The search for Pam’s brain is no joke. There is no doubt that she has early Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinsonian tremors. Yet as of right now, I’m optimistic. Aricept was prescribed, Alpha GPC has been ordered, and the explanation is coming right up.
My redheaded wife and I’ve experienced a double barreled pair of miracles in the last eleven days, astoundingly positive interactions with not one but two different medical care practitioners. That has never happened before, at least not in the 17 years we’ve been together.
First, she had a routine physical health check-in with her GP on March 12, 2013.
Based on past experience, she was braced for that one–but got an extremely pleasant surprise. The doctor had completely revamped his practice since she’d last seen him, firing a couple of problem nurses, updating the office’s computer system, and (perhaps most importantly) hiring a personal assistant to ease his workload, a male nurse practitioner with awesome people skills. For the first time ever, he (the M.D.) even spoke openly about his regard for my spouse, stating to his assistant in Pam’s presence,
“I don’t know how she deals with everything she’s got to deal with. She’s a very special lady, and I’d hate to lose her as a patient.”
True, my honey still had to deal with extra levels of anxiety until March 22nd. On that day, she was to meet with her new Telemed psychiatrist. The previous one had been really, really good. Pam does not deal all that well with the anticipation of change. To add to the stressors, we were supposed to have her blood drawn for a number of tests and had run into difficulties with the lab. It would be a couple of weeks after meeting the new shrink before we could get it done.
No problem, as it turned out.
The nurse who sets up the session and monitors everything met us at the door leading from the waiting room to the Telemed / counseling rooms. I started things off with a sloppily phrased question, needing to know if I was to be included in this particular get-together.
“Do you want me?”
Yeah, I know. What a setup, With a totally straight face, the nurse fired right back, “If youi need me, I want you!”
Hey. She’s a biker, one of us. We were standing inches apart when this exchange took place. All I could do was laugh at myself for that one.
The session with the psychiatrist went even better. “What a doll baby!” Pam exclaimed after the meeting was over and we were back out in the parking lot, away from prying ears.
This practitioner is ultra-skilled, relatively young, open, with an obvious sense of caring and a softness to her that we’ve seen in very few psychologists and / or psychiatrists. There was an instant bond all around, with the practitioner sharing details about her own personal life–which is something she doesn’t usually do.
At one point, she told Pam, “You remind me of my mother!”
And even as a total stranger prior to to that Telemed session, Pam’s progressing trembles and difficulty in maintaining concentration were obvious to her. We’ve known for sure this was coming, even before the 2003 MRI that found those brain lesions, but to have the psychiatrist get the message loud and clear at first contact was impressive.
“Are you on anything for the dementia?” She asked.
“No,” Pam replied, “except for a few supplements I take.”
The doctor exploded. “Why aren’t they doing anything about this?!”
Wow. Double wow. Even triple wow. We’d been asking that same question for more than a decade.
1. Pam fakes it really well most of the time.
2. She looks slim and trim and they tend to refuse to believe she can really be that ill.
3. Her “regular M.D.”, the GP, tends to “assume” these issues are more due to Pam’s mental illness than to her physiological challenges…and he refuses to deal with mental issues at all.
The psychiatrist was not impressed: “I just met you, and I can see it. I’d like to get you started on something.”
She went on to tell us that she’d already lost not one but three close relatives who’d gone through progressive stages of dementia before passing on. In one case, she pretty much babysat an aunt whose husband died suddenly and left her entirely alone.
“Toward the end, she’d be screaming at me one second and hugging me the next. I don’t want to see you have to go through that, or at the very least, let’s try to hold it off as long as we can.”
There was more, but in the end, she prescribed and Pam agreed to try Aricept. “It’s the least bitey,” the doctor pointed out. “Every drug has possible side effects, but I’ve not really had anyone react badly to Aricept yet. Some have had to deal with dizziness or fatigue for a week or two until their bodies got used to it, but nobody’s had to go off it.”
Off to the pharmacy we went, picking up the prescription as Donepezil, which is the generic form of Aricept. It was to be taken in the mornings. Pam would be starting with the lightest available dosage, a 5 milligram tablet, and we would see what we would see.
What we saw was not pretty.
After we’d reviewed the pharmacology sheet that came with the prescription and I’d had a chance to check out Donepezil / Aricept on the Internet overnight, Pam popped her first pill this morning.
The dizziness was extreme. So was the can’t-keep-my-eyes-open fatigue. Eight hours after ingestion, the drug’s side effect symptoms were starting to wear off, but slo-o-owly.
“I can’t believe it,” she told me. “I’ve never had any little 5 mg pill wipe me out like this!”
1. She was no longer stressed about upcoming medical appointments.
2. With the Donepezil doing its thing, she didn’t have the energy to muster up a tremor! Her brain had pretty much just shut down!
Ghost to the rescue. “Tell you what. Let’s get this one out of your system. We know that what Aricept does is help boost acetylcholine levels in the body, and that most people with dementia have low acetylcholine levels. I found that out last night on the Net. Also, it’s an enzyme inhibitor, blocking acetylesterase–which is a good thing, ’cause acetylesterase tends to keep acetylcholine from doing its thing.
“So, let me see what I can find in the way of an acetylcholine boosting supplement. There’s probably something out there. If we can do it naturally, the doc will be just as delighted as we are.”
She heaved a sigh of relief. “Sounds good to me. I’m going to bed.”
And she did.
I took a nap right then, too. Pam offered me one of her Donepezil tablets–entirely in jest, of course. “Take one of my pills,” she advised, tongue firmly in cheek. “You’ll sleep for a week!”
Once up from my nap, I started doing research in greater depth. It felt like we might really be onto something with this acetylcholine, thanks to the psychiatrist putting us to the wise, but we needed to know more.What I found out was utterly amazing. It all made sense. Condensing those findings down to plain English and limiting them to a few key points, here’s the deal:
1. Acetylcholine was the first neurotransmitter ever identified by medical research scientists.
2. Without adequate levels of acetylcholine in the body, nothing is going to go right in the nerve department. In some parts of our biomolecular system, ACh (acetylcholine) keeps things going. In others, it calms things down. All as needed.
3. Nicotine mimics the action of ACh and caffeeine encourages ACh to get with the program.
I felt like the veil had been lifted from my eyes.
Nicotine: Her 42 year smoking habit had quite possibly substituted for natural acetylcholine production in the body for so long that the ACh “factory” atrophied, cut back, downsized as it were.
Caffeine: Her daily cup of morning coffee has probably been a lifesaver in more ways than one. She’s known she’s needed that to help her get rid of excess phlegm in her throat every morning, but neurotransmitter production? No clue.
That’s why we get mentally sharper with a cup or three of coffee! It’s neuro-legitimate!
And it will likely be a great idea for her to “stack” her new supplement (which I’ll get to in a minute) with her coffee intake, get the old one-two punch up and going.
Folks, I feel like I just struck gold in them thar hills.
Okay, so what did we come up with for an ACh supplement?
Uh…point of order: You can’t simply “take ACh”. It doesn’t exist outside the body. Turns out the marvelous Universe we call home has to make its own.
But there are supplements you can purchase that provide precursors to ACh…thus giving the body the raw materials from which to build bountiful batches of acetylcholine. And the magic word is Lecithin; Alpha GPC comes from Lecithin.
But..precisely which supplement looked like the best way to go?
Eventually, an interesting YouTube video provided the answer when the narrator stated,
“…Alpha GPC is the most expensive but also the closest to natural acetylcholine….”
That video is simply an unmoving slide of the acetylcholine molecule fronting an extremely understandable narrator’s voice.
The only remaining step (tonight) in the search for Pam’s brain? Go find the best available source of Alpha GPC and buy some. Unless “most expensive” turned out to mean something truly exorbitant.
Fortunately, it wasn’t that bad. We’re taking other supplements that cost more.
In the end, I settled on the Now Foods brand of Alpha GPC, purchased through Amazon–which ought to be giving me stock options, I’ve been buying from them so often. Amazon also has other brands available which may do just as well, but Customer Reviews on the Now Foods version were really high–4 and a half stars average, with (even more important) nobody at all giving it a 1 star smackdown.
Will it work? That is, will the Alpha GPC bring back Pam’s brain or at least hang on to the bits that remain?
I’m hopeful…and we’ll let you know.
Update: October 4, 2013. The original post (above) was written six months ago. Pam takes the Alpha GPC every day…except when she doesn’t. That is, she has days, sometimes several in a row, when she’s so “down” that ingesting anything at all is a Mount Everest sized challenge for her. Plus, her physical aches and pains have been so severe lately, along with coordination problems–think MS, which we suspect she has, though held in check more than most–that it’s sometimes difficult to sort out the mental sharpness factor from the rest of it.
However, my best estimate (as of today) is that the Alpha GPC does definitely continue to help her mental sharpness. The tremors have not been strong or frequent lately, either. Overall, we’re still convinced this is an essential supplement for her and well worth the investment.