October 3, 2018

Meet our Brain Health Champion – Doing it Right Spotlight: Medical Health

Meet our Brain Health Champion – Doing it Right Spotlight: Medical Health - NancyMEET NANCY

AGE: 74

Average BHI score: 78

Motto: “Communication is the key.”

Her key to keeping sharp? Facing fears through creativity and action.

Taking Action

One of Nancy Nelson’s fondest wishes is that “hope” and “Alzheimer’s” be spoken together. She shared that aspiration with guests at a May 30 luncheon where she was honored as the 2018 Nevada Senior Citizen of the Year.

Presenting the award was Herbert E. Randall, EdD, Founder and Chair, Aging Services Directors Organization and Nevada Delegation of the National Silver Haired Congress Ms. Nelson was nominated by Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske.

Ms. Nelson shares her mission of hope with many community organizations and individuals: the Alzheimer’s Association’s annual conference, Nevada Senior Services and Visiting Angels, memory care community residents and their families, occupational therapy students, educational presentations at Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. She works tirelessly in memory of her father, who succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease, and says it’s important because her children will likely be affected. “Every day I look skyward and say, ‘I’m sorry, Dad, I wish I’d known and done more.’

An Unwelcome Finding

Ms. Nelson has not escaped: She received a diagnosis of early Alzheimer’s disease in 2013. Her reaction? “If you get a diagnosis, don’t sit down and stop living. Get up, investigate and get tested again.”  

Believing strongly in research, she enrolled in COBRE, a longitudinal, observational study, at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.  It was through that study that she received a brain scan at no cost and learned that amyloid —a biomarker of Alzheimer’s disease — was present in her brain. Yet, her hippocampus, a region that often atrophies in Alzheimer’s disease, had shrunk only slightly.

“I never have said, ‘I have Alzheimer’s.’ I just say I’ve been diagnosed with it, “explains Ms. Nelson. “When we say it, we become it, and I don’t want that.

“We have every responsibility to ourselves, our children and grandchildren to take action and do things to reduce our risk. You have to be socially active, eat correctly, be in tune and participate. Research is critical.”

Discovering Poetry

Nancy Nelson wants people to know that a diagnosis isn’t the end; it’s a beginning. For her, that new beginning involved scribbling down the thoughts that were waking her in the wee hours of the morning. For the first time in her life, she started formulating thoughts into poems, some of which she published in a collection called “Blue. River. Apple.”, the very words she was unable to recall during her first neurological exam.  

What’s different about her insight as someone with a diagnosis?  

“I offer a bird’s eye view of an outside reality,” she says. “If there’s fear associated with that reality, you need to turn and face it. Just like if you hear footsteps behind you, you’re supposed to turn and do your best to intimidate that stranger.”

Making a Difference Through Research

If you’re interested in using your brain to participate in research at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, contact us at healthybrains@ccf.org.

Nancy Nelson wrote this poem as her acceptance speech at the 2018 Nevada Senior Citizen Awards luncheon on May 30.

Finding Grace

How and when does Grace appear
in a life that seems to be
in constant internal upheaval,
with many a daily change,
even changes within a diagnosis?

Feelings of no-I-don’t, yes-I-do,
a busy mind that’s uncontained,
where no one can possibly
survive the strong under-surface currents
of dementia variables,
or Alzheimer’s disease, a condition I call the A’s,
or Mild Cognitive Impairment,
a diagnosis of HOLD-ON … and, just-you-wait!

Whichever it is . . . it continues methodically
dragging, pulling down
Five Million Americans,
Thirty Million globally,
relentless in its over-reach.

Years of first stages, unseen by the common eye.
Unimaginable . . . to those not diagnosed.
Just imagine hearing, “You have early onset Alzheimer’s!”

And, hey!
the numbers are growing,
relentless in their flashy forward-ness.
By 2050 an estimated
Sixteen Million Americans,
One Hundred Sixty Million globally
will be looking for Grace amidst AD.

Gives no pleasure to think,
this kaleidoscope will perhaps encompass
You. A Loved One. Or a Dear Friend.
And then, it’s you and yours looking for Grace
in a condition that provides none.

How can any one of us be expected to fathom Finding Grace,
when it’s all about the losing of one’s self?

Until it happens to us . . . it’s only a guess.

Communication is Key!

With Dad on my shoulder, my family, bonus family, dear friends and you, here with me today, I share my solace and resolve of an Alzheimer’s advocacy using words like HOPE and ALZHEIMER’S spoken together.