Yuri Bilinsky, New Pathway – Ukrainian News.
The year 2018 brought two major Canadian awards to one of the most prominent global scientists of Ukrainian descent, Western University’s (London, ON) professor Dr. Vladimir Hachinski. He was inducted to the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame and received the Killam prize (Medicine category) which is given to scholars who have made significant contributions to society. These awards added to Dr. Hachinski’s remarkable list of achievements, among which is the fact that the Hachinski Ischemic Score was named after him, the Ontario Premier’s Discovery Award, International BIAL Merit Award, The International Association of Gerontology Sandoz Prize and the first ever Trillium Clinical Scientist Award. The list of Dr. Hachinski’s achievements also includes being the first Canadian President of the World Federation of Neurology, the founding Chair of the World Brain Alliance and the Editor-in-Chief of the journal STROKE, the leading publication in the field.
At 77, he is still a full-time Professor of Neurology and Epidemiology at Western University and is giving lectures all over the world. “I must be over the hill, I am picking up speed,” he told NP-UN, – over the past 12 months he has taught in six countries. Dr. Hachinski once gave lectures in Ukraine, at the neurosurgical institutes in Kyiv and Lviv, in the Ukrainian language.
For a new chapter of our series “Ukrainian Diaspora Science Hall of Fame”, we spoke with Dr. Hachinski about his work in neurology as well as his love for history, arts and culture.
NP-UN: A lot of people do not realize that dementia, your core interest, has different sources and that you pioneered the research into stroke dementia. Tell us about the results of your work.
Dr. Hachinski: Many older people, about 25%, have changes in the blood vessels that can lead to dementia. My whole work was to say that we can prevent the vascular part of dementia sources. In 2000, the government of Ontario began investing in stroke prevention and treatment – building stroke units and stroke prevention clinics, and in the public campaign. There have been fewer strokes since. Over the past 12 years, the number of strokes per 1000 people has decreased by 32% and that of dementia by 7%. It was the world’s first, showing that we can prevent strokes and dementia, Ontario is now the example for Canada and the whole world. As a result of our work, the Ontario government has also increased education about stroke and dementia risk factors and prevention. In dementia prevention, physical and social activity and diet are very important. The government started to emphasize such stroke risk factors as blood pressure, obesity and alcohol consumption, propagated the use of blood thinners and anticoagulants. Half of Canada’s provinces have stroke prevention strategies now but the other half still don’t.
NP-UN: So, is dementia preventable?
Dr. Hachinski: With age, a person’s physical and some mental abilities decrease, like the speed of movement and thinking. And such activities as exercise or speaking multiple languages will help your body and brain retain their potential as much as possible. All this can also delay dementia, so there is a lot that a person can do to live longer and healthier and enjoy life because some abilities do get better with age. Take wisdom or the ability to solve complex problems, usually human problems, the ability to know which problems to tackle and which to avoid, it increases with age. On average, older people are happier that younger ones because they’ve decided on what’s important for them.
NP-UN: Are there any other risk factors that increase the chances for dementia? For example, there is an opinion that aluminum foil used in cooking increases chances for dementia.
Dr. Hachinski: No, this is a no-story. I’ll give you one good reason – there is a lot of aluminum in tea. If that theory were true, the English would have a lot of Alzheimer disease and they have the same rate as everybody else.
NP-UN: What have been the biggest advances in medical science in the last years?
Dr. Hachinski: In neurological diseases, which are now the leading causes of death and disease, at 10% worldwide, the brain stroke and dementia occupy 42% and 10% respectively. In the developed countries, stroke levels have really gone down. Unfortunately, in some developing countries the trend is the other way because they are acquiring the Western lifestyle. In cancer, treatment has become more individualized, they are able to target it more precisely. There are major advances, in particular, in blood cancers. HIV can be controlled now and two recent reports suggested that it can be cured, although this has not been confirmed. Generally, people are living longer, with conditions that used to kill them.
NP-UN: What do you think are limits for life duration?
Dr. Hachinski: Biologically, the current upper limit is about 120 years. There is a single well-documented case of 127 years, it was a woman. But in flies, mice and monkeys life has been prolonged by restricting calories and by some drugs. So, I expect that in the next decade or so there will be drugs that extend human life by some years or at least extend healthy life.
NP-UN: Your Wikipedia page says that you have keen interest in history and in the historical figure of Josef Stalin in particular. Tell us about your historical research.
Dr. Hachinski: When in high school, I was torn between doing history and doing medicine. Finally, I decided if I became a doctor I could become an amateur historian but if I became a historian I wouldn’t become an amateur doctor. Later on, I actually got a degree in history from London, England. One of my interests in the history of medicine was Josef Stalin. In 1999, I published an article “Stalin’s last years: delusions or dementia?” in European Journal of Neurology. It was known that Stalin’s behavior at the end of his life was even more paranoid than before, so, the question was whether he was delusional or had dementia. My argument in the article was that he probably had two strokes and that he was mentally impaired since 1948. I say 1948 because he gave a speech then and it was quite clear that he did not have the same ability. The best person to document that was Milovan Djilas, vice-president of Yugoslavia. He had observed Stalin during the war and described him as highly intelligent with good vocabulary. But when Djilas saw Stalin again after the war, he deteriorated, the vocabulary was poor and he took easy offence. I conclude in the article that Stalin probably suffered not only vascular cognitive impairment but an unleashing of already marked paranoid personality traits due to a multi-infarct state. One can only speculate and dread the possibility of what may have happened if Stalin had not died when he did and continued on his road to becoming a cognitively impaired paranoid within reach of an atomic button at the height of the Cold War.
Dr. Hachinski’s background
Vladimir Hachinski was born in August 1941 in the city of Zhytomyr, in the thick of the German offensive. His father, Stanley, was from the town of Kamianets Podilskyj, mother, Vera, was from the Zhytomyr area, daughter of a Ukrainian father Michael and a mother, German by ethnicity, Cezilia who was born in the Ukrainian village and was Ukrainian by culture and language. Dr. Hachinski: “My father was a very cool character, he managed to guide the horses through a pile of artillery shells in the dark when he and my maternal grandmother came to get my mother from the hospital after giving birth to me in August 1941.”
On the father’s side Dr. Hachinski’s ancestors used to be land owners and had a carriage factory. As a highly skilled mechanic, his father got a job at a milk factory in Germany in 1945 which spared the family of some of the hardships that other displaced persons from Ukraine went through immediately after the war.
The family ended up in Venezuela in 1948 where Vladimir grew up. Dr. Hachinski loves Spanish and published a book of poetry in Spanish, Resonancias (Resonances), under the pen name Alejandro Aranda. He expects that his English translation of this anthology will be published later this year.
Dr. Hachinski on Venezuela now: “What a disaster. When we were there, it was, first of all, a prosperous country, they have a lot of resources, but also a friendly country. And now it’s worse than Zimbabwe. I have fond memories about Venezuela.”
The family emigrated to Venezuela because in late 1940s the country gave land to immigrants and Stanley Hachinski wanted to become a land-lord as his ancestors had been: “We came to Venezuela in August 1948 and by November there was a coup d`eta, and all of a sudden, no land, no language and no job. There were 23 Ukrainian families there. My uncle, a shrewd man who was the youngest in the family, learned some Spanish and became an informal head of that colony. Somehow those Ukrainian families survived. We spent ten years there. But pretty well everybody emigrated at some point, mainly to the United States and some to Canada.”
Dr. Hachinski is also a composer. His “Dream Waltz” orchestrated by Jason Stanford (Professor of Theory and Composition at Western University), premiered at the Musikverein in Vienna, Austria by the Brno Philharmoniker on September 24, 2013. He is also fond of coining slogans and aphorisms: 1. “Building bridges to a healthy future” (used for fundraising by the London Health Sciences Centre Foundation, London, Canada); 2. “There is no health without brain health” the original first premise of the World Brain Alliance that he founded; 3.“Information grows exponentially, knowledge more slowly and wisdom not at all”. (Wikipedia)