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Published on: May 10, 2013
by Kim Zarzour for York Region:
The human brain is intricate, complex and beautiful. So, too, is a new jewelry design by Richmond Hill jeweler, Mark Lash.
There’s a reason for the similarity.
Mr. Lash, who has created designs for celebrities from Celine Dion and Joan Rivers to Martin Sheen, has taken a very personal interest in his latest design. He wants to use his talents to help save our brains — in particular, the female brain.
That’s because 70 per cent of new Alzheimer’s sufferers are women, and women suffer from stroke, depression and dementia twice as much as men — and yet, most research still focuses on the male brain.
Watching his beloved grandmother succumb to the disease convinced Mr. Lash that this was wrong.
Growing up in Thornhill, Mr. Lash was always very close to his grandmother. Adopted at birth, he was brought home from hospital by his grandmother and she remained a strong part of his life ever since, joking on occasion that they were joined at the hip.
So when the day came that he walked into her room and she did not recognize him, it was devastating.
She was still a beautiful woman, proud of her appearance, healthy in most other respects, but dementia had taken hold and their cherished cognitive connection was gone.
That’s why, when the Women’s Brain Health Initiative asked him to create something to raise awareness and funding, he jumped at the opportunity.
The initiative is the brainchild of Lynn Posluns, philanthropist and former president of Fairweathers.
Alarmed by statistics showing women are more susceptible to aging brain disorders — but research into why that is the case is being ignored — Ms Posluns established a global foundation for research and education.
The charity was officially launched at an event at Parliament Hill this week.
What disturbs Ms Posluns most is the fact that research into brain disease tends to focus on male rats because it’s less expensive.
Hormones in female rats make them more complex to study, costing twice as much money to level out the hormone problems. That means research is leaving out half the population — with important ramifications.
Stress, for example, is a known factor in brain disease. Research by McGill professor Jens Pruessner has shown that as men grow older, they rely more on loved ones and that reduces their stress, while women’s partners cause them more stress as they age.
Other studies show that while women live longer, their healthy life expectancy is 25 per cent worse than men’s.
It presents, Ms Posluns says, “the most significant health and social crisis facing the world today”.
Mark Lash’s Hope-Knot jewelry is intended to be the icon and beacon of hope.
Mr. Lash says his design is a symbol of the brain, a reminder of how connected our lives are to our ability for cognitive thought, and he hopes it will one day be recognizable worldwide.
Like tying a knot in a string around our finger, the interwoven loops reflect the importance of memory, he says.
It’s a message that is driven even closer to home now that he sees that memory fading in his 83-year-old father, a man who was always extremely active and who may now be showing early signs of dementia.
Recently, his father called him to tell him he was lost. He was driving a short distance to his son’s home, and had no idea where he was.
Mr. Lash’s heart sank when he got that phone call. Having been through the process with his grandmother, he knows what is ahead, but he also knows that the person he loved remains — something he hopes is symbolized in his Hope-Knot.
“I wanted to show the deterioration of the brain, but I also wanted to keep the strength and beauty of the person intact.”
To learn more, visit womensbrainhealth.org
The Hope-Knot can be purchased online at hopeknot.org or at Scotiabank in Yorkdale Mall this weekend. All proceeds support gender-based brain aging research.
Mark Lash Fine Jewelry is located at 9033 Leslie St., Richmond Hill.
GOOD TO KNOW:
The MENS way to protect your brain:
• Mental exercises — like a muscle, work your brain to keep it sharp
• Exercise — for cell regeneration and blood flow
• Nutrition — what’s good for the heart is good for the brain, especially Mediterranean diet
• Social — do what you love, with who you love, and keep a positive attitude
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