I love Fall in the Ozarks! A couple days ago it was 90+ degrees…and really had been for the entire month of September. We typically are at least 10-15 degrees cooler than that, a fact not missed by yours truly who drives Tempo One to work every day sans air conditioning. The last two days have been below normal and I had to start the process of swapping my silk and rayon for flannel and thicker cotton. However, there will be ups and downs the next month or two before winter and probably summer peeks its nose under the tent to check on us. Sometimes I wish the weather would just make up its mind!! My Hypothalamus is having to work overtime to keep this big Howard Johnson for my brain at just the right temperature and happiness level. It is pretty amazing that a few degrees too cool or hot and things go haywire, but the brain does yeoman’s work keeping us in whack. It is this part of the brain I want to discuss for a few minutes this morning as I daydream of pumpkin spice and wassail.
This little almond-sized gland in the brain tries to do the impossible…keep us happy and stable within our environmental surroundings (called being in a state of homeostasis)…and does quite well thank you very much. It is a marvel of creation, if you think about it. It keeps our body temperature at a comfortable 98.6 degrees and controls the release of many critical hormones. These specific hormones “govern many functions including hunger, sleep, temperature regulation, thirst, sex drive, mood, metabolism, and growth.” Part of this mini-nugget also controls your internal clock for time and for day/night differences. When the patient’s brain is compromised by our little dysfunctional family of diseases, this area is on its top 10 list of targets, as you can tell by the conditions that result. All of these hormonal areas that normally do fine (albeit in a gradual downhill slope with age) start free-falling. Hence the care giving partially becomes an attempt to fix these problems and take over/supplement these hormones as best we can. In the end, a whole body fails to do what an ounce of brain does for decades.
So, what can we do??? Temperature can be regulated externally to try to fix the haywire internal temperature, but the compromised brain fights it. Nursing staff may also fight it because what is comfortable for a patient may not be for them. Similarly, we can try to develop a rigid schedule of naps and of lighting such that sundowning is less common, but without this little nugget, it is also very hard. There are external “replacements” for everything that is broken when this little part is compromised, but all are a poor shadow of the correct functioning.
In conclusion, the brain is stinking amazing. It is a precision device, though. It requires operating on all cylinders, if you will, and when it does not, it is hard to help along manually. We are fighting a losing battle and we need to prevent this little gem from getting hurt as best we can. Remember, if you are concerned about getting the disease, do the best to take care of yourself. What is good for the heart is good for the brain (although nothing is foolproof). Exercise, a heart-approved diet, plenty of water…you know the drill. If you do not, Alz.org has tips and ideas for brain-healthy living.
Update: Mom had a good weekend, about the same as the new normal. I couldn’t make it by yesterday, but will see her today. We are apparently going to need to rid mom of her top denture plate due to mouth challenges. That is pretty sad to me although she won’t mind.