City Living – Pathways to a Better Brain?

It only took a week for me draw a line between living in the city and dementia, two of my most passionate topics. As I scurried from place to place this morning, and read and reread emails I had missed, I realized I am out of sorts. The word I have been using is “unmoored.”

Where I had once tethered myself to Fields Ertel Road, and my routes to work, errands and grocery involved the use or avoidance of that road, I am now on foot. Or I am southernly located, and my life involves a northern orientation.

photo 3While the river is still south of my locale, one of the central destinations, my mother’s care home, is now north of me. So when I travel to visit, I have to think twice about which exit I can use to avoid the mall, at all costs. Or which grocery I might stop at on the way home (other than Findlay Market) to get an item I need for dinner.

Just this morning, Mark and I had to call around to bank branches, attempting to find a notary public (shouldn’t these go by the wayside). In doing so, we stumbled across the post office on Fifth and Vine, and I cursed at myself, envisioning the two envelopes that sat on my desk at home. I didn’t even think about the fact I would traverse a post office on my path today.

I have now visited all the necessary UPS, Fedex and USPS pick-up and drop-off locations, because we live in the city, and many instances, packages are not left on the front stoop or with a trustworthy neighbor. They are transported back into the annals of a warehouse in hopes that I remember to pick them up. Needless to say, I am more conscious of what I order, and what I have shipped, and what others will ship to me. Sorry Amazon.

But, as I am busy mapping new routes in my mind, to accomplish my everyday functions, my brain cells are gettin’ busy too. They are firing on all synapses, continuously, such that the mere thought of “how do I…”, often makes my eyes droop.

When someone ages, he or she is mainly doing so in place. In a place that person has called home for many years, following a routine he or she has followed for many years. That person will shop at the same grocery store, drive the same street to relatives, attend the same church, and say the same prayers.

Scientists have now thankfully left behind the blessed, or cursed, duo of Alzheimer’s preventions of Sudoku and blueberries, and have moved on to taut the benefits of learning a new trade, a foreign language or creating fresh connections.

My mother, the most blessed cook, followed the same recipes for her extravagant holiday dinners and desserts. It came as a surprise to hear one day she left the flour out in making pizzelles, and my father had to aid her in beginning a new batch. This was a sign her dementia was settling in.

Even Enzo seems stimulated in the city. Any one of my kids will tell you, while living in Loveland, if I asked, Can you walk the dog today, the request was met with assured resistance on their part, and on behalf of Enzo. He had been walking the same street, the same direction no less, as we lived with a cul-de-sac at the end of our street. He too tired of the route. Dragging Enzo was a common sight in our former neighborhood.

But when I pull out the leash now, he scampers to the door. He is anxious to meet new people. And I mean people, not dogs. When I walked him to Washington Park yesterday, during the Jazz Band concert, he simply approached people seated on sidewalks and sat without command, as if to say, “I’m ready for you to love me now.”

He runs ahead of me enough on our walk, that I have taken to running again, practically behind him. He is energized by the smells, but also, by the new directions.

City living is cause for intentionality. I wait – most times – to cross the street. I have to think about how will I access a store or business on foot. The interactions with new faces are constant. I have to be aware, when I am heading down a street with some unfamiliarity to it. I have to be conscious as a female, of strolling alone at night. I plan my meals, because Findlay Market is not open 24/7. I halt for a moment, when heading out in my car, wondering if I need 75 North, or South, 71 North, or South, I-471, as if my car were spinning a dial on a game of Life, which direction will I choose.

But there is spontaneity and simplicity too that arise from these circumstances. I can, without thinking, find a bevy of entertainment. I can, without forethought, decide to go out to eat, without getting in my car, and sitting in traffic. And the heightened awareness, along with some effortlessness, allow for more focus, less important items to fall off my radar.

All these are creating new brain cells, even at a snail’s pace, which Enzo no longer has desire to emulate.


The above photo is a view of Central Parkway, leading east towards Mt. Adams.


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