Welcome to Season 3! Where does the time go? And what on earth will this year bring?
For those of you who haven’t been following this blog from the beginning, here’s a little background. I began writing in December of 2020, at the age of 69, having discarded my latest career as a political activist and wondering what I would do with the rest of my life.
I must have been feeling a bit down, because the future I saw was one of either (1) a slow march towards my demise with the inevitable declines in physical and cognitive abilities that are part of normal aging or (2) developing a dementia—the greatest fear of pretty much everyone who makes it this far—and slowly disappearing into a living oblivion. My thought at the time was to document my decline—no matter which path it took—until I couldn’t write anymore. I thought there might be some value for others if I catalogued my mental slip-ups and tried to figure out whether they were normal or pathological, thus the title “Mistakes On The Journey To Nowhere,” with ‘Nowhere’ being either the vacuum of memory loss or death. Nothing hopeful or uplifting about that world view, eh?
Searching for content for my weekly essays soon led me to explore the research about aging and dementia, a topic I had pretty much ignored in graduate school when I was earning my Ph.D. in clinical psychology in the late ’90s. Much to my surprise (and relief!), I discovered that, although there is no medication that can effectively ward-off dementia, there are things you can do to minimize your risk of developing it. So my writing followed that thread, exploring and documenting the 5 pillars of brain health: diet, exercise, sleep, cognitive challenge and social engagement.
More recently, I’ve begun exploring what it is that actually goes wrong in the brain to cause it to break down as we age. Although I quickly get lost in the chemistry, I’m fascinated by the elegance of the various biological systems that have evolved to make this most complex and vital of organs work so effectively for as long as it does.
So if you haven’t been here from the beginning, now might be a good time to go back and check out the first two seasons. Here’s the link to the first episode: S1E1. Happy Box. At the end of each episode, you can scroll down to find the link to the next. It might make for some fun binge-reading on a long winter’s night.
So now I’m on the cusp of turning 72 and still writing a 750+ word essay every week. I suppose that’s fairly good evidence that whatever ‘senior moments’ I’m having are probably age-related and not indicative of anything more sinister. I can still think creatively, research, find words, spot errors and edit, avoid using the same words repeatedly, and put together a coherent narrative. So far, then, so good. And the simple act of doing so is good for my brain health as it presents a cognitive challenge for me each week.
Where will this blog go this year? I haven’t a clue! I’m not writing from some master plan or outline. Each week is an adventure and I don’t know what will tickle my fancy until I get there.
For example, this week I came across a fascinating video that explored the symbiotic relationship between glial cells and neurons. When we think of the brain, we normally only think of neurons, the sexy cells that link up with each other and communicate via electrical signaling to encode, store and retrieve our experiences. But it turns out that there are far more glial cells in the brain than neurons and that, among other things, they clean up the chemical detritus generated inside your skull as by-products of your immune system and daily wear-and-tear. Without these janitors, the gunk in your brain would accumulate until it snarled all your circuits and you succumbed to a dementia. Conversely, the glia are using all this neuron-related trash as food, so without neurons, they couldn’t exist. It’s a perfect symbiotic relationship…and watching the video left me in absolute awe that such a thing could develop over the millennia as we evolved from the first worms with a nervous system to the noble piece of work that is the human brain.
But then I started writing and, as you’ve read, I got sidetracked onto a brief review of the history of this blog and the story about glia was put on the back burner. Maybe, if I remember, I’ll get to it in episode 2. If not, here’s the link to the video: Meet Your Microglia.
I hope this has whetted your appetite for Season 3, even though neither you nor I know where this road trip will take us. In any event, I’m glad to have you riding shotgun!