A sea of late-spring dandelions outside my barn is leaning toward Cape Cod Bay in a stiff wind, a wave of yellow. I am drawn to the cluster. The dandelion — a French derivative for “dent de lion,” the tooth of a lion, with its sharp yellow leaves and believed to date back 30 million years — is born as a flower, becomes a weed, and dies slowly from the head down. Then its white, fluffy seeds, gentle blowballs, genetically identical to the parent plant, float away to pollinate the world.
And so it is with Alzheimer’s, the decay of a flowering brain, pollinating the world, and in cases like mine, genetically identical to the parent plant. I am anxious now every time I cut the lawn, trimming the lithe stalks of dandelions turned weed.
“What is a weed?” Ralph Waldo Emerson pondered in his essay “Fortune of the Republic.” “A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” Perhaps Emerson, who succumbed to Alzheimer’s, was contemplating the dandelion — a free spirit of a plant, a symbol of courage and hope, with relevance in medicine, legend, and in Christianity. In medieval times, the dandelion, a bitter herb, was a symbol for the crucifixion of Christ.
The virtue of Alzheimer’s today is a hope for redemption at a darkest time. It is my hope, and the hope of millions worldwide afflicted with Alzheimer’s, along with their selfless caregivers, that this demon of a disease be stopped before it ravages further. It’s been said that in 25 years there will be two kinds of people: those with Alzheimer’s and those caring for someone with the disease.
As Baby Boomers cross the divide of the golden years, a thief prowls at will to rob memory, purpose, and sense of self. Only a collective cry from the grassroots, the base of a dandelion, will energize the world and its governments to fund a cure and better care. Our Defense Department will likely spend more in the next two weeks responding to turmoil in Iraq than Capitol Hill will spend in a year for Alzheimer’s research.
While our government defends its political and economic interests, who is defending our minds? Like a herd of elephants, our nation in rote lumbers on to the call of the planet’s wild.
Elephants are my favorite. They have documented long-term memory, coveted now by Boomers. On a shelf in my office is a small ceramic elephant holding a fishing pole. I purchased it years ago from a gallery in Santa Fe, a cerebral place of awe-inspiring natural light. The ceramic serves to remind me daily of the need for retention and focus in my fight with dementia. The artwork has a place of prominence: It is the elephant in the room.
The word “dementia” is onomatopoeia for many, a word that conjures up a sound–in this case, a howl in the night or biblical images of a demonic maniac, a portrait that no one wants to own. Dementia is derived from the Latin root word for madness, “out of one’s mind,” an irreversible cognitive dysfunction, a walking nightmare in which you can’t escape the bogeyman no matter how fast you run.
Yet you still run. If one quits, you drift back, devoured by the beast. The best of runners in life have partners. My prayer is that we partner up from Capitol Hill to California to make Alzheimer’s a fading memory.
Greg O’Brien’s latest book, On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s, will be published this summer. He is also the subject of the short film, “A Place Called Pluto,” directed by award-winning filmmaker Steve James, online at livingwithalz.org. In 2009, he was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s. His maternal grandfather and his mother died of the disease. O’Brien carries a marker gene for Alzheimer’s.
The Huffington Post: The Lesson of the Dandelion
Nichole S says
I’m sorry for what you are going thru. I’m am a chronic lyme disease patient that found
their way back from the abyss. Patients get misdiagnosed with fibromylasia, arthritis, MS, Lupus, ALS, and Alzheimers… We thought my mom had Alzheimer’s but realized too late it was the lyme spiroketes eating up her brain. I contracted it in her house, on her couch. I too am Irish Catholic with an evangelical flare.. Why do I write you? While attending a physician seminar on lyme, autoimmune and inflamatory diseases, a Dr. Amin Katz presented on his reversing beginning and intermediate Alzheimers via using a “theraputic dose” of IVIG – Immugloblin. At that time, his research was not yet published, and he took it to the Alzheimer’s Association with little interest from them. He was told IVIG was tried and failed. What he found was those previous studies did not have the theraputic dosing he discovered. He presented the test scores, and the highly specialized brain scans showing the repair of the brain reversing Alzheimers on these two classses of patients. I forgot the % of patient’s success in the cohert but it was high. My mouth dropped opened… my mom could have been helped with this, and ironically, my sister is an IVIG nurse! Please contact ILADS (the international lyme and associated disease society) – a physician specialty organization. Dr. Katz presented in San Diego about two years ago. He did his research out of Washington, DC area. I hope it might help you. He reversed cognitive tests back to “normal” range. It was amazing, and sad that this hasn’t been acted upon. I know that IVIG is VERY expensive, and I wonder if the powers that be simply don’t want to cover it. Dr. Katz found that it took a LOT more doses, then ever previously studied to get a theraputic dose, and more often giving the doses had to be done to get these results. The cells that were dead couldn’t be revived, but he explained the brain has sleeper cells surrounding these areas that can be turned on, and then grow, replacing the dead areas with thriving neurons again. It was amazing… and he had the brain scans and cognitive data to back it up. He was a very caring doctor. You are a researcher and writer so its my hope this can help you, and perhaps help others and get this out in the public venue. (www.ILADS.org is where he presented.) I sincerely wish you well. Keep fighting. Miracles do happen. It did for me. Sincerely, Nichole, San Diego, CA