Dementia is a lifestyle disease that is on the rise, and although it is projected to triple by 2050, some experts believe this is an underestimate.
Dementia does not just rob people of past pleasures locked away in memory but also from planning and building a future founded on new adventures and those new experiences needed for life to continue to grow.
Learning to love and care about the unity of our body and mind, our relationship with family, other loved ones, friends, neighbors, all humanity, and other living beings is essential to developing a healthy, happy, anti-dementia lifestyle.
Love makes us bold and daring in our battle to live a life full of rewarding and memorable experiences that we will not allow dementia to steal from us.
The Cruelest of Maladies
My mother was a remarkable woman. In her fifties, after raising eight children, she went to college, completed her degree, became an award-winning artist, wrote two books, and, being fluent in English, Spanish, and French, spent a summer residing among the residents of Arcachon, France capped off with a week touring Spain. At the time of her induction into the Triton College Alumni Hall of Fame, she was 99 and had no recollection of the accomplishments for which she was being recognized; dementia stole them from her. All maladies are cruel but none like dementia.
Like cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and cancers, dementia is a lifestyle disease that often goes unnoticed, slowly festering for years before a person experiences symptoms. Unlike recent declines in CVD
dementia more than doubled between 1990 and 2019
and is predicted to triple by 2050.
Sadly, this may be an underestimate as the global rate of dementia is significantly higher among young people (30-64 years) than previously thought.
Moreover, once diagnosed with dementia, it is too late; there is no effective treatment for dementia.
With dementia rising and treatments lacking, it is of the utmost urgency that we capitalize on the preventive benefits of learning a lifestyle that enhances the self’s sense of unity, continuity, and meaningfulness.
The Life of the Self
defines the self as our sense that our body and mind form a unity in space, a continuum in time, and a meaningful center of action initiatives. Maintaining the unity and continuity of our life, the self works with our brain to store memories in unconsciousness and upload stored memories to consciousness to solve new problems, form new memories, or just remind us who we are. Despite physical, attitudinal, psychological, and other changes over our lifetime, the self’s memories give continuity to our life. Dementia is psychological vivisection; while the body is still alive, dementia dismembers the memories that hold the life of the self together.
Dementia flies under the radar of our senses. When memories are amputated from the self, there is no immediate and sharp pain as when a limb is injured or lost; when dementia severs the continuity of life and steals precious memories from people, there is no grieving accompanying the loss.
Love in the Time of Dementia
Success in love is a prerequisite to success in life,
including a life without dementia. Love makes us bold and daring. When committed to caring for another person, the environment, or the precious unity of our self, body, and mind, the action-initiating power radiates from the self, the “nuclear core” of our unity, and assertively begins exploring, experimenting, and discovering ways to live a life that is truly vital.
The Five Horsemen of Memory and the Life of the Self
Exposure to smog and air pollution is likely the most difficult dementia risk factor for us to control. There is no safe threshold for breathing polluted air.
Regardless of age, air pollution takes a toll on the brain. Chronic exposure to high amounts of air pollution is linked to the development of dementia in adults
and the build-up of proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease in the brains of children and infants as young as 11 months.
Measures to reduce exposure to air pollution and thereby lower the risk of all-cause dementia
Petition policymakers to mandate clean air policies. Live in locations with low levels of air pollution,
in homes more than 50 meters (164 feet) away from major highways, and wear a mask when air quality is poor.
Loneliness is a slow and meticulous killer,
often taking the life of the self
before it takes the life of the body. Although the physiological mechanism underlying how loneliness damages the brain are not well understood,
the emotional damage to the self is apparent. Loneliness clogs the arteries of love, stopping the vital flow of caring interactions between self and others. Here are some simple suggestions to keep love flowing.
Just say “hi.”
Even if it is with a smile and the glance of an eye.
Use your head: Think about it and look for opportunities to relate to others in a caring way. Even quickies, those immediate short-term positive exchanges with the cashier at the coffeehouse, a stranger in the elevator, a co-worker, or even a significant other, can make all parties feel like we are not meaningless human-has-beens but living, loved, and loving human beings.
Dementia is associated with the consumption of pro-inflammatory, highly processed foods.
Between 1999 and 2018, the consumption of ultra-processed foods among youths (2-19 years of age) increased as their consumption of healthier foods decreased
(likely contributing to the unexpected increase in dementia among younger individuals).
Before junk food destroys the brain and body, our food environment psychologically cultivates “Mindless Eating”
and is supported by technology that processes food to maximize the brain’s pleasure centers.
Consequently, our food environment often makes us (the self) insensitive and indifferent to the unity of our body and brain. Here are some suggestions to repossess and strengthen the self’s assertive power over the food environment.
Develop a mindful approach to eating by creating and following a weekly meal plan.
Become aware of how different foods produce varied feelings in mood and body. Eat healthier. The good feeling that comes from eating healthy goes beyond the taste buds and endures over time.
Give the brain the “boon of sleep”
Mid-life sleep disorders increase the risk of dementia later in life.
For individuals over 60, maintaining regular sleep patterns becomes particularly difficult and negatively impacts memory.
Here are some healthy sleep recommendations set forth by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute:
Stick to a sleep schedule—even on the weekends.
Exercising 2–3 hours before bedtime.
Stimulants: Caffeinated drinks and foods, as well as nicotine.
Alcoholic beverages before bed.
Large meals late at night.
Drinking too many fluids at night.
Medicines that delay or disrupt sleep, if possible.
Naps after 3 p.m.
Exercise: The “vis medicatrix naturae”:
Wholeness dictates that there is no brain health without the health of the self, body, and mind.
Thus, it is no coincidence that cardiovascular
and muscular fitness
are associated with brain fitness. Here are some suggestions for developing an active, wholeness lifestyle.
Safety first: If it has been a while, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
Develop the self’s action-initiating power by exerting it to overcome the common initial resistance to exercise.
Know thyself: Exercise is self-education. Mindfulness matters for maintaining and enhancing self-body unity while exercising.
Call to Action
A major difference between a healthy and unhealthy lifestyle is the role of the self as the center initiating actions that maintain and enhance the continuity of our body, brain, and mind unity. To learn more about developing a lifestyle that preserves the unity and continuity of life, contact Dr. Stephen J. Almada.
Stephen J Almada, Ed.D. Health Psychologist and author of Exercise, Life, and Love: The Making of a Sedentary Society. www.hsichicago.org.