(This story is nothing remarkable, it’s the kind of thing which is happening every day. Nevertheless, it touched my heart deeply as it is so close to home for me. Been there and thru that. Will have a comment at the end.)
A POUND OF PERSEVERANCE
Even as she faces health issues, cookbook author
Paula Wolfert pursues her passion
By Emily Kaiser Thelin THE WASHINGTON POST
ERIC WOLFINGER THE WASHINGTON POST
SONOMA, Calif. — Since being told of her cognitive impairment earlier this year, Paula Wolfert swears, she has simplified her cooking. “I try to cook something every few days,” she says, “like practicing a musical instrument.” The plan makes sense for the 75-year-old cookbook author, in the early stages of impairment.
Yet her definition of simplified doesn’t necessarily match that of others. Her eight seminal cookbooks on the foods of the Mediterranean are known for challenging readers to become better cooks. During her four-decade career, she often tested a few recipes a day.
Meals for herself and her husband of 30 years, crime novelist Bill Bayer, qualified as eclectic: duck confit and a Syrian dish spiked with Aleppo pepper, a spice she introduced to American chefs in 1994 with The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean.
Recently, she has revisited favorite recipes — casually considering an anthology. The recipes include seared scallops with tangerine sauce from The Cooking of Southwest France (1983) and slow-cooked sandpot mushrooms from Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking (2009). As she cooks the scallops, something unusual happens: She turns to an open cookbook and reads from her own recipe.
“Bring to a boil and add cream,” she says, readying her measuring cups.
When about to pour, she turns back to the book: “Is it a third of a cup or a half? I forget everything as soon as I read it.” Wolfert has turned into a cook like the rest of us. This new phase is giving her profound insight. She looks up and says with a laugh: “Now that I have to follow my own recipes, some of them are so hard!”
For several years, Wolfert suspected that something was wrong. In its earliest stages, Alzheimer’s disease is surprisingly hard to detect. The telltale proteins that might cause degeneration can be confirmed only by a brain sample taken in an autopsy. For a living patient, doctors look to other signs, including memory loss and other difficulties in functioning. Yet the illness can affect the brain for up to two decades before symptoms are noticed.
- When Wolfert started forgetting words, she complained that she was losing her mind. Friends and her doctor insisted that she was fine.
Then, two years ago, during appearances to promote her most recent book, The Food of Morocco (2011), whenever someone asked her a multi-pronged question, “I couldn’t connect three sentences together,” she says.
- Still, her doctor told her there was nothing wrong.
Finally, late last year, her husband suggested that they have omelets for lunch. Wolfert drew a blank. “I said to Bill, ‘Wait a minute; how do you make an omelet?’”
She saw two neurologists; each had a different opinion. One said she had early-stage Alzheimer’s disease; the other diagnosed mild cognitive impairment, a form of dementia that can progress to Alzheimer’s. Time will tell which she has, depending on how much she loses. “It doesn’t matter,” she says. “I know there’s something wrong. This isn’t the Paula that I used to know.”
Dementia is an unpredictable foe. There is no cure and no sure way to slow its progress. In 1983, New York University physician Barry Reisberg delineated seven stages to measure its progress. Wolfert has been told she seems to be at stage four: moderate cognitive decline.
Thankfully, her long-term memories remain crystal clear.
Wolfert knows that her condition has no cure. But once she was given a diagnosis, she looked to food to help —not just to keep her mind engaged, but also to see whether super-foods could buy her time. “My feeling is: Accept that it is what it is, but stall it by trying to do as much as possible.”
She began taking donepezil, a drug used to treat dementia that might aid cognitive function. She scanned the Internet and started watching The Dr. Oz Show on television. Her condition became a surprising blessing: After a lifetime of charting cuisines, now she had a scientific frontier to explore.
A lifelong ingredient scout, she tapped into her network to find the best superfood sources. To maximize her omega-3s, she ordered 48 6-ounce packages of wild Alaskan king and sockeye salmon. She ordered sardines from Morocco.
Wolfert cut back on carbs and gluten after hearing that they might hasten the progression of the illness. She has a light snack in the afternoons, often gluten-free crackers spread with coconut oil. She usually skips dinner because she’s not hungry and for the supposed benefits of intermittent fasting. Lunch is light — usually seafood and vegetables — followed by an espresso and a square of dark chocolate, both of which might slow memory loss.
Is any of it working? The only evidence she can cite is that she looks and feels better than she has in years.
“I know I’m not better,” Wolfert says, “but I’m not getting worse.”
Truly, don’t want you all to think that I’m just a one-trick pony thing going on here, for surely it should be evident by now that I do have so many interests in life, our beautiful world and almost everything in it. But as I said above, this is close to my heart. For those earlier years when things started slipping away from me and I would speak of it to anyone, there was always this response back of “you’re fine”. No one ever wants to discuss it I suppose because, what is there to say? It must be similar to the ill person who is aware of his/her limited time left and the family won’t permit it to be open for discussion, because “you’ll be fine, everything is Okay”
This is such a great dis-service and unkind. People know, very frequently, what’s going on with themselves. And sometimes, they really need to have their say. Perhaps there are relevant things which need to be imparted and so on. When one has had a fairly good mind and excellent memory, and it now fails — won’t dredge up some fact or event from yesterday or last week, it hurts and is frustrating. “You’ll be fine” is only a hurtful, even offensive comment showing lack of discernment and caring. But enuff pontificating from me.
In this article, Paula has spoken to two experts with a similar but differing diagnosis. She has developed Alzheimer’s. She is very much aware that there is no cure, no hope. Is grateful that she is no worse off than she is. Her instincts are excellent and she is busy helping herself. I regret that Paula’s mind has encircled the concept that she must acquiesce to this dreadful pronouncement simply because Medical Science hasn’t found a way to correct it. There is so much that can be done (and I’m doing it). I am so much better now than the low point of 7 or 8 years ago when I sank into my pity-party. First there is shock and disbelief, then for me, determination to take action. Few stones have been left unturned. Even this day, I learned something new which I’ll share at the end.
My hope is that someone out there reading stuff at “smokinchoices” just might know Paula Wolfert and mention to her that success can be had and really, rather easily. Tell her why I do all this stuff — that I’m a sharer and happy to do it because it’s my way of giving back a little to this glorious planet. In my six+ years of nearly 2000 posts, possibly one in twenty is somewhat related to Alzheimers, so there’s really quite a lot here and certainly a lot more than she got from those neurologists she conferred with. There are many things to do, foods it would be wise to include and quite a few no-nos. Of course, finding what you’re looking for can be a pistol even tho I have spent much time organizing. But there is a so-so search engine and FIND IT up top right in the pages. Plus, Paula is on the right path with so many of her choices.
Grains in any form are an open door with welcome mat beckoning Alzheimer’s. Sugar is the killer among us. Flu shots and inoculations are a huge no-no due to the toxins involved. Minerals and enzymes are the biggest benefactors. Limited protein – excellent. Fruits and vegetables needed to maintain a mostly alkaline state in body. Coconut oil at least 3 -4 tablespoons daily. Read Dr. Mary Newport’s book – she’s the one who taught us all about the coconut oil solution. She mixes it with about equal parts MCT Oil (I buy by the quart.) Organic everything.
Fish is great, but would have to eat so much of it to get the amount you need. Can try Calamari instead because what we want primarily is the DHA – capsule has 500 mg and the EPA, only 50 mg. XLNT. I use Doctors Best DHA 500 from Calamari — works for me. [need 2 a day} Magnesium is vitally important and I use Magtein which is the newest form of Magnesium which can cross the blood-brain barrier and is a real help for older folk [actually for anyone], but geriatrics need so much more and it gives diarrhea, so this is a boon.
Almost everyone needs hefty doses of Vitamin D.
Finally, want to mention L Carnitine which is good for muscles (athletes know this product well) but I take it for the heart primarily but also for the brain – two of our most important muscles – right? I take two of the Fumarate, 1000 mg caplets first thing in morning and then a Taurine tablet with my other supplements, also for the heart. These assure that great, good energy is gaining access to these major muscles and actually get into the mitochondria where its vitally needed. Learned about this from Dr Russell Blaylock a noted cardiologist whom I admire. He takes a nutritional approach to healing his heart patients and reversing their disease. My kind of guy!
Now for that something new [to me] that I saved to the end. I use organic coffee and so does my son. But he goes a few steps further than I do. I’m always after new ways to add the coconut oil into my daily nutrition load. I remembered he said he uses it in his coffee the other day. Resounded in my head today, so called and he sent me this link, which I now will share with you. I like the BulletProof site, but don’t go there as much as I used to. (Like Paleo – and I really miss him). As it happens this is going to be an education for those of you who haven’t visited this site. He is out there with great ideas. Organic coffee is a major upgrade! Coffee is one of the most toxic-laden crops grown. So its important to buy the best. . Once you get there and want to copy the recipe or print it out, don’t rush by all the extra info. There is a video with Dr Mercola discussing coffee with this Israeli man (Ori Hofmekler ) who is as smart as a whip, but hard to decipher what he is saying. Even so, I got the message and will never buy a brand X again. Also, after today, think I’ll go back to the whole bean as the superior route. I still have my coffee grinders, yeah! My son also puts organic butter in his morning coffee as well as the coconut oil. Tried it this morning and it was great. Have been ‘up’ all day. Jan)