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Tag: alzheimers

How to stay young? How to grow old? Dogs show us the way to both

foghat

Dogs have a knack for helping us accomplish our goals. Somehow, they seem to know what those goals are without ever being told. Maybe, they know our goals better than we do.

With no apparent effort, they can help us accomplish our missions … whatever the mission … even missions that are completely opposite from one another.

Dogs, for instance, can help us stick to a routine, or get us out of a rut. (Ace has done both for me.)

They can enlarge our circles of friends, and — at those times solitude might be best — keep it from getting too lonely. (Ace has done both of those, too.)

And they can both keep us young and show us how to grow old.

That last trick, I think, is particularly impressive.

Dogs, when you think about it, show us how to live our lives (in the moment, with abandon), cope with our maladies (with brave perseverance) and die our deaths (with grace and dignity).

Between the examples they offer, the similarities between our species and the uncovered secrets dogs may still hold, it’s no surprise that science and medicine and more than a few other fields of study are increasingly turning to them for answers.

What dogs have to teach us about living a healthy life — some of it obvious (if we pay attention), some of it suspected and undergoing research — was the subject of an article last month in AARP Magazine.

As it noted, dogs, as they continue to evolve alongside us, are increasingly mirroring us, right down to getting the same diseases and disorders.

“… This evolution is ongoing, a process scientists call convergence: Human and canine genes, shaped by the environment we share, are evolving in lockstep. Today, along with home security and leftover disposal, dogs confer a host of wellness benefits, especially to kids and older people,” the article’s author, David Dudley, wrote. “People with dogs sleep better, weigh less and get more exercise than dog-free peers.”

“And there are the less tangible perks, the ones cataloged in Marley & Me–style books. This burgeoning “dogoir” literary genre revolves around the reductive but basically correct idea that a dog is foremost an instrument of personal growth: It exists to ease your existential anxieties, impart lessons about love and friendship, and teach you how to be a better person.”

But as noted by Dudley, who weaves the lessons his dog Foghat taught him into the article, that’s just the beginning of what dogs might have to share.

He cites a couple of research projects as examples of the possible answers dogs may hold when it comes to aging.

Neuroscientist Elizabeth Head is studying elderly beagles at the University of Kentucky in an attempt to determine why, by age 6 or 7, they start showing signs of the microscopic beta-amyloid plaques that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

About a third of the beagles will succumb to canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, about the same percentage of Americans over 85 who will get Alzheimer’s.

“It could be that living in our environment — our food, our water, our homes — has made dogs more vulnerable,” she says.

Head thinks dogs might hold the key to defeating it. Past studies, she notes, have demonstrated that an antioxidant-rich diet and “behavioral enrichment” — a course of memory drills and new-skills training — can significantly delay or diminish plaque development and memory impairments.

At the University of Washington, Daniel Promislow, an aging researcher (in both meanings of the phrase), has assembled a team to join in a Canine Longevity Consortium. Through a a grant from the National Institute on Aging, they’re working on the first national longitudinal study on aging in dogs, which will include looking at how dogs stay so seemingly happy and carefree as they advance in years.

On the downside, as we all know, they can relatively suddenly become frail, forgetful and sick — as was the case with Dudley’s dog, Foghat.

“…He entered his dotage in roaring good health. Around his 18th birthday, I Googled “oldest dog in the world,” because I started to wonder if he was closing in on a record. He was what gerontologists would call a successful ager.

“And then, seemingly overnight, he wasn’t. If you have to go — and you do — a swift slide into decrepitude is the preferred way. The phrase is “compression of morbidity,” when the infirmities of age are delayed until the bitter end. Still, it’s no picnic. The joints went first. He started limping after a vigorous bouncing-a-soccer-ball-off-his-nose session. Then he needed help climbing into the car or crawling under the bed, his favorite sleeping spot.”

As Foghat declined, Dudley wrote, his “senescence appeared as both a comfort and a warning of what awaits: Some fears and eccentricities will lift with the years; others will only deepen. One by one, the things you love to do become too difficult and slip out of your life.”

With his death, Dudley says, “I was struck by the strange new stillness — the foreign silence of a household without a dog. It was as if a machine that had been humming in the background for a long time had suddenly been switched off.”

Amid that silence, Dudley, like many other grieving dog owners, started quantifying what he learned from Foghat.

” …And now that I’m no longer young, and he’s dead, I’ll do my best to follow the path Foghat blazed into my life’s last half…” he wrote.

“So eat the best food you can afford. Go for a walk, even if it’s raining. Take a lot of naps. Keep your teeth clean and your breath fresh, so that the people you lick will not flinch. And when someone you love walks in through the door, even if it happens five times a day, go totally insane with joy.”

(Photo: Foghat, the author’s dog, in 1995 at age 1, left, and in 2012 at age 18; courtesy of David Dudley / AARP Magazine)

Dog works in mysterious ways

Charles Sasser has Alzheimer’s, and over the past year he has all but stopped talking, according to his daughter.

The Albuquerque man will make some sounds when he’s with his two dogs, but he rarely utters more than a word or phrase.

So when he started talking — in full sentences — to his daughter’s dog, she made a video.

Abeyta, who writes often about her family’s struggles with Alzheimer’s on her blog, posted the video last week on YouTube — showing the moment Sasser, a Korean war veteran, began to speak to her dog, Roscoe.

Within a few days, it was nearing a million views, and generating comments — actual kind, caring, non-stupid and rational comments, many from strangers sharing their own stories.

Abeyta says her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,  a degenerative disease affecting memory, about four or five years ago. In the past year, he started to lose his ability to speak in sentences.

“I’m touched by the response to the video … They talked about how having a pet or connecting with music really gave them back a loved one with Alzheimer’s,” Abeyta told ABC News.

On her own blog, she wrote, “I had no idea the video would touch so many people or be shared so many times. The comments and emails – for the most part – have been a wonderfully moving procession of individuals sharing their own journey through Alzheimer’s or dementia. It is a cruel disease, and the kind words of others who have faced similar experiences has left me feeling not quite so alone in it all.”

No decision in reuniting man with his dog

baronthomas

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

A one-time school board president who in less than two years lost his wife, home and then his dog, appeared in federal court in Dauphin County Thursday to try and get his dog back.

But no testimony was heard in the case of Miles Thomas and his seized collie, Baron.  Instead attorneys were given 30 days to work the matter out amongst themselves, the Harrisburg Patriot-News reports.

“I would feel very badly if we couldn’t resolve this,” said District Judge John E. Jones III. “There is a very reasonable path to a reasonable agreement. … I am very hopeful that this conundrum can be worked out.”

Baron was picked up by the Humane Society of the Harrisburg Area in July after a police officer found the dog alone in Thomas’ car. The windows were slightly rolled down, but the Humane Society says the dog was panting, without water and covered with feces. Thomas was eating lunch at a restaurant nearby.

The Humane Society, while it says its actions were justified, has offered few other details, and Thomas’ attorney has said that Thomas, 73, though he was briefly homeless, deserves his dog back.

” I can’t get into the detail of how it’ll be worked out. I hope in the next 30 days, we can put this litigation behind us and move forward,” Andrew Ostrowski, attorney for Thomas, told CBS21.

Thomas, a former stock broker, once served as president of the Harrisburg School Board. In the past two years, he lost his wife, Anna, to Alzheimer’s, and later his home, after going into debt trying to cover her medical bills.

The federal judge ordered Ostrowski and Amy Kaunas, the executive director of the Harrisburg Area Humane Society to reach an out-of-court agreement in the case.

“I’m going to follow the judge’s orders and not comment on the case,” said  Kaunas. Kaunas left the courthouse with security, and the Humane Society told CBS 21 News that they had to hire protection after receiving threats in connection with the case.

The hearing ended with Thomas announcing that he would be able to visit Baron, who he hasn’t seen since July 26.

He lost his wife, his home, and then his dog

thomasTwenty years ago, Miles D. Thomas was a successful stockbroker, and president of the school board in Harrisburg, Pa.

In the past two years, life has been less kind.

He lost his wife to Alzheimer’s in late 2007. Then, unable to pay the bills that had mounted for her care, he lost his house and turned to living in a series of cheap motels, or sleeping in his car.

Last month, authorities seized his dog, a 7-year-old collie named Baron, when Thomas left him in his car while getting a bite to eat. Because he’s homeless, apparently, he hasn’t been able to get him back since.

Hearing of Thomas’ plight, an attorney filed a suit in federal court on behalf of the  73-year-old former Harrisburg School Board president, seeking to get the dog back from the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area Inc. The agency maintains that the dog is being held as part of a cruelty case but has declined to release details, and Thomas has not been charged with any offense.

“To me, he’s the greatest thing I have in the world,” Thomas said of his dog, the fourth in a line of collies the family has owned. “I love him so much, yet they try to keep me from him. I can’t understand that.”

Thomas says it was 76 degrees on the day he left Baron in the car, with the windows open, and that he was gone less than an hour.

When he returned, the dog was gone and an officer with the Humane Society  informed him his dog had been seized. 

Last week, U.S. Middle District Judge John E. Jones III issued a temporary restraining order barring the Humane Society of the Harrisburg Area from destroying or transferring ownership of Baron. A hearing is scheduled Sept. 3.

“I couldn’t imagine letting this man go without his dog,” Attorney Andrew Ostrowski told the Harrisburg Patriot-News. “He cares deeply for the dog, and he’s seriously affected by this. In my view, it’s a federal, constitutional civil rights issue, and I won’t shrink from it.”

Ostrowski said he’s also pursuing a civil suit that seeks damages.

Amy Kaunas, Humane Society of Harrisburg Area executive director, said  that Thomas’ dog was seized as part of a cruelty investigation initiated by a referral from the Middletown police.

She declined to discuss specifics of the case, but said animal-cruelty statutes require that animals be provided with adequate shelter and access to food, water and veterinary care.

Thomas fell more than $100,000 in debt after his wife spent three years in a nursing home, the Harrisburg newspaper reported. But he insisted he always took care of his dog. “I took better care of him than I did myself,” he said.

Since early August, Thomas has been living with Stephen Conklin, a friend of attonrey Ostrowski’s, who took Thomas in at his farm in York County.

Now that Thomas has a stable home situation, Conklin said the thinks the Humane Society should return the dog to him.

Ostrowski, contends that the animal agency pressured Thomas into signing over his rights to Baron two days after the dog was taken by the agency’s canine officer, threatening him with a $750 fine and up to 90 days in jail unless he turned over the dog. 

(Photo: CHRIS KNIGHT, The Patriot-News)