A to Z Challenge: Letter V for Vagus Nerve

I wrote many of my A to Z posts back in March when coronovirus topics were just ramping up. Since then I have begun to weary of anything virus related, and so for my own comfort I am trashing my previous topic “Virus” and opting instead for something I care more about “Vagus nerve”. How odd, you may think, but I am okay with you thinking that.

This has nothing to do with my post. I had a hard time finding pictures of the vagus nerve so instead you’re seeing this favorite barn picture that I’ve wanted to post for a long time. Like it? (It’s so wonderful to have my own blog where I can do whatever I want. )

Caregiving for people with dementia is one of the hardest and most frustrating roles. It is only going to involve more people as time goes on. Here is your daily dose of statistics:

– 5% of people over 65 have dementia

– 20% of people over 80 have dementia

– 60% of those having dementia have Alzheimer’s

– 20% of those with dementia have Lewy Body Dementia

So you can see that a sizeable number of people are going to be affected both as victims of dementia and as caregivers. It’s pretty important that general knowledge about these conditions increases and that is part of my aim in sharing my caregiving life.

Research is bringing much to light about how dementia develops, its causes, and its treatment. I am amazed in particular at the early signs and symptoms that are often not recognized as such. How much could be avoided if we knew early on what our bodies were trying to tell us.

So, what about the vagus nerve, you are probably wondering? This summary article (click here) gives a good overview of this most important nerve in our bodies. It’s divided into right and left to serve different sides of the body, but spoken of as one. It is the longest nerve in the autonomic nervous system and the major parasympathetic influencer. It regulates heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, digestion, and even the mechanism of speaking. That’s a lot of essential stuff. It is the 10th cranial nerve. It starts up there where all the dementia problems start.

If there were definitive tests for dementia, ones that could detect it early, before it had devastated cognitive areas of the brain, how great would that be? We would be more concerned about chronic constipation, hard to control blood pressure, low heart rates in non athletic persons and other symptoms that get tossed into the “old age” bucket and treated with a pill.

The husband had all these problems years before his cognitive symptoms, the ones that got his attention, began. I remember the many blood pressure medications that he went through, and the multiple times he would react to them in extreme ways. He would have drops in pressure that would leave him dizzy and weak, and spikes that would alarm us. This continues now and is one of the fluctuations I’ve come to expect from LBD.

And I don’t know what his heart rate does to him but I know that having 50 or less beats per minute would make me feel strange. He tires so easily and complains of dizziness on a regular basis.

I’m not into writing about other people’s digestion or bowel habits but don’t we all know what problems can arise in these areas?!! Think honestly. There’s also the difficulty that dementia victims have in swallowing and speaking that results from impairment of the vagus nerve. There are days when my husband knows that it feels hard to swallow and he needs to be extra cautious about what he eats and how fast he eats it. I notice his weak voice and how some days it will be unexplainably stronger, making him sound like his old, normal self again.

Research is showing that up there in the brain where it all gets important is where we find protein deposits, call them plaque, Lewy bodies, or whatever. The vagus nerve is commonly affected and is responsible for many early signs.

What I say to myself about all this, and what I say to readers is that you can change what is happening in your body by lifestyle changes – simple things that take will power and determination but cost little and mean a lot over time. We cannot rely on pharmaceuticals to come up with remedies because it is not in their business interests, and they are businesses. We are people and we must investigate and do what is in our own best interest, whenever we can. We are the guardians of our own bodies. When we choose stress, poor diet, lack of sleep, and a multitude of other poor choices, we get the bad things that come with those choices. It can be sad.

Aren’t you glad I didn’t write about ventilators?

More Good News

This is more about my recent excitement after watching a PBS presentation by Dr. Daniel Amen. I don’t know why I had never heard of his research before, since it is not new or hidden. First, look at all these acronyms and think of how many of them have affected you or people you love:

OCD – obsessive compulsive disorder

ADD – attention deficit disorder

PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder

TBI – traumatic brain injury

and then there’s also depression, anxiety, epilepsy, dementia, Alzheimer’s and a whole range of behaviors that we call mental illness and that are becoming common words in our society. The science of mental health was always kind of mysterious to me in nursing school, and since then as well. Sometimes therapies worked, sometimes worked for a short while, sometimes not at all. Medications were so “trial and error” oriented that they were discouraging. Many of them produced side effects worse than the condition they were treating. What I saw had me thinking that having a brain problem was a sad and permanent downhill course. And that is why I am so thankful for this research that shows otherwise.

Dr. Amen is a clinical neuroscientist, a psychiatrist and a brain imaging expert. His research includes over 83,000 of a particular kind of nuclear medicine images called SPECT or (get ready for big words) single photon emission computerized tomography. What this is, according to WebMD, a gamma camera that rotates around the patient taking pictures from many angles which a computer then uses to form a cross sectional image.

When I saw the before and after images of brains having some of the above listed mental health diagnoses and saw visible improvement that correlated with behavior improvement, I became a believer in what he was saying. You need to go look at these images, seriously. He explains it very well in some of his TEDx talks (like this one, click here). A couple of his most important and revolutionizing statements are “When your brain is not right, your relationships won’t be right” and “Change your brain – change your life, and here’s proof”.

I’ve not been diagnosed with a mental health issue. I’ve never been in therapy (although I’ve wished many times to have been) but I’ve had mild concussions, PMS, headaches, periods of anxiety, deep sadness. Who hasn’t? I’ve watched patients with dementia and worried that I would someday struggle with that. I’ve watched friends go through the stages of Alzheimer’s dementia and cried with their families. This is the first time I’ve heard that we can see even these things before they happen and do something about them. We can understand  what’s going on and counter with proven strategies instead of “shooting in the dark”, as Dr. Amen puts it.

(Btw, if you are a parent with a child who plays football, you need to hear about his treatment of professional football players with brain injuries. Even supposedly mild blows to the head create some images that show amazing amounts of damage, but the improvement that can be made is equally amazing.)

So that’s what has me excited. I’m going to watch more of his presentations. A lot of his treatments are related to exercise, good nutrition, good sleep, and good thoughts. In other words, it’s do-able and we should be doing it. Again, just sayin’.

Mind – a four letter word…

I happened upon lindaghill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday with the word “mind” as a prompt. http://lindaghill.com/2015/08/21/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-august-2215/  I have not linked to something of this kind before so we’ll see how it goes.

What it brought to MIND was the way people around me seem to be in fear of losing theirs.  One example is the husband, who is always shaking his head over something he’s forgotten he did.  He makes notes at work so he can look back and remember.  He looks at the notes and can’t believe he wrote them.

So I forget things too, and I have to say I forget things more than I used to.  Sometimes I am talking and I know what I intend to say but I can’t think of the word I want to use.  I can try to say the thought in a different way, but I want that one word.  I know I’ve used it many times and it is a friend of mine but it won’t come out.  I used to never remember the word for this awesome flower, hydrangea, and I would mull it over for a couple hours…” what is that word, what is that word, I think it starts with C, no J, no G, no…” and then I fixed the problem by calling it water flower because I can associate water with hydro and  *presto!* it pops into my MIND.

And I have trouble remembering what kind of dog Charlie is.  I can always remember terrier but not the specific kind.  Conquered that too, it’s Wheaten.  And he is the color of wheat so will I forget it? No, it just takes me a couple seconds to remember what to call his color.  He is not a Beige Terrier, or an OffWhite Terrier.  I’m confusing myself.

And so what if I remember to lock the door but leave the key in the lock on the outside.  I don’t know how a person does that but I’m sure it’s because I get distracted with all the things on my MIND.

I have had several clients with Alzheimer’s  and that is indeed something to fear.  Whatever it is that messes with their minds is really an enemy and I have deep compassion for people who lose family members to that disease.  My mom always says that she hopes if she gets it she won’t be upset because she won’t remember being any other way.  I hope if I get Alzheimers I will do it in a happy way, and everyone I am with will be like meeting a new friend every time I see them.  That would be lovely.

Hey we all forget. And we forget more as we age.  But we don’t forget everything and I’m praying about it, thinking that it’s just one more thing under God’s control.  If I’m his servant, then I’m his problem and he can figure out what to do with me.  I don’t MIND.


Maybe you would like to do a SoCS post? If so, here are the rules and the link to use is in my first paragraph.

1. Your post must be stream of consciousness writing, meaning no editing, (typos can be fixed) and minimal planning on what you’re going to write.

2. Your post can be as long or as short as you want it to be. One sentence – one thousand words. Fact, fiction, poetry – it doesn’t matter. Just let the words carry you along until you’re ready to stop.

3. There will be a prompt every week. I will post the prompt here on my blog on Friday, along with a reminder for you to join in. The prompt will be one random thing, but it will not be a subject. For instance, I will not say “Write about dogs”; the prompt will be more like, “Make your first sentence a question,” “Begin with the word ‘The’,” or simply a single word to get your started.

4. Ping back! It’s important, so that I and other people can come and read your post! For example, in your post you can write “This post is part of SoCS:” and then copy and paste the URL found in your address bar at the top of this post into yours.  Your link will show up in my comments for everyone to see. The most recent pingbacks will be found at the top.

5. Read at least one other person’s blog who has linked back their post. Even better, read everyone’s! If you’re the first person to link back, you can check back later, or go to the previous week, by following my category, “Stream of Consciousness Saturday,” which you’ll find right below the “Like” button on my post.

6. Copy and paste the rules (if you’d like to) in your post. The more people who join in, the more new bloggers you’ll meet and the bigger your community will get!

7. As a suggestion, tag your post “SoCS” and/or “#SoCS” for more exposure and more views.

8. Have fun!

Today’s List

Today I made a list, which I almost never do anymore.  There were some important things that I didn’t want to forget.  I am never sure of my lists – are these the most important things? what am I forgetting? can I possibly do it all? But I did make the list and then prayed that if it mattered at all, I would be directed what to do.

And then I did other things, none of them on the list.  I guess it didn’t matter?

But it was ok.  I had made the decision someone else’s.

Today I helped my employer, somewhat longer than I had planned, but she needed it.

Today I returned a phone call and as a result, someone who needs a place to live, might have exactly what they wanted.

Today I fed someone who couldn’t feed herself. The food looked disgusting (pureed) but she ate it.  She had no response except to swallow and look at me once or twice. I felt overwhelmed with compassion.

Today I called the above person’s husband and told him that his beloved wife with Alzheimers was clean, fed and safe for one more day.

Today I came alongside someone who was helping someone else and hopefully answered some of his questions and encouraged him.  We made copies of his friend’s last will and testament.   We went to a restaurant and I had a strawberry shake while I watched him eat his burger and fries.

Today I let my cat sit undisturbed on my lap for half an hour.  It was the only time I was stationary at home and it did me good too.

None of these things were on my list, but they were on God’s list and ultimately I was very satisfied.  I’m making a list again for tomorrow but I’m not going to worry about it. The God I believe in is also making a list which is far better than mine. Hopefully as I trust him, my list will match his more and more. That is really all he asks of me.

Where Did I Put that List?

Somewhere I have a list of things I wanted to write about but since I don’t remember where it is, maybe I’ll write about forgetfulness.

You know, I really don’t think it’s early dementia or Alzheimer’s. I think I’m just too lazy to commit every little detail to memory. I put high value on being free to act upon inspiration as soon as it hits.  This means that whatever thought preceded the new idea gets … forgotten, I guess.  I don’t quite understand what happens to it. Most of the time I don’t care either.  If it’s truly important it will come around again. I remember lots of stuff, just not when I’d most like to remember it.

Names? Where did I put my keys? Where is that missing credit card? Why didn’t I remember to record the last six checks I wrote? Is that baby shower tomorrow or next week? Did I close the garage door?  Did I turn off my cell phone ringer?  Did I turn on my cell phone ringer? What was that password? Did I take those clothes out of the washer? (no, they dried in there and that’s why they smell so funny).

The really good thing is that I’m an equal opportunity forgetter.  I forget the bad things as easily as the good things. I can’t remember much childhood angst, any really. I don’t remember details about bad grades in school, losing boyfriends, my several car accidents.  When I’m asked about my most embarrassing moment (and don’t we all get asked about that occasionally?) I’ve memorized one, just one, and only for that purpose. There have been many but I can’t remember them. I think that’s a good thing.

So, do I have a remedy for my forgetfulness? Yes, indeed I do. I don’t tell anyone unless I get caught.

I can have a decent conversation with someone without saying their name. I can look it up after.

Most of the time, if I’m patient, the lost gets found. Like the uncashed check I found in my pants pocket after two months – it was still good.

I still go kind of crazy over the missing credit cards, but hey, if that didn’t happen my purse would never get cleaned.

Memory is not all it’s cracked up to be.  I might be losing my mind but if I keep my mouth shut, probably no one will know.  I’m just sayin’…