Friday, July 30, 2010

The Second Act

My 47th birthday was yesterday. Man, how did I get to be that old already? I certainly don’t feel it. My perceptual age of myself just graduated recently to somewhere in my thirties. About time, huh? I like to think I don’t look it either. At the airport the other day, the guy at the security checkpoint could not believe the date on my license. OK, he might have been flirting a little, but, hey, I’ll take it.

My paternal grandmother, we called her Mawmaw, (this is the South) was an identical twin. She quit school after the third grade and stayed home with her mother learning all the domestic talents. Boy, she could make some yummy biscuits from scratch. They would melt in your mouth. Her coconut cakes were legendary. She made them from fresh, whole coconuts, and usually 4 layers high. Mmmmmm!

Except for a few very brief stints, she never really worked or drove. She preferred to stay home and watch her soaps and interact with a small, comfortable circle of friends and family. She lived her life within a short distance from where she was born.

Her sister, on the other hand, finished high school and never worked for money, but did volunteer work throughout her life. She drove a car. She was socially outgoing, active at church and in clubs, and lived in many states.

Both developed Alzheimer’s. My Mawmaw started showing signs of it in her late 50’s. She died at 77 after being in an assisted living facility for 14 years. Her sister developed Alzheimer’s in her late 70’s. She died a few years later at the age of 80.

This example, of course, is not scientific proof, but I do draw some pretty strong conclusions from it. I believe, the life my Mawmaw led contributed to her developing Alzheimer’s much earlier. Because her brain did not develop physically as much over her somewhat sheltered life, it was much more devastating earlier when Alzheimer’s started pruning it away. She had no extra.

Because I physically resemble my Mawmaw, I used to be very scared of developing Alzheimer’s. Not so much anymore. While having had a brain injury does increase my risk, I feel like I have already been there and back.

Many studies have confirmed that regular cardiovascular exercise and a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and antioxidants has clear-cut, positive benefits in staving off the onset of the disease. There is also much evidence to suggest that keeping the brain stimulated, challenged, and alert, maintaining an active social life, and staying emotionally healthy lowers the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Recent studies have even shown that our brains grow in some abilities as we age. There is an overall net gain in middle age with wisdom, cognitive depth, and reasoning power increasing. Yipee! (More on that later.)

I know that, without a doubt, my future is going to be fabulous. I have learned the tools to make it so no matter what happens around me. I am in the best shape mentally, emotionally and probably even physically than I have ever been. I truly am better than ever and ready for the second act


  1. Great article as always. Glad you'll be with us for a long time and know we're here. Have a great 47th year.

  2. Happy Birthday!!! Memories are so special. I am glad that you have good memories from your family and you are such a positive person. 47? I think that you are making that up LOL. You are an inspiration and you motivate those who have the blessing to find your blog and even better those who know you personally. Take care and never stop loving yourself and others :)

  3. Tony, yeah, I am not going anywhere anytime soon and looking forward to the great adventure ahead in the many years to come. Gonna be good!

    TBI Army Wife....can I say Roxanna?....I think I just did...I don't know you, but I know who that is... Just like with your hubby, to be able to give inspiration to others makes all I have been through even more worthwhile. It is up to us, not just the medical community, to help each other.

    The best is yet to come with you guys too because you are creating a wonderful reality. That is what it is all about. All the best.

  4. Happy Birthday Debbie, Just found your blog through TBI Warriors blog. I turned 48 in April, so I know how u feel, the years definately spin by quicker now, keep up the great blogging! Pat

  5. Thank you for the kind words from a fellow "old timer!" I feel strongly that we have to educate, connect and support all the military people coming home with brain injuries. So, spread the word and you keep up the good work!

  6. Happy Belated Birthday . . .

    Though I don't think it's exact, I think there is plenty of proof (not to mention plain common sense) that keeping your brain active as you age will stave off Alzheimer's and so on. When my mother retired recently, at age 73 (she was a nurse and had worked all her life - since her teens in fact), I was worried that she would go the way so many retirees do - with nothing to fill their days they lapse into watching TV, doing nothing. But, happily, she got a puppy (which quickly became a dog),meaning she had to get out every day to walk it, decided to learn piano, and joined a community group. It's amazing what a difference these little things can make.

    Keep on keepin' on.


  7. Tim, thanks much for the birthday wishes and hooray for your Mom! Instinctively she just did what was good for her. Learning the piano is great for your brain at any age! She is brave. We could all take a lesson from her in that basically just living life fully is great for every part of us. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Happy belated Birthday, Debbie. I just signed to follow your blog and I enjoy your positive attitude. I also am a TBI survivor. It's coming up on 32 years now. I was comatose for five weeks and have written a book about my story, How I Became A Fearless Woman.
    Bless you Debbie and I'm looking forward to reading more from you. Thanks so much, Pamela Jansen ♥

  9. Oh...Pamela, I cannot wait to explore your blog and book. 32 years, huh, and you are now a fearless woman?! Great! How inspiring. I like it. I find that my brain injury has made me fearless too. After overcoming this, there is not too much I am truly afraid of anymore. Thank you for your kind words.

  10. Happy belated birthday Debbie -

    I also have dementia/Alzheimer's in my family, and I also worry about my TBIs predisposing me to that, even more than I already am. But like you I believe that keeping active and involved and continuing to learn and grown offsets the genetic factors. I have to believe that -- otherwise the worry takes over my life.

    Have you read "Aging with Grace"? It's the story of the study of the nuns in Minnesota who on average live much longer and are much more

  11. Thanks for the good birthday wishes! I will take them at any time!

    Ironically, although a brain injury does put us at greater risk for Alzheimer's, I think I am less likely to get it now because of a better lifestyle for my brain. Funny how things work out that way for the best!

    Have not read that one. Thanks for the suggestion. I love finding new, good books. Will add it to my list!