Re­mem­ber­ing Andrew

Manila Bulletin - - Views • Features - By FLORANGEL ROSARIO BRAID My email, Florangel.braid@gmail. com

TO­DAY marks the 101st birth an­niver­sary of my hus­band Andrew who passed on 13 years ago at 99, 40 days short of be­com­ing a cen­te­nar­ian. My small fam­ily here (the oth­ers are in Canada) will cel­e­brate by re­call­ing some of the pas­sions of his life – his love of mu­sic (he played the bag­pipes, loved to sing many of the fa­vorites of his gen­er­a­tion and mine), his life­time of ser­vice in the co­op­er­a­tive move­ment, and his gift of writ­ing and sto­ry­telling, among many oth­ers, by start­ing to or­ga­nize his mod­est mem­o­ra­bilia, mostly of books, Scottish mu­si­cal in­stru­ments and scores, ap­parel, po­ems and sto­ries he had au­thored, and pic­tures of some of the high­lights of his ex­cit­ing and pro­duc­tive ca­reer that brought him to sev­eral coun­tries of Asia, Africa, Europe, and North Amer­ica.

We will have a fam­ily din­ner at a restau­rant that we of­ten pa­tron­ized and par­take of some of his fa­vorite dishes. And re­call many of his old jokes and say­ings.

Fol­low­ing our good friend Michael Tan’s col­umn on “Sun­down­ing,” let me share with read­ers my ex­pe­ri­ence with Andrew as his prin­ci­pal care­giver who su­per­vised sev­eral care­givers who at­tended to him 24 hours a day dur­ing the six-month pe­riod prior to his pass­ing.

“Sun­down­ing,” a term I only learned from his col­umn and af­ter googling, was a syn­drome that we ob­served dur­ing Andrew’s last few months. It is usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with de­men­tia but can hap­pen even to the el­derly who do not have the ail­ment. It is marked by ag­i­ta­tion, con­fu­sion, anx­i­ety and hap­pens dur­ing late af­ter­noon or night or some­times early hours of the morn­ing. And it hap­pens when it is dark and when one is in un­fa­mil­iar sur­round­ings. With Andrew, he would ask us to wheel him out to the gar­den and out­side the gate, urg­ing the care­giver to push him to­wards the trees and sun­light. He would com­plain about the TV set which is too dark, he says. We had a change of mat­tresses four times dur­ing the 6-month pe­riod and had a hos­pi­tal bed later, but he would stay in them for a while, pre­fer­ring to sleep in the large Lazy-boy which even had to be brought to the hos­pi­tal dur­ing the times he had to be con­fined. This prompted his doc­tor to re­mark that he should per­haps con­vince the hos­pi­tal ad­min­is­tra­tion to pur­chase Lazy­boy chairs for the rooms of geri­atric pa­tients.

But be­fore turn­ing 99, Andrew was still en­grossed with his cross­words, crack­ing joke with nurses and doc­tors at the hos­pi­tal (he was once called the poster boy of the hos­pi­tal), and still pur­sued nor­mal ac­tiv­i­ties.

Ear­lier, I ex­plained his longevity to diet which also in­cluded yo­ghurt and yakult and his en­gag­ing in mean­ing­ful ac­tiv­i­ties which med­i­cal sci­ence ex­plains as es­sen­tial in coun­ter­ing ef­fect of the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of our cog­ni­tive func­tions when our bod­ies get older and our brains shrink. This de­te­ri­o­ra­tion re­sults in a de­cline in mem­ory and men­tal ac­tiv­ity. But men­tal de­cline is not in­evitable as our brains can adapt if we go through what is called “pre­frontal ac­ti­va­tion,” a process that has given rise to the the­ory of neuro cog­ni­tive scaf­fold­ing. This is when the brain adapts by en­gag­ing in strength­en­ing ex­ist­ing con­nec­tions and form­ing new ones. It is done through phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and diet (eggs, ginko bilova, oily fish) that helps our bod­ies de­liver oxy­gen-rich blood to our brains and slow old age and mem­ory loss.

Since I have reached this stage (in fact, at 85. I am now in what I con­sider “bonus” years), I try to prac­tice mind­ful­ness and med­i­ta­tion prac­tices and ac­tiv­i­ties that al­low me to con­tin­u­ally en­gage with peo­ple and ac­tiv­i­ties that keep me men­tally ac­tive – read­ing, art lessons and paint­ing once a week, sit­ting on some six pro­fes­sional and vol­un­teer boards, and writ­ing this col­umn twice a week.

A hap­pier and more pro­duc­tive year to my fel­low se­niors!

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