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.
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?