Sunday, November 24, 2013

Dementia -some thoughts of a GPS trying to reset

I took the picture that fell out of the book and turned it over. Out side the wind blew in cold air from the north. I had been quietly  remenescing as I sorted through the childrens books, some to give away and yet others to keep.Some faint memories without a time stamp hung in the air , 'of reading to my children at bed time' and then the picture fell out.
It must have sat there for over a decade.There sat my parents, in their active life , involved, energised by life, smiling back at me...I do not recall taking that photo, but the energy that was them still enliven the picture.
The years in between has aged them,-- cells that broke down,  acting out , coursing through time as their improper repairs gatherd into clumps of waywardness, all slowly, quietly as all cells age.The biggest change had been that they lost  themselves too- slowly , quietly. I want to forget the present but keep the memories of the past alive , but how can I when the present is the reality.
Hence, despite the present reality I delve into the past and wonder what had been different, what changes over the years got us to  here.There are many  questions in my mind,but  most though evade any  answers.
        Why my grandparents and great grandparents seemed to have an easier course in their old age? Are my memories fixed in some skewed perception of the past that is causing the recall of the past to be faulty?Why do my parents' generation seem to have more debility? Answers to these questions are all too elusive.
Yet as I delve into  my memories, what do I have the easiest recall for, ...not my high school or middle school years, but they are of  my childhood, my early years, then some for my pre-adult and early adult years. The rest all stay mixed in with a lot of fluff..There are bits of my own children's early years that stand clear as well. I am glad that most of the fluff stay as fluff....
As I ponder over this, it does make sense-- these are survival sensitive periods and carry emotion charged memories, hence are  easily laid down.  There are also  hormonal shifts that ease the storage and retrival of these memories, probably triggered by emotion driven cues, that set the whole recall process in motion.(this then  may also  explain how some PTSD circuits are set to a constant cycling set of cues and can't re-set itself )
      In a far away past during my grand parents' time and generations prior to that , families grouped together into small communities.... small villages, stayed small, with a static rythmicity to life.Children grew up , settled near-by , change being almost imperceptable... when you look further back in time the community was further condensed, with groups of extended families under one roof, additions added to the family home . Lives stayed almost set in one place, with its set pace. Changes were only those of time marked by seasons . An assigned child , usually a son and his family cared for their parents in the same home that many generations had passed through.
The way to the church/temple/mosque remained the same, the foot-paths long worn too remained unchanged,except may be, widening with time, as generations  trekked through...all neighbors were known--so and so's child or someone related , hence almost unchanged. Thus communities thrived on the known.
Unknowns by  itself  produce stress, and stress is not conducive to well being.Where change becomes  synonimous with progress, one forgets what this causes to an aging brain and body. The youth progresses into that  range of aging/ages and in that span they forget the cost.They see possibilities in change and charges ahead until they too progress into time...
The memories that settles into time stay and these may be what were stored. I picture them being sorted tagged and settled  into boxes , scattered there with  emotions, mostly pleasent ones that come along as one grows.May be that is why I can recall to the smallest detail where I have wandered at ages three and four; may be these memories, they store well .
What the past generations embellished through-out their lives , being in the same community, interacting with the same group of people, their three and four year old memories maintained with additions(almost as add ons to the same strand)may have helped them.No new damaging  stresses, no severe changes requiring  shut down of the systems all the way  from brain to the periphery.
I realized how disorganising change can be for one, as I drove up the path to my grand parent's home, on my last visit to India.I searched for landmarks... the giant jack-fruit tree,the sound of the brook, the big boulder by the side of the road, the glint of the evening light through the trees. At some point I too realized the simple fact- I was lost. The script that my brain had safely stored away was not compatable with what was there in front of me. Yet it was just only minor changes to my known path, just a new  path few hundred feet away from what I had known and saved into memory.
Even though at five or six yearsof age  I could trace my paths , eg to the mainroad, to aunts house, to church and back , from my grandparent's home( about 5 miles) I felt utterly lost this last time right in front of the house.The changes that came with time confused me and distressed me. Like all stressed plants and animals,  that may fail to thrive, or even fail to survive in a new locale I see how distressing and disorienting  the repeated stress tend to be.
          Imagine how shocking it would be for an older person, to be re-planted thus and expected to adapt ...
Let's take my father for example, who preferred to walk when-ever he could, yes with his charecterestic long stride..he-a social being , now living in a newer house, where everything is suddenly different. To him all that surrounds him is changed,and his internal construct now just causes dismay in the face of these  acute changes . The stress of change causes distress and furthers his confusion.. These stresses further compounds his memory impairments ,all stress being neuro-toxic. The lacunae in his memory in turn furthers his stress, and he enters a vicious cycle of loosing memory and function
In the progress modelled after presumed  modern societies, there is a dismay at aging, a lessened regard for aging as an asset.In a past where age was venerated for wisdom and the care of the aged was a required social norm,it may not have been a burden as it is today just because the societal construct of that period was more forgiving to the process of aging itself. It was probably more supportive just by reducing the destructive stress of change..

At times I wonder how if we projected the progress of changing societies, eg in India  into the future, what will be the result. I have no answers, just more questions.In India we have a population that is migrating even when it is static, migrating because of changes that occur all around.One cannot ascribe an economic cost to it, because stress cannot be measured in straight forward economic cost.The cost is going to be multiplied and multi-layered.-regrets for some, the disregard that results to mitigate those regrets, the growing  frustration for children, neglect for some, all in all a vicious cycle that ends with suffering all around, especially as the Indian society moves forward with lesser self reflection or any tangible long term planning for the care of its aging population.It can only further lead to fractures to the society at many levels.
Hence the question is what can we do to this growing  tide of distress?

The distress for the child in me is two fold,one I can not ease my parent's distress and then, - how will I manage when my memory starts fading.
          Yet I try to remenesce with them, hoping that a spark will catch sometime to spark a little bit of memory and hence some comfort. Mostly for my dad his memory is set at his childhood now as he has progressed further into his dementia.It helps me to use my imagination to describe his own home and its surroundings,because I too remember it as it used to be, before those distressing changes all around. I try to ask some questions, and sometimes a spark catches and I see him smile and engage.I am so glad for skype and he seems to wait for my calls. Some times it is only dis-interest that I face on these calls. If only I could set time back to a place before everything started shorting-out at the neural-circuits and spinning out error messages in the memory codes in his brain, if only....

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A tribute to Ruth Patrick

Ruth Patrick, 105, a Pioneer in Science And Pollution Control Efforts, Is Dead


Dr. Patrick, one of the country's leading experts in the study of freshwater ecosystems, or limnology, was an innovator of a number of environmental practices and principles

Even as the drips of rain splatter,
Taking me yet again to a land,lost and gone,
Alive in my mind, ever so briefly,
Drops splatter there on fallen leaves,
   Coconut trees sway, shower the ground,
   As the wind spy on another humid morning,
   Drops fall and clink on a stained jack-fruit leaf,
   I lie there,watch the jack fruits, marvel and dream...
   Open doors, open air and quiet days,
   A childhood stored in memories...
Yet it comes un-announced,
Sweetness of  water on a hot , dusty day,
Mangoes falling with the rain storm,
Dropped in their juicy ripeness,
Sweetness on my tongue, the pureness of joy,
Un-hurried life, now gone.
   Thus I pray, nature take over please...
   Even at the morning walk, scrape the rubber soles,
   Forgotten , the milky sap and all before,
   All felled trees , dead to grow soured sap
Missed  giants, some forgotten in moments
Be it an enampechi,or leech, 
Be that the Panal bush or the mud-swinmmer fish
Long gone before the scientific giants, 
Some  who braved before the masses
Liberals,Like grand mother, 
Like science  freind to child through news snippets...
Enough to inspire, no-less..

PS... the river flows now barely, fully blocked up by debris . The water , nor the ground can reclaim its purer state again, in the new rubber  growing era. I had been read to about some enviormentalist lady who worked with river water, which added to my fantasy of my friend the river.  

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Memories - fading shades of time

On a recent phone call to my father , I had skimmed through some days of the past, what once had been bright now sitting dappled in shadows of fuzzy memories.I tried to re-ignite some sparks, pushing on recall- on events, sounds ,  then on to scents,and then finally giving up. It left me with just a sense of all permeating sadness, glancing at life, how it is , how it had been...
As a child I had dismissed and mostly disliked my great grandmother, for her need to repeat the selfsame stories, her critical and restrictive nature not sitting well with the little child that was me. Now I see the same nature shifts in my father, a shift I see each time I visit,as time stretch long  in between.Yet depending on his shifts, I too reach back and recall , understanding anew  the aging mind , the aging brain.
I compare notes in my mind and see that after all, none of it is all that different, be that my great grandmother or my father. the similarities stand out dwarfing the differences...
I see again the stooping stature of my great grand mother, her critical rants, soon forgotten giving way to the  need to  consume my attention with her stories from the past while all my tiny legs waited was to follow my mind to a run in the sand.
I see my father doing identical things, slight stoop indicating his bone loosing itself as gravity works on his body.  I picture tendrils of plaques clouding  over, probably firing away on his neurons sending off error signals that come streaming as annoyance at my four year old nephew for rushing off before his repeated stories are done...Through the years the changes are there, pendulous arcing moments that track some of the past.
Irritability laced stories giving  way to some slight , real and imagined, which then had given way to an exacting mode with a need to control every one whom he perceived to be a child at some point in time,telling us all how to do day to day activities the right way. This then was replaced with a certain pleasantness phase , when all the stories became humorous and goodnatured. Yet with each of these phases part of his memory had slipped away,dissolving quietly.
Of course there are moments of clarity, brief and momentary, may be as another neuron sparks, bringing into sharp focus another stored away memory, another sliver of protein , and then it goes pulling of all connections.Now memories are mostly defined by their absence, everything has become vague and undefined and hence lost....I imagine the plaques hiding in the shadowy deeps of the brain like an octopus, spewing ink over memories and grasping the neurons one by one in its tentacles. I picture the neurons sparking at  their dendrites,lost in a  confounding ocean of memories of a lifetime , igniting one faint event with that  misplaced spark, as it is disabled and then the memory can not be retrieved for it is lost, not to just one neuron, but to all association areas and hence is gone...all gone to rest in that amorphous amalgam as the ink spewing octopus swim along....we all , the children watch, some cry, some get annoyed, some ignore it all, some times we do all these together, yet none of us can bring back the associations, because we do not hold anything to trigger these memories.No key words, no RNA, nothing , nothing
There are no shared memories now, they have become just ours for now, and we have waited too long to share them and now they have become for us a burden, by not sharing them earlier...we have let the plaques win, we did not even notice them, we tarried and now we hold regrets, not knowing where to put them down, for now its ours to hold forever....

Monday, May 13, 2013

Thoughts on mothers day

Some times the celebrated  mothers day bring distress into sharp focus. I know aging happens, yet the hardest part of aging is that , even when it is inevitable , there is nothing you can do about it...not for the one whose life is shearing off in small threads, nor for the one left watching it helplessly...
you remember your aging parents, quiet moments of regret trailing you , for their infirm state, welling up in your eyes at times, yet you cannot do anything about it.
Even when you phone them , you realize oceans separate you and options are limited in every way.When you visit, you want to stay, yet each day ,your adult life pull at you a little harder and you know of the limitations that call itself --'responsibilities'.
Moving away from the place of your origin tugs at you the most, and then every progress become a constraint and in the end a useless endeavour, or it feels so.
You wander, lost , bereft of tethers that attach and hence bind, mourning that loss even as you tear at all restrictive dream , yet searching, in secret yearning for those binding tethers, even as you tear up the tethering forces that are invisible.
Here progress becomes its own failing... you "skype", marvel at the technology that gets you close, yet swirls of a vaccum deep inside robs you and in its wake, leaves shadows of distress..
You wish time had stood still, in one sense it may have quashed progress, but in yet another sense, inevitable losses would have been easier, may be...there you could visit your parents , frequently, comfort and ease their aging selves, taking leave as the day wears on and they wear on you.
Maybe they would feel the stability of living in the community they  identified and became part of, from birth, delaying their whole aging process...they would have been happier, with less(owned tangibles), but active still with random routines, that in itself would have delayed illnesses and limitations ...
They sacrificed much for their children, mis-percieved as progress, so today you too continue in  that same line of honorable mis-perceptions...
So while the communities have marched onto its current global form, at one corner  of that information superhighway, you are caught between two worlds...oceans apart, with an ache that persist just like the waves, marking time, making it relevant..Yet you try to hold on to remembered bits, hold on to fraying connections , with the fraility of your mother on one end, with her memory that lurches between static and random recalls , and on the other end impatience in your daughter scraping at time for clear still moments of thought....

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Bangalore,Once garden city...water free gardens ?

Recently I  visited India, and for the first time in a long while, I felt cheated...yes ,by  the garden city - Bangalore. I searched in vain for landmarks in a place that once held many fond memories. As the travel to the airport stalled to a crawl, as the dusk smelled of exhaust fumes and future smogs, I think I saw a piece of history...may be of significance only for me.There was the piece of wall/fence that still look like it was a forgotten piece from  the edge of MG road once... I had earlier seen  the identifiable signs of schools on residency road , and had thought my lack of cognition was due to pure fatigue, but it was not so. I searched in vain for the rain collectors,ponds and lakes that years ago had dotted  the state ,those large aquifiers, a hall mark of a state that knew water scarcity. That land where once  we walked swatting at mosquitoes by the lake, now stand apartment buildings and the insanity of traffic .Ironically, here  I come across tankers-the new water carriers..My friends described the water scarcity in the city as  we pass yet another tanker ...may be here they can try some thing akin to UTEC of Peru, but how to fix a man made calamity, that is being fed to grow further....
     The boulder that had few wilting flowers at its base ...a hope  to assuage the daily struggles of an occasional  villager from some  past, not too far ... has grown into a full fledged  temple with much religious fanfare now. The boulder still stayed weathered and hence identifiable. Few trees peeking from the walls of another compound and the wall of the Dairy had aged but remained sentinels to a graceful past. It could be just my sentiment that calls it graceful, when every one who considers construction as progress will disagree.
As the dust hung low in the garden city, and the traffic crawled to a stop, I sadly recognized the death of a city that grew beyond itself... growth defined by poor planning , almost like the bacterial colony-lysis inside a petri-dish...when progress out paces resources and decline sets in sliding to death. May  be the planners could take their cue from nature...possibly the lowly plated agar plates, or an ant hill, just learn  of resource management, planned layouts,community  growth , development of satelite colonies etc...well one can wish and  just sigh, at this  slow slide to death....