I can’t decide which film I like best, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or The Frisco Kid. There are others, of course, including Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein—that even had my kids rolling on the floor—that I consider timeless movies. The naïve, sincere, blue-eyed funny man with a halo of curls: this is how I will remember the actor Gene Wilder.
Gene Wilder died on Monday, August 29, from “complications from Alzheimer’s,” according to his family.
What does that mean? If Alzheimer’s is an illness with no cure, isn’t it Alzheimer’s that kills? How does one die from “complications from Alzheimer’s?”
This is what Alzheimer’s does: Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disease in which abnormal protein deposits build up in the brain causing brain cells to die which causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. As the disease progresses, patients lose the ability to recognize their loved ones; their appetite decreases; they forget how to wash and dress; they become incontinent; they need assistance to eat, walk, dress, and more; they stop communicating; and eventually they become comatose.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the US.* It is thought, however, that many more deaths assigned to pneumonia, asphyxiation, general infection or even cardiac arrest, are actually complications from Alzheimer’s.** In a weakened state, Alzheimer's patients are susceptible to many health problems.
End stage Alzheimer’s lasts about 1.5 to 2 years, on average, according to the NIH.*** I’m not sure that it’s really worth worrying about what actually kills you by the time you’re at the end. The bigger issue is to make your loved one as comfortable as possible without needlessly extending their suffering.
As scientists race to find a way to cure or even halt the slow degeneration of Alzheimer’s, focus has also been placed on preventing the disease. At the 2011 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, a study presented by Deborah Barnes, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, suggested seven risk factors: physical inactivity; depression; smoking; hypertension; obesity; low education; and diabetes.****
What is the correlation between a low education and Alzheimer’s? As Barnes suggests, if we start at an early age to use our brains, we build up our neural pathways. With that power, we can teach ourselves that the remaining risk factors can be minimalized by taking care of ourselves and maintaining our health.
We may never know what triggers Alzheimer’s in any given individual or if anything we do ultimately prevents it. As for me, I’m going to keep myself as active and healthy as possible. I might even watch a few Gene Wilder movies to jog my memory and, of course, laugh.
Making and presenting new recipes is another way for me to keep my brain active. There are as many ways to prepare eggplant in Israel as there are grains of sand on the shore. You think I’m exaggerating?!!
Roasted Eggplant with Cherry Tomatoes
The ubiquitous eggplant.
1 medium eggplant
1 tsp garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp crushed tomatoes
10-12 cherry tomatoes, halved
Fresh parsley for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
Poke eggplant with a fork, rub in olive oil, and place on baking sheet. Roast in oven for 20 minutes at 420°. When cooled, peel ¾ of skin from eggplant. Cut eggplant flesh in strips from skin on down. Stand eggplant in shallow dish. Garnish with olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and spices. Serve.