My Dad’s a Goldfish – snake oil, anyone?

cropped-goldfish-87-1254566814ncva1.jpgToday I read in the paper about some research which indicates eating grapes might help stave off Alzheimer’s and improve memory. A handful of grapes twice a day, it seems, will boost attention and working memory performance by increasing the metabolic activity in those Alzheimer-related parts of the brain.grapes-2032838_640

If the Goldfish had still been around I’d have rushed to the supermarket to stock up and the poor man would have been eating grapes until they came out his ears – even though, in my head I would know that however many grapes I made him eat, it would make no difference. The research was carried out on people with early memory loss.

When the Goldfish was in the early stages, when he could still fudge his loss of memory – calling people ‘Sunshine’ to cover up the fact he’d forgotten their names – we bumbled along not really thinking about the future. Of course, I learned what I could about the condition but when I read the stuff about the final stages I think switched to denial mode – the things described – loss of mobility and of speech, no recognition of family or friends, incontinence, needing help with eating and drinking – couldn’t possibly be what we were facing in the future.

Later, of course, I was ready to try almost anything – not looking for a cure but for something which would slow down the relentless progress of dementia.

cocnutoilFor a while Wee-sis and I were almost convinced Organic Raw Virgin Coconut Oil was going to do the trick. In her work with adults with learning difficulties one of her colleagues used it for some of the service users who were developing dementia. An internet search brought up hundreds of articles about the efficacy of coconut oil, none, unfortunately with any scientific backing. One I remember was by a woman whose husband’s speech returned after she started using coconut oil. The woman in our local health food shop said she had started using it every day – she’ll let me know in ten years if it works.

We dolloped it in the Goldfish’s breakfast porridge, spread it on his toast, topped with honey, mixed it in yoghurt, and I used it in cooking. We were sure we detected a new brightness about the Goldfish who seemed more alert even if his words didn’t come back. We increased the dose. We gave him dreadful diarrhoea.

We did find it was a really good moisturiser so he had it massaged into his hands, feet and legs every night and went to bed smelling of coconut. Possibly, had we started to use it earlier it may have had more effect. Possibly, the grapes might have done something to slow down the pace of memory loss if we’d fed him them in the early days. Or, they might also have given him diarrhoea. We’ll never know.

Looking at the newspaper article, I see only ten people, average age 72, were tested, only half of whom were given the grapes – and not even fresh grapes but something called ‘whole grape powder’. Ho-hum, there’s something about all this that makes me think about those snake oil salesmen in olden days.

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14 thoughts on “My Dad’s a Goldfish – snake oil, anyone?

  1. Oh Mary, I shouldn’t laugh, but when I thought of you giving your dad all those grapes I immediately thought of diarrhoea and then you mentioned it. I used to eat grapes like they were going out of fashion after my stomach op after I moved on from slop and that’s what I got lol. Then when you mentioned coconut oil I’m nearly crying because someone suggested that to me too and yes nice healthy skin is the only good thing I got from it as well. Oh your poor dad. He must have thought you were trying to finish him off. The coconut oil tastes absolutely disgusting, please take my word for it.
    I hope you don’t take offence at my words or my laughter, it is truly not my intention to hurt you in any way.

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    • Oh Ruth, of course I don’t take offence. I’m so glad the post made you laugh. I guess dad had a lucky escape from the grapes! I have tasted the coconut oil so yes, I believe you. It’s fine when cooking a Thai chicken curry or as a moisturiser and my niece uses it to make her dog’s coat lovely and shiny!

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  2. Hi Mary. It is possible both grapes and coconut oil might have worked if used early enough. However it is also possible that various compounds within might help some cases of altzheimers, for it might be possible that altzheimers is not a disease- like a cold for instance but a cluster of symptoms- I put that badly more the end result of a variety of physiological breakdowns causing the same effects. If so it might work for some people depending on their physiology and even their genetics but not for others. You’d know more than I how far along research is. All I can say is that medicine does by necessity grasp at possible causes during the course of investigation and then find what they thought was the cause is simply a precursor. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.
    On a lighter note, I have watching the last season of South Park and they have ‘member berries’ – short for remember I presume- which continually chatter on remembering nostalgic things from the past and look like black grapes- or even blueberries. I wondered where the hell they came from until I read your opening paragraphs about grapes and suddenly the penny dropped!

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    • I love the phrase ‘member berries’!
      I am sure the coconut oil might have worked if we’d started it earlier. I read a lot about it and it really seemed it had am amazing effect for some people. I wouldn’t knock it – just wish we’d heard about it sooner. And it was grand as a moisturiser because dad did suffer from terrible dry skin.
      We tend to talk about Alzheimer’s disease as if it is the same for everyone. Dad had vascular dementia with a side order of Alzheimers. I think you are right that some things will work for some people but not for others depending on many factors. No one in dad’s family, all of whom lived to be as old or older than he did, had dementia so it would seem in his case it wasn’t a genetic predisposition.
      Almost every week there is a report in the media about a new research breakthrough but I worry part of the problem is we, the public, are so desperate to believe they, the scientists, will find a way of preventing dementia that we’re not shouting loudly enough for help (social, financial, medical) for those who already have it.

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  3. I am laughing. This struck a chord because I have jars of coconut oil in my larder. I bought because of the benefits being touted. Then my cholesterol numbers shot through the roof and in reading up on cholesterol and nutrition, I discovered I should avoid coconut products if at all possible. In any case Ralph hates coconut in all forms so it is no go for him, mental benefits notwithstanding.

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  4. We always use coconut oil for cooking. I have no idea if it makes any difference to the progression of dementia but our food tastes good. I also make a high energy chocolate bar using coconut oil, whic h is a healthy alterantive to solve some of my cravings for sweet things -I hope!

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  5. I know nothing about the science of coconut oil or grapes, Mary. The research you mentioned in the newspaper didn’t sound very robust, though. Ten people is such a tiny sample and from the sound of things, it might not have been a double-blind study. In the same situation, I know I’d have tried grapes and coconut oil too. It wouldn’t do any harm and so would be worth a shot. But I do also understand your skepticism about the whole thing.

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    • Hi Bun, no, it was not a robust study. Ten people in total, five of whom received grape powder and five who had a placebo. The lead author of the study does say more clinical studies with larger groups are necessary. I really don’t understand why they would even release the results of such a tiny study – maybe it’s to encourage us to take preventative action before we succumb to dementia ourselves! Off to buy some grapes.

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  6. It is amazing, the ways that the family members find strengths they never believed they had to get through the difficult days.
    On ‘good’ days, it was so possible to believe that the illness had stabilised and even maybe somehow improved.
    I think we would, too, have tried anything that someone claimed would help.
    In a way we lived in a world like Alice In Wonderland – evolving with every strange development, trying to outwit the dementia, get angles, hold it back a little. What on earth must it have been like for patients suffering from these illnesses a hundred years ago ?

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    • Thanks for commenting, Julie. Oh, yes, I remember phases when we thought the condition had slowed down but then there would be another TIA and a big fast downward slide to the next level.
      I don’t know how it would have been a hundred years ago but there were probably fewer cases than today as people died younger.

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