Saturday, 14 December 2013

Present - and Correct?

The recent decision by the G8 ministers to target dementia in the same way as they did  global HIV, with the aim of finding a cure or at least a 'stopper' by 2025, is good news. Having seen my own Mother slip away in her late 70's and seeing my mother-in-law similarly disabled now, whilst being surrounded by friends and other family members struggling with their own parents in the same situation, I have seen the future. And it scares the hell out of me! 
As a very personal reflection, and in no way from an informed, activist or political viewpoint, I started this blog on Thursday morning on the 'plane to Rome for a short break, a birthday treat courtesy of my daughter and my wife. And I am so ready for a break.  It's a long slog though from the August Bank Holiday to the Christmas Holidays - some 4 months, almost. And I'm weary. Tired, lethargic, a 'bit low' generally and trying to push through to Xmas.

But what has really brought that home to me in these last few weeks, is the number of what I would categorise as 'silly mistakes' that I have been making; nothing that has caused any impact on others - because I 'caught' them in time - but certainly not how I like to operate, either personally or professionally. And I guess what has emerged for me is the realisation (scrub that - confirmation!) that I have a preferred 'modus operandi', a comfort model of being present and effective, but the standards for which I feel I have fallen below recently. And I am really uncomfortable - and a little nervous - about that.

Recent examples include missing appointments, booking meetings on wrong dates, having to correct a webinar booking THREE times before I scheduled it correctly and even this week, as Mandy and I set off for our flight to Rome, I left my bum bag (with boarding card and passport) in the car in the long-stay car park at Gatwick Airport, and then left my Kindle (ironically, on which I am writing this blog) on the 'plane when we disembarked at the other end at Fiumicino Airport! Again, no-one died and I was able to recover both - and the other situations - quickly, with no harm done.

But here's the thing. I hate that I have done those things. It makes me feel at best, incompetent and at worst, not in control of my own thoughts and actions - and as we fly back from Rome today, with my 58th birthday to look forward to tomorrow, it scares me for the future. 
Having watched and lived through the gradual dying of the light of older relations and friends, I am more and more aware that modern medicine and health care has prolonged our physical longevity, but our poor old brains have not developed quickly enough to cope and are failing us before our bodies do. We are outliving our brains! And worryingly,

there are going to be even more of us in that situation come 2025!

Of course, my recent little mistakes are just symptoms of me being a bit tired and stressed and needing a break, nothing more. But it does make me wonder what it's going to be like when I get older. If dementia or Alzheimer's does happen, will I be aware of 'losing the plot'? Or will it be a more insidious, creeping withdrawal of mental faculties, a gradual slipping away, 'blessed' by an unaware ignorance of the fact, that others will have to deal with on my behalf?
Maybe - hopefully - none of the above.

For now, I am responsible for, and in charge of, my mental well-being and longevity. I try to keep my brain as active and 'fit' as possible. I read a lot, I do Su Doku puzzles every day, I work, I interact with others in person and online, I tweet, I blog - and I will continue to do so for as long as I possibly can. And, as we fly back to the UK today, Saturday, after a fantastic couple of days exploring Rome, I am resolved to take more holidays and travel more. That should do it for now.
So, come 2025, when I turn 70, maybe those clever scientists and doctors, who are about to get all those G8 research funds and collaboration opportunities, will have a little pill I can take if and when my brain is no longer able to keep up with my body.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Not so well travelled

I was recently invited to write an article for the 'Inside Learning Technologies' magazine link and so I produced a piece entitled "What I would say to my younger self", wherein I shared some of the stuff I wish I'd known when I was 'growing up' (which assumes, of course, that I have indeed grown up. The jury's still out on that one). 

Number 3 of my messages in a bottle to myself was "Don't pass up the opportunity to travel". I went on "...get into the habit while you're young and can do it on the cheap... If you don't do it now, you'll find it all the more challenging when you get older".

Well, I never did. I'm one of the least travelled people you'll ever meet.  For a variety of reasons, I didn't hear that message from my future self in time and, as a result, can pretty much count on one hand the countries I have managed to visit, and within those countries, the destinations and sights I have managed to explore.  I've been OK with that over the years, have managed to holiday and travel within the UK both as a callow youth and as a husband and dad on family holidays. To be honest, the idea of foreign travel with young children always struck as way too much hard work - just child care in a different climate! Funnily enough, both children, now nearly 22 and solidly 18, have managed to travel more through their friendship groups and opportunities already, than I have.

But now, as I approach 58, I can hear my travel alarm ticking away. Someone said to me a while ago "Do the difficult travel while you still can; save the easy stuff for when you're older and can't - the cruises, the Great Train Journeys, etc.  Mandy and I cruised for the first time three years ago, our Silver Wedding Anniversary present to ourselves, and absolutely loved it. We're thinking about what to do for our 30th in 2015, but are we going to go for the easy and luxurious, or the more challenging? We'll need to wait and see.

So this brings me to my 58th Birthday present from my daughter and my wife - Mandy and I are off to Rome on Thursday for a couple of days! Basically, it's all booked, flights, private Colosseum tour guide and Vatican tickets arranged. All I've got to do is turn up and go! I am very excited about this. And I'm loving that excitement. I've bought and am working my way through the Lonely Planet guide to Rome, I've asked my network for their recommendations of places to see and places to eat, and I can't wait.

In my message to my younger self, I also said "It's easy and it will broaden your knowledge, perceptions and experience." I may have left it a bit late, but in terms of my ever-continuing learning journey, Rome looks like just the place to do that. 

The only question left is, where next?