy, even under the best circumstances. Unusual disruptions -- like this blizzard -- make it almost impossible.

Loneliness is also a problem. I need more "alone time" than most people. But I can have panic attacks if I'm home alone and I'm having one of my bad days on the health front.

So, what's my current living situation? For over three years now, Nimesh and Bhawana, a young Nepali couple, have been living with me. They've become my second family. "We" are expecting a baby girl in late March.

In preparation for that event, we've converted the space below my master bedroom -- before a one-car garage -- into a bedroom for the expectant parents. We also installed a mini kitchen, which makes this lower level of the house a separate living unit.

Sharing the house with a young couple and having their friends coming and going makes this arrangement especially enjoyable. Friends who live in senior residences tell me what they miss is having young people around.

My Parkinson's
Last month, I had one of my regular checkups with my neurologist. He put me through the standard routine for Parkinson's patients. Afterward, he reported that for every item on the check list I was either doing the same or better than I was at the last visit about four months ago.

January 24, 2016

Oh, What A Beautiful Morning!

That song title from the musical Oklahoma was the first thing I thought of when I woke up this morning and looked out the window. The nonstop snowfall Friday and Saturday -- the third worst in Washington's history -- had ended and the sun finally came out.

Here's what I saw from my bedroom windows:

side window by my bed
view from front bedroom window
Under the snow just beyond snow-capped trash cans is the Eskridge Terrace roadway which is always one of the last streets in the city to get plowed. Our block is a cul-de-sac with only 11 houses. Understandably, the city gives priority to plowing , busier, through streets.