Communion Of Dreams

August 20, 2009, 10:02 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Health, NYT, Science, Writing stuff

As noted, I have been spending a fair amount of time working on the care-giving book, about the years that my wife and I cared for her mother here at home. And mostly this has consisted of going through all my old posts here which touched on that experience – there are at present 125 posts tagged with ‘Alzheimers’. Add in email excerpts, and the similar amount of material from my co-author, and you can get a sense of just how much editing and organizing work is involved.

But there’s also something else. It’s a odd sense of vertigo I get from re-reading this stuff. Because I am now far enough from being in the middle of it to have some perspective, but still close enough that a lot of the emotional content is immediately accessible and somewhat overwhelming. And then there’s articles like this one in the NYT by Natalie Angier, which really resonate:

Brain Is a Co-Conspirator in a Vicious Stress Loop

If after a few months’ exposure to our David Lynch economy, in which housing markets spontaneously combust, coworkers mysteriously disappear and the stifled moans of dying 401(k) plans can be heard through the floorboards, you have the awful sensation that your body’s stress response has taken on a self-replicating and ultimately self-defeating life of its own, congratulations. You are very perceptive. It has.

As though it weren’t bad enough that chronic stress has been shown to raise blood pressure, stiffen arteries, suppress the immune system, heighten the risk of diabetes, depression and Alzheimer’s disease and make one a very undesirable dinner companion, now researchers have discovered that the sensation of being highly stressed can rewire the brain in ways that promote its sinister persistence.

Ayup. Independent research confirming a lot of the stuff I talked about in all those Alzheimer’s posts. Another excerpt from the article:

Unfortunately, the dynamism of our stress response makes it vulnerable to disruption, especially when the system is treated too roughly and not according to instructions. In most animals, a serious threat provokes a serious activation of the stimulatory, sympathetic, “fight or flight” side of the stress response. But when the danger has passed, the calming parasympathetic circuitry tamps everything back down to baseline flickering.

In humans, though, the brain can think too much, extracting phantom threats from every staff meeting or high school dance, and over time the constant hyperactivation of the stress response can unbalance the entire feedback loop. Reactions that are desirable in limited, targeted quantities become hazardous in promiscuous excess. You need a spike in blood pressure if you’re going to run, to speedily deliver oxygen to your muscles. But chronically elevated blood pressure is a source of multiple medical miseries.

“Think too much.” Gee, I don’t know anyone who does that.

Well, I mean, those 125 posts about being a care provider can’t possibly be evidence of that, can they?

Jim Downey

1 Comment so far
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….now researchers have discovered that the sensation of being highly stressed can rewire the brain in ways that promote its sinister persistence.

Similar, I believe, to the effect certain drugs have on the brain. It gets rewired so that it needs them. Which is scary to think that there are persons whose brains need stress.

Comment by ML

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