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Bob Dunning

Standing In: How to ward off Alzheimer’s: A modest proposal

By From page A2 | October 01, 2013

It seems to be common knowledge that the way to forestall dreaded memory loss is to exercise your brain. Articles tout the benefits of crossword puzzles, traveling, being social and exercising. Challenge your brain! That’s the ticket.

This summer I happened upon a sure-fire approach to vastly increase the neuron firings in my brain. It didn’t take arduous planning. In fact, I came upon it by accident. But I haven’t seen anyone else mention it. It’s like the elephant under the living room carpet that no one admits is there. My modest proposal? Become accident-prone. Why, because of just this one summer, I bet I’ve forestalled Alzheimer’s for at least 10 years.

It all started at 8 a.m. Saturday, June 8, at Emerson Junior High. Parents of recently graduated high school seniors may recognize that date as the morning after Grad Night 2013 — the alcohol-free, all-night party for Davis grads.

For years, I’ve wanted to decorate for Grad Night. So this year I did, in the sophomore area (because my granddaughter was a sophomore). We sophomore parents (and grandparents) had a great time, and did a bang-up job.

We also undecorated our area, starting at 5 a.m. that Saturday. By 8 a.m., the area was clean. Only a few empty, rolled-up trash bags lay on the cement bench by the bleachers in the stadium. The lighting guy had just taken down the last tall lighting pole and laid it on the ground near the bench.

For my final cleanup, I stepped over the light pole, picked up the bags, turned around, forgot about the light pole, took a step and bam! I was on the ground. My right wrist ached like the dickens. I ended up having surgery on my fractured wrist, and spent this summer with my right arm ensconced in an arm cast.

Did I mention I’m right-handed? All of a sudden, my “tag-along” left hand became my “it’s-up-to-you” hand. And I quickly discovered that it didn’t know how to do much at all. Write legibly? Nope. Type? Only on the left side of a keyboard. Cut with a knife? No, alas. And on and on.

My son Jeff gave me the bright news, “Mom, just think how many new neural connections your brain will be making!” Oh, yippee.

In fact, I think he was right. I could practically feel my brain cells buzzing every time I had to write. My printing looked like a kindergartner’s — large letters, shaky, unevenly spaced and not in a straight line. It was pathetic. Everyone who saw my scribbles laughed.

Hey, laugh away, I thought, at least I’m warding off Alzheimer’s because I’m learning how to do just about everything in a new way: Get dressed, eat, open letters, write checks. My mind found new ways to use my body: to open a bottle (squeeze it between my knees while sitting on a chair and twist off the cap with my left hand), close a door (use my hip), and cut iceberg lettuce (hold it in place with my cast, which didn’t always work).

Rather than make multiple trips to the car, my mind realized I could carry everything with my left hand: key ring on one finger, cloth bag for errands on another, plastic bag of food scraps for my daughter Tracia’s chickens on the third, and pull open the car door handle with the last two.

Which reminds me: about those so-called single-use bags, which “they” want to ban. Do you know how many times I used one generous-sized plastic bag from The Dollar Store this summer — to keep my entire right arm dry while taking a shower? 51! I counted. Yes, 51 times! Single-use? Ha!

I’ll tell you what was single-use: the Scotch tape to hold that bag in place around my arm. I had to replace it over and over. It wouldn’t stay sticky. “They” should ban that instead. I’m sure there are many pieces wafting to the Pacific Ocean. We just can’t see them because they’re transparent.

About halfway through the summer, after several other accidents, I noticed that my brain had become adept at conjuring up new ways to do everything. It was as if my mind had become unfrozen from my daily routines. It was having a pile of fun dreaming up schemes to make my changed way of living work.

Perhaps becoming accident-prone can stave off Alzheimer’s for you, too. That’s my modest proposal.

— Barbara McNurlin moved to Davis in 1998 to live near her first grandchild, Ashlyn. She loves being a grandma to Ashlyn and Kian.

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