Before the diagnosis, I had started asking why. Why couldn’t she remember our intimate conversations? Why wasn’t she listening? Why did she believe the housekeeper had stolen her wedding ring? Why couldn’t she remember the names of the grandchildren’s friends when she’d met them so many times? Why couldn’t she follow the conversation? Why was my address so difficult to retain?
After the diagnosis, I started asking what could be done. Was there a cure? Should she do more puzzles, learn a language, take longer walks, play more Scrabble?
I asked my high school boyfriend, now a prominent neurosurgeon, about the drugs and the treatment options. He was kind but firm. “There’s really nothing we can do,” he said. “It’s not worth trying all the drugs. My mother had it too.”
A study in the December 2016 Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging showed that drinking tea frequently is associated with a lower risk of dementia, especially for people who are genetically predisposed to the disease.
Researchers followed 957 older adults, average age 65, who were part of the Singapore Longitudinal Aging Study. Of these, 69% drank tea on a frequent basis. After a five-year period, the researchers found that the tea drinkers had a 50% lower risk of dementia. This is consistent with earlier findings that showed tea consumers scored higher on various cognitive tests.
So I went to Whole Foods and stocked up on tea. I told my mother, who was still living on her own in a one-bedroom apartment, that she should drink two cups a day of green tea or black tea or anything with antioxidants. I remember how she nodded, compliantly. She’d somehow lived on instant coffee with Sweet ‘n’ Low for decades. Now she would drink more tea, less coffee. She could do some crossword puzzles while drinking tea.
That day, I thought tea was the answer we’d been looking for.