I can’t control neurodegeneration: On acceptance and letting go

As much as I’d like to think I can single handedly take on oxidation, beta-amyloids, apoptic bodies and all the rest, I can’t. And approaching Earl’s disease, muscles flexed, ready for battle, won’t best serve him or myself.

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img_1322“A complete reversal of the symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction is not going to happen with any of the interventions we know about today. There are no miracle cures.” – Eileen Anderson, Remember Me? Loving and Caring for a Dog with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction 

The past week has been consumed with organizing Earl’s new regimen of supplements and medication. I’ll go into detail in a future post, but for now, here’s the master list, as prescribed by his veterinarian:

  • Fluoxetene (which he was already taking prior to his CCD diagnosis)
  • Melatonin
  • Denamarin
  • Seneplex
  • Neutricks
  • Trazodone (also prescribed prior to CCD onset)

I didn’t realize I was thinking in terms of symptom reversal until one of my friends checked in with me recently, asking how I was doing. As we texted back and forth, I realized that, despite my best intentions, I had begun using the wrong lens to view CCD.

The process of giving Earl pills, chews and capsules gives me the feeling of “control,” almost similar to a placebo effect. The supplements are meant to alleviate and prevent the progression of CCD symptoms. In the back of my mind, there’s always that small, non-evidence based thought saying “Maybe Earl will be the one to beat it! Maybe we can stop the symptoms and they won’t progress any further!” (While a little denial sometimes helps us get through tough days, believing in the equivalent of neurodegeneration-fighting unicorns isn’t the best way to care for dementia, either.)

Of course, I was reminded both by my friend and by referencing Eileen Anderson’s wonderful book that canine cognitive dysfunction doesn’t work that way. It’s a progressive disease. And while Earl is getting the best possible care, I cannot control the fact that Earl’s brain is changing as he ages. Nor can I control: “reduced brain mass, increased cerebral ventricle size, meningeal calcification, demyelination, glial changes, increased lipofuscin and apoptic bodies, neuroaxona degeneration, reduced numbers of neurons, increased markers of oxidative stress, and accumulation of beta-amyloid” (Gary Landsberg, Therapeutic Options for Cognitive Decline in Senior Pets)

The reason I quote Landsberg is not to make this blog sound pompous, but to ground myself in the facts. Facts help me release the pressure of trying to control what’s happening to Earl’s body. For as much as I’d like to think I can single handedly take on oxidation, beta-amyloids, apoptic bodies and all the rest, I can’t. And approaching Earl’s disease, muscles flexed, ready for battle, won’t best serve him or myself.

My friend reminded me last night to enjoy all the beautiful moments I have with Earl. There will be good days. There will be bad days. (That’s the topic of a future blog post, too.) The neurodegenerative processes will continue. Accepting this fact is a relief, because it helps me let go of the need to control Earl’s CCD, as opposed to accepting it and responding to it with evidence-based care, patience and love.

*Special thanks to the friends who have reached out and been there for me the past couple weeks.

–  Maureen Backman, MS, CTC, PCT-A is the owner of Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco. She is also the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and Muzzle Up! Online. To get in touch, email her at muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.  To purchase her training DVDs, visit Tawzer Dog.

2 thoughts on “I can’t control neurodegeneration: On acceptance and letting go

  1. Started to write you a post on FB but somehow lost it. I have just started down this road with one of my precious papillons who is 14 years old. Sometimes just looking at her and knowing what is comng makes me burst into tears. Mercifully I think she is completely unaware of the path her life is taking and everyday I am grateful for the wonderful dog she is and will do anything to help her. I will look for Landsberg’s article or maybe you could tell me where you got it. Thank you for this article,

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