First Things First

Houston, We Have a Breach!

By Lora Felger

Have you ever sat down and really thought about how happy you are for your brain? Seriously, though, stay with me here. Warts and all, isn’t your brain like your favorite part of your whole body? What can you honestly say is better looking than your brain? Your big toe? Your ears that you inherited from your father? That weird bald patch you keep combing your hair over? Our brains are gorgeous! Unique, complex, flawed, brilliant centers of everything.

I recently had a bout with COVID-19. I felt like I had the flu for three days, and then my fever broke. After that, it was just that irritating alternating clogged-nostril thing and a good solid cough. The worst symptoms, however, were the ones that lingered with me for about three weeks. First, I lost all sense of taste and smell. Zilch! Couldn’t taste hot sauce or smell Vicks® VapoRub™.  That was a seriously unnerving experience. It also made me realize that the loss of this sense meant that nasty little viral bully had traveled up into my brain. Your brain runs your senses – so if you lose them, then your brain has been affected. Houston, we have a breach.

I also experienced what they call “COVID brain.” My word recall, organizational skills and ability to fully concentrate were all affected. It’s not like you can take two aspirin and hope those things return in a few hours. I had to wait it out and hope all my brain function would come back online on its own. What a terrible and helpless feeling that was. It took faith and patience, two items I am short of even with a healthy brain.

After a nice 10-day vacation and a lot of time just letting myself rest and heal, I’m blessed to say that my senses have returned, and my brain is back to its old self. The fog has cleared, and I can almost hear the well-oiled gears in my head turning at optimum capacity.

What can we do when the gears in our head are not turning at optimum capacity? Maybe there’s a squeak or a rattle in there somewhere that indicates trouble to come. What can we do now to keep those gears from burning up completely and sending smoke out of our ears?

  1. Two recently published health studies demonstrated the link between eating processed foods and cognitive decline. One was published in the Journals of Gerontology and the other was from Nutrition. The main takeaway? Clean up your diet and help make those gears in your head turn more smoothly. Check (begrudgingly, but yes, check.)
  2. Get active and wear a helmet when needed. Get some good oxygen flowing to that beautiful brain and keep it safe if you happen to bump your noggin while doing so.
  3. Feeling a little sluggish late in the afternoon? Take a good drink of water. Our brains are like gardens – they dry out.
  4. Challenge and stretch your brain to “infinity and beyond.” Studies show that continuing to learn new things will increase your brain’s muscle memory for doing and growing. How about starting by learning a new language? There are wonderful apps you can use right from your phone or tablet that’ll take you step by step toward becoming conversational in a new language. Un cerveau sain est un cerveau heureux. That means, “a healthy brain is a happy brain,” in French!
  5. Get some sleep/good-quality rest. Many studies rank a good night’s sleep right up there with a good walk for better brain function.
  6. See your doctor regularly and talk to them about the subtle changes you may see in your cognitive function or thinking processes. Tell them about your sleep and ask for some help if you feel you’re not getting enough rest. The sooner a potentially adverse neurological challenge is identified, the sooner you can start working to slow the growth of the problem to take better care of your beautiful mind.

This Thanksgiving, I’ll be adding my ability to taste my meal to my list of things to be thankful for. I’m also going to start enjoying the way my mind works (in all capacities even those slowed by aging), because she is the only one I’ve got. And, boy oh boy, is she ever lovely!

Lora Felger is a Community Outreach/Medicare Advisor with FirstCarolinaCare. She’s the mother of two terrific boys, a world traveler and a major Iowa State Cyclones fan. She also has a naughty-yet-lovable yellow Labrador retriever named Harvey.

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