Algid: chill, cold, freezing, frozen, frigid
Today starts a new enterprise, a journey to increase the size of my hippocampi.
A recent Prevention Magazine article: How to Beat Alzheimer’s at Its Own Game by Mike Zimmerman, spoke to the ways one can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Among good advice like eating well, exercising, and getting a good night’s sleep, it suggested memorization might help us grow our brain—specifically the hippocampus, which is in charge of short-term memory (among other things).
There are two hippocampi that make up the structure called the hippocampus, and each section is roughly the size of your thumb. Unfortunately, with age, this little structure shrinks over time. The number they quoted in the article was 0.5% a year—every year starting around fifty years of age! That is a staggering decline. The article then went on to reveal that it doesn’t have to be a one-way, slippery slope into dementia, we can actually grow our hippocampi, make up the deficit, and gain back years of mental focus and clarity. We do this by challenging our wilting and lagging memory function. In other words, if you want bigger biceps, you have to lift weight heavy enough to force the muscle to rebuild and repair. If you want a bigger hippocampus, you need to challenge your short-term memory regularly in order to build new brain cells, make new connections, and establish new neural pathways.
This, I’ve decided, is where my good friend Webster comes in.
I’ve had this wonderful dictionary forever. It’s my go to, for obscure words, or when I swear a word exists, but I can’t find it in my lighter, much more portable, pocket version. I recommend everyone get their hands on a real, thick tome of a dictionary. There’s so much to learn in these beauties!
So, back to Alzheimer’s and Webster. Every day, I will be looking up a word in the dictionary and committing it to memory. I will use the three ‘Rs’ of reading to help me make connections. These rules of learning so rigorously delivered by all three of my children’s English teachers in elementary school are: retell, reflect, and relate. I’m hoping with this approach, the elusive new word will actually stick to my shrinking recall and help me flex my atrophying memory muscles.
I just finished reading Still Alice by Lisa Genova for my book club, and the entire time I was reading it, I was left wondering, am I going to get Alzheimer’s? My grandmother suffered terribly from the disease, and unlike Lisa Genova’s more uplifting authorial vision of the infliction for Alice, my grandmother lived in a very scary place. Wherever or whenever her memory took her, it was full of fear and suffering. She would often cry out and scream for the safety of her children, or for her husband. It was terrifying, and I was just watching it. She was living it, day in and day out.
My father-in-law is currently in the grips of his own battle with the illness. He too suffered from the negative effects of Alzheimer’s, with the disease bringing out episodes of violence and aggression, until it became dangerous for my mother-in-law to care for him.
It is a frightening disease, and for those of us passing from our twenties to thirties to forties and beyond, and for any one of us with children, or jobs, or multiple responsibilities, a lack of sleep, or stress, we may find our short-term memory sinking to dangerously tapped-out levels. When we read a book like Still Alice, we begin to seriously freak out that this could be happening to us. Right now. Even if we’re not aware of, or are we? That book messed with my head. But I wasn’t the only one. Several other moms in my book club also feared for the wellbeing of their intermittent memory recall. The book raised the spectre of fear, which dug its little hooks into my brain, but I’m determined to shake them free.
So … algid. Let’s see how I’m doing with the three ‘Rs’. I’ve retold the findings represented in Prevention Magazine, and I’ve reflected on my own reasons for starting this journey, including my grandmother, and the book Still Alice. Now, it’s time for me to relate the word to something so I can keep algid alive and well and fill up some good hippocampi space.
I have very low iron. In fact, I live with chronic iron deficiency every day of my life. It’s exhausting. I’m not anemic, but don’t bother telling my body that. I have algid hands and feet, and I’m stuck in a state of perpetual algidness. In the algid air of a winter’s morn, I’m bundled in twenty layers, and I’m still shivering. As I look out my window upon the algid landscape, fresh green grass and spring daffodils lay buried under a layer of ice and snow. I pine for warmer weather and the return of summer’s heat and glorious sunshine. Oh, if I could only break free from this algidity!
Until then, Razz and I will huddle in front of the fireplace and wait, ever so impatiently for the algid temperatures to final rise and stay above zero!