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?

The New Normal (Our Life with LBD)

I don’t really know if it can be called normal. Normal seems to mean that something stays the same over a period of time, long enough that you can grow used to it. We can’t seem to grow used to things that are changing all the time as we deal with the husband’s problems. “Normal” has come to mean regular frustration as he deals with less of almost everything he needs in every situation.

It snowed yesterday and was wet, slushy and slippery everywhere we went. The husband’s shoes were getting wet and were clearly not what he would need for winter, so today we shopped for boots. This is something we both remember him doing by himself, but since he no longer drives, I am with him everywhere he goes.

The first thing we had to do in the shoe department was find a place to sit down. Dennis can’t walk very far or stand very long without getting tired, and he always has to sit to put on his shoes. We struggled. Putting on boots can be such hard work. I fetched pair after pair from the shelves, opened them up and pulled and pushed until he could get his foot down inside. Each time he had to stand and test out the feel of the boot. Up and down, over and over. He was worried about the small bench he was on as it would start to tip as he pushed himself up. We finally found a pair. I think he would have liked to go home at that point, but he had also wanted to get a new watch.

After pointing him in the direction of the jewelry counter, I thought, briefly, that I would let him look over the options and choose. But no, I decided it would be easier if I helped him so we went together.  His vision is one area where “less” keeps happening. In order to see the time he decided the face of the watch had to be white, with dark hands and numbers that were easy to read. No shiny reflective surfaces would be suitable. The band had to be easy to close. He would have liked one that showed the date, but finally decided that he would do without since he couldn’t read those small letters anyway. It didn’t take us very long to pick one out but by then he was really tired. He went to the pharmacy where they have benches, and sat waiting while I got a few groceries.

And we are getting very good at finding restrooms in all the places we go. This was Walmart and he had to walk to the far end of the store for that before we could leave. He walks very carefully, and very slowly.

Often we think of dementia as robbing a person of their memory first. That is not a given with Lewy body dementia. Right now some of the husband’s most frustrating symptoms are motor related. He has less strength, less balance, less flexibility, less stamina. He will tell you that he is also forgetful but I find that he can make himself remember most anything he wants to, given enough time. He may get overwhelmed with thinking too hard, but he still thinks correctly. He remembers. And that is what is hard – remembering what he used to be able to do, but no longer can.

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We got the boots.