Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Truth is Out There

Finally. The truth is getting out there. And it will continue to be revealed. Too bad my fellow members of the media failed to do their jobs in the first place and present all the evidence.

I direct your attention to two articles recently published that discuss all of my previous concerns about Dr. Zamboni's Liberation treatment for MS.

Article one.

Article two.

I spoke with a woman last weekend who held out hope for this treatment. When I explained to her that the evidence to support Dr. Zamboni was not there and that there still remained too many unanswered questions for people to be jumping on his bandwagon, she was greatly disappointed. I explained to her, as well, that even if this treatment actually worked, she would not get any better as far as her MS went. It just would not progress. (She is already greatly dependent on a wheelchair)

I asked her if she was a member of the MS Society, had she signed up for any e-mail lists to get up to date and reliable information about MS? No, she told me. Why not? She didn't really give me a good answer. A person with MS for 20 years not asking for information from the MS Society? Where did she get information? From the internet and from people who "cared" about her who heard about different things she should look into.

I am so frustrated, I am almost at a loss for words. Can you say "denial"? What does it take for people to open their eyes and use their minds for themselves? When will they realize that they alone are responsible for their health and they have to research for themselves what they are ingesting or submitting to?

Arrgh. OK, here's an example. A well meaning person years ago told me that I should try Noni Noni juice. So I checked it out. It's an interesting fruit found in the Pacific with a good bit of Vitamin C, though not as much as oranges. That's about all it's got, besides an apparently nasty smell. Claims of its medicinal uses ranged from treating ADHD to menstrual cramps and immune deficiency. Immune deficiency! MSers don't have immune deficiencies, we have overactive immune systems. Do I want to take something that might stimulate my immune system? Nope. My point is that I looked at this juice from both sides. There was no medical literature to support any claims of it being of benefit to me and if I want Vitamin C I'll have an orange. It's cheaper. So I made an informed decision about whether or not to use it.

We do this all the time when we get prescriptions from our docs. We are told why we should take a drug and what might happen if we don't and then we ask about side effects. We then have both sides to determine whether or not we should use the drug.

The other thing that is getting to me about this whole Zamboni affair, are the conspiracy theories that are popping up everywhere. "The docs and researchers are in the pockets of Big Pharma" is the mantra of these folk. "The docs and researchers don't want to look at anything that might put them out of business" is another line I hear. Bull feathers!! Any doc or researcher worth his salt will look at any idea that has merit and ask questions about how it works, and why it could or couldn't be of use.

I was wondering why CTV had not interviewed neuros who had opposing views to Zamboni, as that would have been the ethical journalistic approach. Apparently they did! But they didn't air those bits, which is just as unethical as not asking for opposing views. From this point on I'm afraid that I cannot trust the reporting of CTV on this or any other matter. (My personal boycott of CTV's program W5 will have little impact on them, I'm sure.) To be honest, if I hear a story that makes me think there's more to it than is being broadcast, I will research it. There is little I take at face value and I'm critical of the bigger news machines, especially when they omit information or distort facts. What else have they not told us? What else have they distorted?

As a member of the media for 25 years I had always joking said, "Don't trust the media". In other words, look it up for yourself. Get all sides of a story. Then decide.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Eagle Watch

We had a pretty busy weekend. The Halifax Rainmen started the PBL season earlier this month and we went to the second home game Friday night. Saturday morning we were up at 5 and on the road to go the Annapolis Valley for the Eagle Watch. I blogged about this event last year and since the Wookie has even more complex camera gear since then he wanted to take more pictures. Sadly, it was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay below freezing so neither of us lasted long after the pancake breakfast so he went back on Sunday. In the meantime we stopped in at a trout ice-fishing tournament to see what was going on. Pretty cool actually. I went into one fishing hut (really a tent) and chatted with the two guys in there. Very friendly. And the inside of the tent was extremely warm as they had a portable heater with them (sitting on a block of styrofoam, of course, so the propane tank wouldn't freeze sitting right on the ice, like it did last year - heh).

So without further ado, some pics of the weekend:

The ice fishing tournament:

Me in the ice fishing tent:

Hole in the ice with a sonar or radar type device called a fish finder:

A bunch of eagles in flight:

One in particular:

While the Wookie went back to the Valley on Sunday I went for a good long hike between Jack, Sandy, and March lakes. I saw plenty of rabbit and deer tracks and the temperature was much more pleasant than Saturday.

time to batten down the hatches as we've got quite the rain storm on the way for tonight.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

No News is Good News

Things have been relatively quiet for the past little while, thankfully. Most of the world is focused on Haiti right now, as it should be, so any complaints I may have are quite minimal. I thought I would share with you a couple of things:

One of my Christmas presents from one of my several friends named Kim. It's a Christmas Tree in a Box. Last year, Kim gave me a lovely ornament and I said I'd hang it on my bike (in the living room), as I didn't have room for a tree. So Kim found me a tree small enough to put on a coffee table and I assembled it on Christmas Eve.

I adore this tree. It's the perfect size and is easily assembled and disassembled. When the holidays are over, you just put it back in the box. And even though we now have a bike barn for our bikes and mine is out of the living room, I still don't have storage room for a big tree, so the Tree in a Box is just the thing!

On my daily walks or hikes, I have been taking an MP3 player with me. It was a Christmas gift from the Wookie. Now I can listen to all those audio-books I've been wanting to absorb. Since my first MS episode, I have had difficulty holding a hardcover book (or anything larger than a regular paperback) with my right hand. There are a whole slew of books, mostly non-fiction, that I've wanted to read but couldn't, when the audio-book idea came to mind. So I've been downloading and absorbing. And it's great! Plus, I've been listening to a few tunes and sometimes get a little dancing in on my walks. Sadly, no pictures of me dancing.

One morning was particularly calm as I trekked to the Bedford Waterfront. It was 7:30 in the morning but all the street lights and walkway lamps were still on and I stopped to sit at the end of the pier. The temperature was rather comfortable and had I planned for it, I could have had a picnic breakfast there.

I have also been observing several ducks on the waterfront. There are about 8 or 9 of these birds and they're rather shy. They dive under water if I get too close and come up 30 seconds later about 100 feet away. I can't seem to get close enough to determine what kind of bird they are, but I'm leaning towards golden eye. With any luck, one of these days I'll find out. My mission for this week I guess.

I had a job interview a week and a half ago, and although I didn't get the job, I can definitely say it was a good experience. It made me realize how much I depend on the written word to keep me on track. Note taking will be my secret weapon from now on. I certainly can't depend on my memory.

On the same day as my interview I brought some lemon loaf to the MS Clinic to mark my anniversary. 12 years now. If my MS was a human, it would just be entering that teenage angst, hormone pumping, pimple popping stage. I just hope it's better behaved than teenagers.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Observation + Imagination = Eureka!

Picture credit.

I recently re-discovered a cool website: Improbable Research. The authors are responsible for the Ig Nobel Awards, given to people in various fields for research that first makes you laugh and then think. One fella, J. Trinkaus has made hundreds of observations and written them up for various journals. Two of his "studies" stood out for me.

The first:
' “Compliance with Parking for Handicapped: An Informal Look,” J. Trinkaus, Perceptual and Motor Skills, vol. 58, no. 1, February 1984, p. 114.

Observed the compliance with handicapped parking regulations at a suburban neighborhood shopping center.... 30 citings of convenience were taken... Findings show that in the absence of police enforcement, general observance of parking restrictions... was normally practiced only when convenient.'

That didn't surprise me, really. I don't think things have changed much in 25 years. But it reminds me of the card someone once showed me that they leave on cars parked in those spots without the proper permit displayed:

Your handicap must be stupidity.

The second study:
' “An Informal Look at Use of Bakery Department Tongs and Tissues,” J. Trinkaus, Perceptual and Motor Skills, vol. 87, no. 3, part 1, December 1998, pp. 801-2.

Of 108 people observed extracting for purchase rolls or pastries from displayed bulk stock in food supermarket bakery departments, about 90% used their hands for item selection and withdrawal rather than the store provided tongs. In stores where tissues were provided instead of tongs, approximately 60% of the 133 people who were observed used their hands.'

That one doesn't really surprise me, either. I don't dare tell that bit of info to any of the germaphobes I know, though I suspect germaphobes generally stay away from those types of food bins because of that. Even though that study was done 12 years ago, I suspect it still holds true.

My personal observations indicate that common courtesy and common sense are not so common, especially when no one is looking.

Somewhere on that website (and my apologies to the author or authors, I couldn't find exactly where) was the equation "imagination = discovery". I would amend that to "observation + imagination = discovery".

We have all come across reports of studies that we deem ridiculous. "The Marshmallow Effect" was one of them. From Wikipedia: "In the 1960s, a group of four-year-olds were given a marshmallow and promised another, only if they could wait 20 minutes before eating the first one. Some children could wait and others could not."

At first glance, and if you have no knowledge of psychology, this study may seem a little silly, but it demonstrated that even at age 4 the kids could be divided into two distinct groups: those who could delay gratification, and those who couldn't. And then, "The researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence and demonstrated that those with the ability to wait were better adjusted and more dependable (determined via surveys of their parents and teachers), and scored an average of 210 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test years later." Now we can all understand the benefits of this study for child psychology (including perhaps teaching your child coping skills to deal with frustration). This experiment is also used to help explain some people's inability to save money for a rainy day. It may also help identify those children with behavioural disorders arising from biological causes (like fetal alcohol syndrome) and enable treatment. So it's not as silly as it first seemed.

Another study a while ago (forgive my inability to find it) that seemed to tick off a bunch of MSers concerned the effect of stress on a person's MS. The study showed that stress can cause a flare up of symptoms. Everyone with MS collectively shouted "duh". But even though MSers already "knew" this, there had been no quantifying information about it. By studying stress quantitatively, we now can do something about it. By observing and measuring the effect of stress on the human body, we better understand the body and its coping mechanisms: the hormones and other chemicals released, how they interact, what systems are stimulated, which ones are suppressed. In other words, the researchers can definitively show a physical reaction to a mental process. And that means we may be able to control (or affect) the physical reactions to a degree. I'm not saying we can control our MS. I'm suggesting that by knowing what may happen in a stressful situation may aid us in dealing with it, perhaps reducing the physical reaction.

To sum it all up, by making observations and using our imagination we will make discoveries and understand.


Friday, January 8, 2010

52 WBC - Week One

This past year saw my landlord construct a baby barn that sits on the front part of the property. It was built specifically for the few of us in the building who have bicycles and were getting tired of lugging them in and out, up and down stairs, nicking walls and doorways. It is a wonderful addition and greatly appreciated. Although now I haven't got a structure to hang my Christmas ornaments on (but that's another story).

Anyway, about a month ago, I put my bike rack in the barn as well. The day I did that, it was rather chilly, and I had a hard time getting the door open. Couldn't do it actually, without the help of our superintendent, Bruce. I supplied the screwdriver and he did the heavy work. The wood in the door had expanded with humidity, but it never contracted with the cold for some reason.

So today, being the end of the first week of 2010, and my last chance to begin my 52 WBC, I went to get the bike out of the barn. Couldn't do it. Went in to get the hammer to assist with the lock. Went back in to get the screw driver to assist with the door. Fetched the shovel to clear away some snow that prevented the door from swinging all the way open. By the time all that was done, I was pooped. But I was determined to get out on the bike today, as the weather's supposed to get colder tomorrow and for several days after.

I left the barn door unlocked when I went for my ride so I could have a little easier time of it to put the bike away. I was out for 30 minutes cruising around my neighbourhood, stopping to have a handful of mini shredded wheat. The temperature was hovering at -1 degree so my body wasn't cold, but my eyes watered like the dickens, and my cheeks were rather chilled if I pedaled faster than 5 kilometres an hour. Lucky for me, my legs are so not used to pedaling, I couldn't go faster than 5k an hour if my life depended on it. Four months away from the bike and my thighs are slacking off. I guess I have to get some serious hiking in to keep them in shape, as the walking isn't really an effective exercise for those muscles.

Back home, I struggled with the doors again, finally getting Bruce to come out and assist me. By the time I got back I was useless, the legs like jelly, fierce hunger (it was lunch time) making me weak, and a nap beckoning me. We figured out how to get the doors open and closed without the use of tools, though, so hopefully it won't be a half hour exercise to just get the bike out from now on.

And tonight? My legs are still like jelly. I'm afraid what tomorrow will bring. Very afraid.....


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cognitive Reserve Hypothesis

We all know that neurological disease can lead to cognitive impairment along with possible physical impairment. For many of us with MS, we may have noticed lapses in memory, ability to find the right word (tip of the tongue syndrome), unusual moodiness. Some of these things are part of the aging process, sometimes related to stress and/or hormones, and sometimes they are related to the disease.

How do we hold off these impairments? By the time we realize they exist, it may be too late as damage may have already been done. That's the scary part. However, we also know that the human brain is amazingly plastic and that we continue to learn things as we age, so continued brain stimulation by way of physical and mental exercise may help.

There is a hypothesis called the cognitive reserve hypothesis. It suggests that "enrichment protects against neurocognitive decline secondarily to disease" (from Wikipedia). "Lifetime intellectual enrichment (estimated with education or vocabulary knowledge) lessens the negative impact of brain disease on cognition, such that people with greater enrichment are able to withstand more severe neuropathology before suffering cognitive impairment or dementia." This is from the latest study of this hypothesis.

You can think of it this way. Two people contract a cold. One person is a health nut, eats right, exercises every day, gets the appropriate amount of sleep. The other person is a junk food junkie potato couch. The health nut has a good body reserve to fight off the cold within two days. The junkie, though, has no reserve and suffers for a week. The health nut has an "enrichment" of his health, the junkie doesn't.

The cognitive reserve hypothesis doesn't state that enrichment protects you from cognitive impairment; it simply lessens the negative impact. The two people I mentioned above both caught a cold, but one was impacted less than the other.
Cool, eh? I thought so. And it's related to the current study I'm in, the one about cognitive impairment and brain connectivity. You can bet your boots I'll be watching for more studies on this topic.

Let's face it. We have MS. We know it's neurological and degenerative, affecting physical and cognitive abilities. Some of the damage we have little control over. But there are also some aspects over which we do have control. We can get on a disease modifying treatment as soon as possible. We can eat right, reduce stress, get the proper amount of sleep and rest, stimulate our minds and exercise smart.

I have talked about exercising smart before but will sum it up for new readers or to prod those of you who may have forgotten. Stimulate your mind: do puzzles, but do different ones every day. Mix 'em up. The brain is stimulated by new things. You can do a Sudoku one day, a crossword the next, maybe some logic puzzles the day after, but mix it up. By doing the same ones every day, you become good at those kinds of puzzles, but the brain isn't doing anything new, so doesn't get the same stimulation.

Exercising smart is a pretty easy one. If you go for walks or hikes or whatever and don't have an Ipod or MP3 player, try doing multiplication tables as you exercise, compose a letter in your mind, try to recall a favourite recipe from your childhood. If you have a portable media player, listen to an audiobook, or Spanish lessons, or music that you normally wouldn't listen to. You can download free stuff from the library. Take different routes when you walk or hike. Remember, the point is to give your brain something new to work on. In other words, exercise your mind and body at the same time.

Another way to think of it is like this: your brain looks for patterns, whether it's music or words or what you see. These patterns are ingrained in our brain after years, kind of like the beaten down paths from base to base on a ball field. your brain will take the path of least resistance. If you expose yourself to something new and different, your brain first goes "What?" and then starts to search for familiar patterns. Not finding any, it gets down to the business of processing the information, beginning to lay down a new path. That is stimulation. And it's a good thing.


Friday, January 1, 2010

Seal of Approval

Just a day or two before Christmas, I was on my morning walk around the Bedford waterfront and a seal popped up in a little sheltered marina. I had never seen one in the Bedford Basin before though I know they're common in the Halifax Harbour. Turns out, they're common in the basin as well. The seal stayed for several days and even crawled up a boat ramp and onto the pier at the south end of the cove where he stayed for at least two days before being removed by authorities or leaving on his own (I'm not sure which it was). Because many people are stupid, police tape and a sign were posted warning folks to stay back from the animal. I got a "far away" picture of him at the very end of the pier. He's just sleeping by the bench.

We've had a mix of weather conditions over the past week or so that is so variable and unpredictable you can be wearing 14 layers of clothing in the morning and only two in the afternoon. As I am typing this we are expecting anything from a major snowstorm to rain this afternoon. Whatever. I'll be out in it, dressed appropriately, walking as usual these days. I have managed to take a few interesting shots of the ice on the river coming from Papermill Lake. The first shot is at the dam.

The second shot is a skirt of ice on one of the pylons that used to support the water pipe that fed the mill for Moirs Plant almost 100 years ago.

New Year's resolutions: none really, though I have now officially signed up for the 52 WBC. I'll be taking the bike out for at least 30 minutes every week for the next year. I have to work on my abs (they are under there somewhere). Oh, and get a job.