I took a trip back to Texas to visit my parents a couple of weeks ago. Very quickly I realized that my dad’s health is continuing to worsen. He was diagnosed with depression in the 80’s, and doctors of course prescribed antidepressants. He has become more sedentary with age, and his mood swings spike almost daily. He is also suffering from memory loss similar to Alzheimer’s.
A retired Chemical Engineer my dad spent most of his life on the geek side of the world. He is one of the reasons that I love science and became an engineer. Today he can’t remember how to look up movie times online. About 5-10 minutes after a conversation he has no recollection. Mom and I had to tell him where we were going no less than 5 times on the way to the zoo 20 minutes away. The sad part is he doesn’t even try to remember things on his own. He has an immediate response of, “I don’t know/remember” or asks my mom for the answer. On the other hand most of his long term memory seems to be intact.
Dad is sedentary to a high degree. He lies in bed most of the day napping and snoozing. He has always been a bit of a night owl, but now he stays up in his Lazy Boy reading (usually sci-fi) until 2 or 3am because he can’t get to sleep at night. He and mom play cards with their friends a couple times a week, and they go out to dinner about once a week. That’s the extent of his social calendar and activity.
He has trouble writing and typing. He can walk pretty well, but his right side drags a bit from a couple of strokes he’s had in the past. The more fatigued he gets the more his right side droops. I got him to go to the local gym with me once while I was visiting. He was very reluctant, but he eventually gave in. He has had physical therapy appointments at the gym in the past, so he has been there quite a few times. They have his regimen on file and printed it out for him. I had him walk for 5 minutes on the treadmill, and then he just sat down in a chair. I gave him a few minutes, and then reviewed his routine with him. We walked over, and got him started on the typical isolation machines. I wanted him to do something he was somewhat familiar with since he hadn’t been there in a long time. Maybe next time we’ll do something completely different. He did 15 reps on 6 different machines, and we went home. The next time I tried to get him to go to the gym, he was adamant about not going.
When we went to the zoo the next day he had to walk quite a bit. I was concerned he wouldn’t make it, but he did great. He had to rest a little towards the end, but he made it and was in great spirits the whole time. The next day his spirits were up, and he didn’t sleep as much. He had some great moments with Pumpkin, and his twisted sense of humor popped up a few times.
Dad’s mood swings are frequent. A moment of confusion can set him off. Also if something doesn’t quite go his way, he can fire off some unpleasantness.
When a doctor diagnosed dad with depression, they immediately started antidepressants. Antidepressant drugs affect people differently, so he spent about a year figuring out which drug worked for him. Even when he found one that seemed to help, the “positive” affects only lasted a short time. The doctors then started messing with his meds again to find another drug that worked.
Dad’s brain is shrinking. Fluid fills the atrophied areas. I attribute this to a few possibilities. If you don’t use it, you lose it. Most age-related losses in memory or motor skills simply result from inactivity and a lack of mental exercise and stimulation. While he reads and plays cards, my dad does very little that stimulates his brain. He doesn’t move. Exercise is critical to health, and that includes brain health. Exercise helps increase the blood flow to the brain which brings oxygen and glucose, and removes metabolic waste. Exercise stimulates the brain to create new neuron connections, thus encouraging brain growth. The potential cause that hit me the hardest was the possible side effects of antidepressants.
Chris Kresser wrote a great (but scary) article on the hidden dangers of taking antidepressants at any age. The potential risks to children were disturbing with higher rates of suicidal thoughts, and an interference with brain development. At any age though there are side effects often treated with other drugs. He mentions the negative effects of long term antidepressant use, and discusses something called “amotivational syndrome”. Amotivational syndrome symptoms include apathy, demotivation and personality change. Antidepressants also have side effects including agitation, anxiety, nervousness and restlessness. Other long-term effects can cause permanent structural and chemical problems to your dendrites (part of your neurons) and serotonin receptors. Kresser writes that more and more research is pointing to antidepressants as the cause for depression relapse when used as a first means of treatment. The drugs can cause more harm than good.
My dad may never recover even if he stops taking antidepressants and the many other drugs he has been prescribed, starts an exercise program and does more to stimulate his brain. My hope is, however, that you benefit from this post or someone you love does.
In reality antidepressants are just one group of drugs where side effects are damaging. We were heavy ibuprofen (part of the NSAID family) users at one time, and have fairly recently discovered the damaging side effects to your ligaments. Be very aware of the drugs you are taking. Don’t blindly take your doctor’s word. Do your own research online, and pay for medical research and articles if necessary. Ask the questions, and drill your doctor. Robb Wolf has created the Paleo Physicians Network which may not be THE answer, but should be a good start. Get answers before doing any unnecessary damage to your body or your brain.
Workout of the Day 1/3/2012
A. Hand, Wrist, and Shoulder Warm-Up
Then, Hand-Walking Progressions
Shoulder Taps against Wall
Sideways Walk against Wall
B. 5 Rounds for Time:
30 Air Squats
10m Handstand Walk
A. Hollow Holds and core work
B. Strict Press
B. 4 Rounds
20 Air squats