Saturday, December 15, 2012

Alzheimer's and Me

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Alzheimer’s. It began with a letter I wrote for the Mental Health Research Institute’s annual appeal. This is the photograph of my parents that is at the top of that letter:

Mum was in the very early stages of dementia then, but still very beautiful and vivacious, and my parents were still head over heels in love with each other. The full letter is here. Here are a few extracts from it:

About 300,000 of my mother's fellow Australians are living with dementia right now. Every six minutes a new sufferer is diagnosed. But we felt alone.


With Alzheimer's there's no kidney you can donate, no body part that can be amputated, no chemo to try. No drug cure. Nothing. Just patience and anguish. And then more the next day. And then again. And again. For years. With only death at the end.


It's predicted that without any significant medical breakthrough there'll be one million sufferers by 2050

If you'd like to donate to the Institute here's the link for that.

Then at the beginning of December I participated in a Dementia in Hospitals forum, a joint project of Alzheimer's Australia Victoria, and the Victoria and Tasmania Dementia Training Study Centre.

It was an interesting forum. The bad news is that nobody talked of a cure or even of a known cause. If there is a cure, it's at least five years away, and inside the brains of many of us baby boomers those pesky amyloid plaques and tau tangles are forming already. Tick, tick, tick...The statistics are terrifying and getting worse. It's strange how complacent people are about this. Denial, I guess. Ignore it and it'll go away...

The good news is that many dedicated and talented researchers are investing a lot of time working out how best to look after sufferers in acute care hospitals, which must be the worst, most frightening, places for them.

My speech was about my family's experience with Alzheimer's and in particular about how confusing and frightening hospitals were for my mother, and how hard we had to work to make the situation tolerable for her.

After all this I turned to a book called, The Alzheimer's Prevention Program, by Gary Small and Gigi Morgan

I didn't really expect a miracle. I suppose I was seeking a glimmer of hope.

The book is easy to read and well set out. It contains results from lots of studies and provides a recipe for healthy living. Remember that line, maybe from Laugh-In, 'Healthy mind, healthy body - take your pick'? Well, this book provides a template for both.

There are sections on nutrition, physical and mental exercise and reducing stress.

No miracles though, and no guarantees either. What the authors suggest is that by following these recommendations you can possibly postpone Alzheimer's by years. And if you can delay the disease long enough then maybe there'll be a cure, or you'll die of something else before it even manifests at all, or to any great extent.

Better than nothing.

For me the most encouraging thing I've read recently is that if the members of your family who have developed dementia have done so after age 65 then you are at no more risk than the general population. I felt a weight lift off me when I read that. I had assumed because my mother developed Alzheimer's in her 70s, then the disease was sitting at the end of my bed waiting for me. It still may be, I guess. I'll just have to get up earlier than it does and follow as many of the book's prescriptions as I can: eat a healthy diet, exercise my body and exercise my brain.

And then time will tell.

People who knew my mother always said I looked just like her. I was so proud of that. Now it makes me nervous that our similarity will be my downfall. Whereas before I used to seek ways in which we were alike, now I find myself looking for the differences between us.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Sad Tale of Wombat Bindi (with Happy Ending)

 Wombat Bindi was sentenced to death. Not just once, but twice.

The first time was when a car ran her mother down and left the baby wombat for dead in her mother's pouch. That time Bindi was rescued by the people who found her and brought her to Iris and James at Albion Wombat Rescue.

Then Bindi developed severe and debilitating colic. She was sickly and in pain all the time. Nothing helped. 

The vet delivered the second death sentence. Bindi wasn't thriving. She couldn't go on as she was and there was no treatment he could recommend that would help. The most humane solution would be to end her short unhappy life before she suffered any more.

That's when Bindi was rescued a second time. Iris and James have lost animals before and they didn't think they could face the pain again. Besides, they'd fallen under the spell of this small creature and weren't going to lose her without one helluva fight. 

Iris trained as a nurse, and she knows a thing or two about animals too from long years of caring for them. Off she went to the chemist with a recipe for a colic mixture that she thought was worth a try. The pharmacist followed her directions and poured the mixture into a bottle labelled with the wombat's name.


It took a lot of patience on James and Iris's part, but contrary to all expectations, Bindi's health gradually improved. She began to put on weight slowly. She was still quite fragile and needed a lot of attention, but she was off the death list.

Bindi is now about a year old, thanks to her wonderful and devoted carers. She's not as independent as they'd like - still a bit of a Mummy's girl - and, though she spends her days outside, she still sleeps indoors in a cot. But she's healthy, with a glossy coat.

She's a good eater, still having one bottle a day and relishing her Weetbix. When she's indoors and she needs to wee, she signals to be picked up and held over the laundry trough.

She enjoys a cuddle.

She loves to throw all the cushions off the couch

 and burrow in.

And she loves the only mum and dad she's ever known.

I want to pay tribute to all wildlife carers, but to Iris and James in particular for their selfless care for the wild inhabitants of our planet, and also for their loving care of me when, like Bindi, I was losing my mother and in need of nurture.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Best Crumpets Ever (Really)

One of the joys of cooking with a wood stove is being able to cook directly on the hob.

We do this whenever we can. Toast of course. Pikelets and pancakes (not crepes, though I suppose you could) and any kind of fritter. And vegieburgers. Maybe not hamburgers in case the mince is a bit fatty (though we mince our own meat and cut as much fat off as we can, so we probably could).

One of my persistent failures, however, was crumpets. I tried several recipes, asked Chef Google for help, but to no avail. They just didn't taste right. Farmdoc ate them of course and swore they were the best things he'd ever tasted, but they weren't. I knew. He was just utilising one of the tools that has brought us to our 45th wedding anniversary later this month, a kind of husbandly chivalry.

So on to the best crumpet recipe ever. Seriously foolproof and delicious.

About 15 years ago, when Farmdoc first became interested in bread making, he attended a series of cooking classes run by Simply No Knead in Melbourne. I found this recipe amongst his pages from those classes and it really is the best.

First you will need:

450 gms of bread flour
3 teaspoons yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
285 mls of warm water
285 mls of warm milk

Later you will need:

1/2 teaspoon bicarb
150 mls of water

Mix all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and then stir in the liquids.

Beat with an electric beater at first on low (or it will splash like crazy) and then on high for 3 minutes until a batter forms.

Cover the bowl tightly and place in a warm place for about an hour and a half until the batter doubles in size and then begins to collapse.

Dissolve the bicarb in the extra water and whisk into the batter until it is well blended.

Place greased crumpet rings onto a medium to hot preheated pan - or of course on the hob of a wood stove. If you do cook directly on the hob, you'll need to make sure it's not too hot, otherwise the bottoms will burn before the crumpets are ready. Pour batter into the rings until they are half full. Don't overfill or the mixture will overflow. They take around a third of a cup.

Cook for about 10 to 15 minutes until the surface bubbles and the top is firm. Remove the rings and turn the crumpets over. Cook for a minute or two. Repeat until all the remaining batter is used up. If it thickens while it stands you can thin it by adding a couple of teaspoons of warm water and mixing well.

Cool on a wire rack and toast to reheat. They freeze well.