Preventing and Reversing Alzheimer’s – Dr. Kat Toups

Dr. Dale Bredesen, author of The End of Alzheimer’s, in an interview podcast with Kirkland Newman, indicated that he was the theoretician oversighting the work of his team engaged in clinical trials to prevent and reverse Alzheimer’s.  He also introduced Dr. Kat Toups as the practitioner and Principal Researcher for the clinical trials.  Kat specialises in functional medicine psychiatry and in 2009 was awarded the honour of Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychological Association (APA), the highest honour bestowed by the APA.  After researching Alzheimer’s for 20 years and working with Dementia patients in her clinic, she found in 2010 that she herself was a Dementia sufferer.  She spent the next three years researching and treating herself to the point where she was able to return to her practice after a period of incapacitation.

Kat was 50 years old at the time of her self-diagnosis of Dementia and she was acutely aware that such early onset Alzheimer’s tends to develop more rapidly than for people who are 65 years or older.  Kat described development of her symptoms as a progressive deterioration of her cognitive abilities:

  • Commencing with her inability to remember two sets of three words that she had used for 20 years in undertaking memory tests with her patients (she had to write them down to access them)
  • She found she was unable to reverse park or parallel park her car because these involved fairly complex cognitive steps
  • Her memory of how to work on her computer declined – she could not  remember how to operate this primary research tool and its particular functions; she found that her husband would get annoyed at her because she could not remember his instructions or that he had actually reminded her of the processes involved
  • Kat found she had difficulty remember phone numbers, and even worse, needed multiple attempts to dial a phone number
  • She found during a conversation at a friend’s place that she lost track of the conversation and was unable to understand what was being said in normal conversation (her cognitive ability had declined to the point where she had developed auditory processing problems)
  • She continued to deteriorate and eventually she suffered extreme fatigue, had difficulty getting out of a chair (for a year) and could not work.

Kat was very conscious of her concurrent problems including an auto-immune disease, Lyme disease, chemical sensitivity, allergy to multiple things resulting in hives and rashes all over her body and brain fog (resulting from exposure to chemicals in stores).  Because of her awareness of the many factors impacting cognitive ability – such as toxins, nutrient deficiency, lack of hormones, lifestyle challenges and stresses, inflammation and infections, and diet – she was motivated to undertake a battery of tests to determine and treat the specific factors impacting her cognitive health.  She indicated that in her clinical trials she does the same thing – isolate personal factors that can then become “treatment targets” for reversing the impact of Dementia (including Alzheimer’s).

Kat was eventually able to return to work and resume her clinical practice with the added benefit, because of her personal experience, of being able to treat her patients faster than she had treated herself.  She explains the thoroughness of her self-testing and treatment in her podcast interview with Kylene Terhune, Functional Diagnostic Nutrition (FDN) practitioner.

In her interview with Kirkland mentioned previously, Kat discussed a case study that demonstrated reversal of Dementia.  She spoke about a patient who had been tested elsewhere at the age of 60 and found to have a delayed memory score of 19, a score that should have been “way over 50”, given his education and obvious intelligence.  When he presented for a Dementia trial with Kat at age 63 (after doing nothing in the intervening period on the basis of the medical advice he had received), his cognitive test result was 7 (a decline of more than 50%).  Kat stated that she and her team were able to reverse this result after the patient spent 9 months in the clinical trial – resulting in a score of 92 at the end of that time.   

Ways to prevent and reverse Alzheimer’s and other forms of Dementia

Kat provides a free e-book, Decoding Dementia, in which she explains the causes of decline in memory and cognitive ability, discusses different treatment options, proposes diet and lifestyle changes and ways to test for and identify underlying causes of Dementia, including toxins (especially mould), inflammation, lack of hormones, and stress.

Kat provides what she terms a Basic Dementia Protocol which includes:

  • Identifying and correcting any underlying causes likely to contribute to cognitive problems
  • Observing her guidelines on exercise, diet and sleep
  • Brain training e.g. Brain-HQ
  • Correcting vision and hearing through testing and taking remedial action
  • Overcoming deficiencies in nutrients (e.g. Vitamin D)
  • Reducing stress by using mindfulness practices
  • Restoring hormones to the right levels and balance.

Kat is particularly conscious of the need to remove mould from homes and correct sleep apnea:

  • Mould – Kat explains that certain types of mould “can result in inflammation and destruction of the neurons” if left unattended over a reasonable period.  She advocates strongly for mold testing using home kits and external professional assessment.  Kat provides detailed instructions on how to go about dust collection and assessment (pgs. 10-11 of Decoding Dementia).
  • Sleep Apnea – Kat encourages testing and correcting Sleep Apnea where frequent snoring occurs as this condition causes a continuous loss of oxygen to both the brain and the heart.  In her words, if left untreated, “Sleep Apnea can lead to both Dementia and Congenital Heart Disease”.

In her free e-book, Decoding Dementia, Kat offers more details in relation to each of the elements of her Basic Dementia Protocol.  On mindfulness, she states that any mindfulness practice will be beneficial provided it is done on a daily basis and, ideally, for at least 20 minutes.  Kat recommends using a mindfulness practice that suits you personally and your commitments.  She encourages the use of guided meditations such as those provided by the Mindful Awareness Research Centre (MARC), UCLA.  Other options Kat proposes include Tai Chi, Gratitude practices including journalling, Meditation apps such as HeadSpace, and HeartMath Technology (focused on inner balance and stress reduction).

Reflection

We can each think of someone who could make use of the information and options provide by Kat.  The challenge is to apply her experience and research insights to ourself and undertake the testing, lifestyle changes and treatments (where necessary) that she proposes.  I find that guided mediations, mantra meditations and Tai Chi (meditation-in-action) are my favourite mindfulness practices.  Through these practices, I hope to grow in mindfulness so that I can increase my self-awareness, develop and support my brain (through improved attention and concentration) and build better understanding and compassion.  I hope to cultivate and savour my subconscious and gain greater access to my innate creativity.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Note: The Content of this post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Preventing Alzheimer’s – It’s Not What You Think

Kirkland Newman, researcher, writer and philanthropist, has established the MIndHealth360 website to make free resources and solutions available to anyone who wants to access information on mental health issues.  She shares her vision of an integrative approach to mental health through her advocacy of functional medicine psychiatry – an approach that does not just look at symptoms but explores root causes of illnesses.  Foundational to her approach is the recognition of the need to integrate our inner life, biochemical elements and lifestyle/behavioural approaches.  Her revolutionary approach to integrative mental health derives from family and personal experiences of disintegrated and injurious pharmaceutical treatments for postnatal depression.  Kirkland discovered the lasting benefits of integrative medicine (also called functional medicine) 11 years after suffering severe postnatal depression and has dedicated herself to sharing the benefit of this approach with others. 

Kirkland’s MindHealth360 website provides a comprehensive discussion of factors that could, in combination, be contributing uniquely to an individual’s mental health issues – these potential contributors have been categorised under the three main areas of lifestyle/behavioural, psycho-spiritual and biochemical factors.  Her documentation of these contributors is enriched by video podcasts of her interviews with leading experts on integrative mental health.  In this post, I want to explore one interview that covers the groundbreaking work of Dr. Dale Bredesen and Dr. Kat Toups on preventing and reversing Dementia (including Alzheimer’s – the most prevalent form of Dementia).  Dale is the author of The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Programme to Prevent and Reverse the Decline of Dementia and The Practical Plan to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline at Any Age.

Misconceptions about the nature of Alzheimer’s

Dale, who is a world-famous neurologist, was at pains to point out that the medical profession has completely misconstrued Alzheimer’s and led people astray into believing that it cannot be prevented or reversed.  His fundamental proposition aligns with Kirkland’s integrative medicine  approach.  He contends, for example, that the medical profession is treating Alzheimer’s as a simple disease rather than a complex one – he likens this perspective to treating Alzheimer’s like playing checkers instead of playing the more complex game of chess.   He argues that even the latest approved FDA Alzheimer’s drug will only slow the symptoms of Alzheimer’s but does not provide improvement.  He suggests that this disintegrated pharmaceutical approach is like fixing one hole in a ceiling riddled with more than 36 holes. 

He argues, based on successful clinical trials with his team, that there are four major areas that contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s:

  1. Inflammation (which can result from multiple different sources such as poor dental care)
  2. Toxins (including air pollution and household mould)
  3. Energetics (a technical term covering aspects such as blood flow, level of oxygen and presence of ketones)
  4. Nerve growth and neuron support (called “trophic support”, the presence of molecules that help neurons to develop and sustain necessary connections) – this includes hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, as well as nutrients such as Vitamin D.

Success in terms of Dale’s team means actually preventing and/or reversing the progress of Alzheimer’s.  The clinical trials of his team provide considerable proof that Alzheimer’s is reversible if you adopt an integrative approach which includes a battery of tests covering the four areas mentioned above and other aspects such as measurement of cognitive impairment (using MRI procedures and the MoCA Cognitive Assessment Test).  Added to these more quantitative approaches is discussion with a patient’s partner to discover whether they have observed any noticeable change in the person being assessed.

Dale argues for this more integrated “cognoscopy” approach and maintains that anyone over 45 years of age should seek out such comprehensive assessment of cognitive impairment.  He maintains that the term “Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)” is, in fact, misleading as this condition constitutes an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s (not an early stage as the name suggests).  Dale explains that his team has identified four stages in the development of Alzheimer’s:

  • Phase 1 – No symptoms but impairment detectable on a PET Scan (can occur 20 years prior to assessment of MCI)
  • Phase 2 – Subjective assessment – you know something is wrong but impairment is not detected by standard tests
  • Phase 3 – Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) as measured on tests such as the MoCA mentioned above.
  • Phase 4 – Final stage of advanced symptoms that are adversely impacting your daily activities.

Preventing and reversing Alzheimer’s

Dale contends, based on the improvements in Alzheimer’s patients during clinical trials, that Alzheimer’s is reversible particularly if cognitive impairment is identified and addressed in its early stages.  In the trials, the researchers chose people who were assessed as having Mild Cognitive Impairment (that is, with MoCA scores of 19 or less, but not including those in the zero to 5 range).  The results show that 84% of the patients actually improved their cognitive assessment, despite the intervention of the pandemic (a summary of the results is provided at 23.48 mins in the video podcast).

Dale states that a “one size fits all approach” to treatment is totally inadequate because of the considerable variability amongst individuals in relation to the four major areas discussed previously (inflammation, toxins, energetics and nerve/neuron support).  In concert with Dr. Kat Toups, he states that Alzheimer’s is also preventable if we look to maintain our health holistically having regard to the key lessons identified from their personal experience, research and clinical practice. 

Reflection

These insights on Alzheimer’s, developed through evidence-based trials, remind us of the need to access the wisdom of the body and to consciously adopt a self-care plan.  It also means that it is desirable to be proactive in obtaining professional assessments of our physical and mental health.  Kirkland reminds us that we need to attend to our “inner life”, especially negative thoughts and beliefs that over time can result in the release of stress hormones that “can cause further hormone and neurotransmitter imbalances”.   She argues for the use of meditation and mindfulness to manage our thought patterns and beliefs, as these improve self-awareness and self-regulation.

We can explore our inner landscape as we grow in mindfulness through Tai Chi, mantra meditation, yoga or other mindfulness practices.  Kirkland contends that mindfulness can help us to develop emotional regulation as we become aware of our thought-feelings patterns and learn to break the habit loop.

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Image by Mirosław i Joanna Bucholc from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Note: The Content of this post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Conscious Aging: Reframing for Health and Happiness

Maria Shriver – author, journalist and activist for healthy aging – recently spoke to Tami Simon about the Radically Reframing Aging Summit that they are collaborating on to promote a balanced view of aging.   Maria is the founder of Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM) which she established after her mother died of Alzheimer’s and following her awareness that two thirds of people living with Alzheimer’s or Dementia in America are women and the same percentage of carers for these sufferers are also women.  Maria was conscious that there was a lack of research and education about women’s Alzheimer’s and she set out to address this deficiency by funding research and education about Alzheimer’s management and prevention through the Movement which also engages in advocacy.

In the interview podcast with Tami Simon, Maria discussed several topics that will be covered in the Summit and explained some of the background to bringing together a range of “groundbreakers” drawn from many fields including performers, neuroscientists, medical professionals, psychologists, and entrepreneurs – all of whom have broken through the mythical “age barrier” to achieve outstanding results in work and life in their later years.

Fundamental to the Summit is the realisation that there are lots of myths about aging and unhelpful “narratives” that disempower people from achieving a healthy and productive life as they grow old.  While numerous narratives exist for early life up to and including age 40 (e.g. establishing a career, getting married and having children), there is very little in terms of positive narratives about aging and the later years of life.  One of Maria’s goals is to establish new “aging narratives” through the words and example of “groundbreakers”, some of whom are presenters at the Summit.

Some lessons from the groundbreakers

In the course of the podcast interview, Maria highlighted some of the key insights and lessons gleaned from the groundbreakers and she identified Tami Simon as one of them [Tami established her multimedia company Sounds True in 1985 to promote mindfulness, mental health and spirituality in business and now has over 600 podcast interviews with leaders in these fields].   The insights and lessons cover areas such as the following:

  • Reframing the aging narrative – the problem with the mainstream aging narrative is that it induces fear and prevents proactive actions to live later years in a meaningful, healthful and optimum way.  The focus on deterioration with aging, instead of potentiality, induces fear about the future and the possibility of chronic ill-health, Alzheimer’s and loneliness.  People become fixed in their ways, lacking initiative in dealing with their health and happiness.   Maria is determined to promote positive stories about aging and change the dominant narrative.  She points out that the groundbreakers presenting in the Summit proactively work on their mind, their body and their overall frame of mind.  They age consciously – reframing aging so that they experience health and happiness.  They work to achieve a designer future.
  • Reframing retirement – the old narrative about retirement involved finishing a career and engaging in some hobbies while leading a relatively sedentary life.  Reframing the retirement narrative involves a change in mindset that views the best years of life ahead, rather than behind. Groundbreakers live a life that inspires themselves and others.  They choose to work on what matters to them (something that they are passionate about); what “speaks to them” at the time (given their life experience, skill set and lessons learned); and what brings them joy, happiness and fulfillment.  They are able to flourish, enrich their life and deepen their life experience.  Pursuing a purpose that energizes them and enables them to tap into their creativity.  My brother Pat was an example of this when in his early 70’s (until he was 81), he started “virtual walking” (covering more than 25,000 kilometres) to raise funds for his aged care centre, Sinnamon Village.  Maria also shares the story of a woman who was retired by her law firm (because she was 60!) and went on to become a full-time art instructor at an Art School (a long-held dream of hers).   We are able to rewire and, like super-agers, pursue a life energised by a purpose and mission, access our creativity by challenging ourselves and adopt a mindset that sees ourselves as active and healthy.  The principle of changing the retirement narrative is also captured in Bob Bradshaw’s book, Don’t Retire to Expire: “Once you wake up, everything else is optional”.
  • Alzheimer’s prevention – given her family history, Maria was very determined to prevent Alzheimer’s, not only for herself, but also for the wider community through her Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM).  She recognised that the presence of Alzheimer’s in your parents is not a major determinant of whether you will experience Alzheimer’s or not – there are other factors such as the way you live that have a greater influence.  The Harvard Medical School in their report, Alzheimer’s Disease: A guide to diagnosis, treatment and caregiving, confirms the view that the major determinant of Alzheimer’s is lifestyle, not family history.  In the podcast, Maria shared what she does personally to ward off Alzheimer’s in line with current research into Alzheimer’s prevention and what is beneficial for a healthy brain and heart.  She explained, for example, that she exercises, tries to get adequate and quality sleep, reduces stress in her life (where possible), sets about learning new things and watches her diet and nutrition (no longer for weight-loss reasons but for the health of her mind and body).
  • Reframing life transitions – Maria highlighted the constant need for adaption in life as we experience periods of transition, e.g. marriage breakup, loss of a job, children leaving home, extended marriages or establishing a new relationship in later life.  Many of these transitions involve reframing one’s identity (e.g., identity changes because you are no longer a carer, paid employee of an organisation, or a provider of a home for your own children).  There can be a feeling of loneliness with the “empty nest” or a sense that you are “not needed anymore”.  The feelings of loneliness can be compounded by the death of a partner, close relative or friend.  Maria suggests that to make the transition we need to respect our feelings and face them while trying progressively to figure out a way forward for ourself.  She maintains that grief is a real challenge as we age because we lose people and, as a result, grief is an inevitable accompaniment of the aging process.  Jenée Johnson provides some sound advice on coping with grief.
  • Reframing death and dying – as we age and get closer to our death,it is natural to fear dying and to avoid conversations about this inevitable experience.  However, many mindfulness experts encourage meditating on death as a preparation for dying.  Maria informs herself about the dying process through her journalistic stories on near death experiences and the Hospice Movement.  She maintains that it is an ongoing challenge for all of us to work out “how to live well and how to die well”.  Maria contends that regrets are normal when we die and that we should die with as few regrets as possible through feeling that we have made the most of our life and used our gifts to enhance our own life and that of others.  Franks Ostaseski, an  expert in the process of dying and death, suggests that we go one step further when thinking about past regrets. He argues that we should replace regret with remorse so that we are motivated to do, and say things, differently when we reflect on what we have done or said, or failed to do or say.

Reflection

Maria points out tha t different cultures (such as African Americans) have a much more positive view of aging than Western society and respect the wisdom of their elders and, accordingly, treat older people with much deference and a wholesome respect.  I found even in Italy, for example, that older people were highly respected (to my surprise, having men and women of all ages offering their seat to me on a tram, even when they were sitting further away from me on the tram – I was in my early 70’s at the time). 

Maria suggests that it is critical that we have the conversation in public about aging and its attendant challenges and opportunities. People in Western society  have suffered in silence in the past and been subjected to the limiting, prevailing mindset about aging.  For example, Maria’s interviewer, Tami, mentioned the challenge of going grey as a woman and the pressures to die her hair a different colour (which she resisted, being a groundbreaker in lots of ways).  Maria also encourages us to write about our fears, to get them outside our head  and onto paper.  She has found that this serves to reduce the fear and related stress and enables her to take appropriate action.

People in chronic pain have additional challenges as they age.  Maria expressed empathy and compassion for people in this situation.  She stressed the need to express gratitude at each stage of life for what we have and are able to do.  In being grateful for our current capabilities, both mental and physical, we are more likely to care for them and develop them, rather than take them for granted.  We are also more likely to be compassionate towards others who lack our capabilities because of some form of disability.

Maria shares her own life experiences, lessons and meditation practices in her book, I’ve Been Thinking…:Reflections, Prayers and Meditations for a Meaningful LifeShe also expands on the book’s insights through a regular podcast, Meaningful Conversations, where she interviews people she admires and explores life’s challenges and the “art of self-invention”.

 As we grow in mindfulness through listening to podcasts, reflecting on our own life and engaging in meditation and other mindfulness practices, we can become more aware of our limiting narratives, be more proactive as we age and tap into our creative energy to pursue a meaningful and fulfilling life purpose.   

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Image by annayozman from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Alzheimer’s Disease and Disconnection from the Present Location

One of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease that is not often spoken about is “disorientation” – an “altered mental state” where the sufferer loses track of their identity and location and/or the time and date.   Disorientation can have multiple causes but with Alzheimer’s sufferers it can be part of the confusion arising from “abnormalities in the brain structure or functioning”. 

Disorientation in layman’s language is about making associations amongst events, time and location that do not exist in reality, but only in the brain of the Alzheimer’s sufferer.  It is as if neural pathways that usually connect data, information and emotions become cross-wired or mixed up so that unassociated events become wrongly associated.  The Alzheimer’s sufferer, for example, may hear something mentioned in conversation (e.g., a past event, location, or time) and relate that to the present moment as if it was real now.  

Being exposed to this disorientation by an Alzheimer’s sufferer makes you appreciate the wonder of the brain when it is functioning properly – the ability to make order and sense of millions of stimuli and associations in the passage of everyday life.  We take so much of this for granted and exposure to Alzheimer’s disorientation reminds you that you really do need to “mind your brain”.

Impact of disorientation on the Alzheimer’s sufferer

There really is not enough space to traverse the full extent of the impact of disorientation on the Alzheimer’s sufferer.  Suffice it to say that the disorientation can be very disturbing for the individual involved.  They may be firmly convinced about what they are thinking and experiencing as reality and become upset when others contradict them.  They may start to lose confidence in their ability to understand what is going on.  This can lead to increasing anger, frustration, and hostility.  Poet, Mark Doty, in his poem, This Your Home Now,  reminds us how unsettling the “loss of the familiar” can be even when the loss relates to something as simple as the routine of visiting a familiar barbershop.  There can be a real sense of grief associated with disorientation.

People like Professor Deborah Reed-Danahay have made a lifetime study of what identity and “home” mean to an individual and their capacity to become grounded and at peace.  Her ethnographic study of the concept of “home” for Alzheimer’s sufferers reinforces the influence of context and continuity to enable a person to transfer the concept of “home” from their normal place of living to that of a nursing home.  She discusses an individual in a nursing home who is constantly asking for her car to go “home”.  The Alzheimer’s sufferer may confuse previous homes with their existing location and may constantly ask for someone to give them “a lift home” – sometimes, resulting in a well-meaning visitor to a nursing home inappropriately offering them a lift.

Confusion about time and place can be compounded by recent events and newspaper reports.  Stories can be mixed up in terms of time and place and people affected, e.g., stories about beach accidents can be wrongly associated with close relatives.   Even the presence of a dementia clock can be a source of confusion – an easy-to-read clock designed to overcome confusion about time and date can be misinterpreted as a medication schedule (possibly precipitating unintentional overdose of medications).

Impact on the carer

When a person is caring for an Alzheimer’s sufferer, they can experience the sufferer’s disorientation as deeply disturbing and a constant source of disruption and agitation.  The Alzheimer’s sufferer may constantly ring them with misinformation about their location or what is happening around them.  They may imagine that they are someplace else other than the aged-care facility, and seek a lift to return “home”.  They could ring up frantically seeking assistance with lost young children (a situation that is a total figment of their imagination).  However, negative emotions are contagious, no matter how much you tell yourself that the situation described by the Alzheimer’s sufferer does not exist.

What also makes it very difficult for the carer is the constant change in the condition of the Alzheimer’s sufferer.  They may be incredibly lucid at one moment and in touch with current events and, in the next moment or day, be totally confused about events, location and timing.  They may have a very clear recollection about some past event or location and yet be unable to remember what they said a few moments previously.  The impact of this constant change and confusion can itself be disorientating for the carer.

The carer needs to develop endless patience and tolerance while maintaining self-care practices so that they are able to continue to provide effective support and help to the Alzheimer’s sufferer.

Reflection

The experience of the disorientation of an Alzheimer’s sufferer really makes us appreciate what our brain actually does for us on a moment-by-moment basis as we take in millions of stimuli and sensations.  It makes us appreciate our brain and motivates us to want to properly care for it through mindfulness practice and avoiding obsession with the news and social media.  It also reinforces the need for a carer to consciously strive for effective self-care.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can progressively become more self-aware and be really grateful for the functioning of our brains whether at work or home or when participating in sports.  Mindfulness becomes a way of being really grounded in the present moment, of finding a refuge that provides calm and tranquility amongst the turbulence of daily life.

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Image by Muhamad Suhkry Abbas from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Mind Your Brain

In the previous post, I discussed the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease on the mental. emotional and physical capacities of the affected person.  I particularly emphasised the importance of self-care for the carer whose life is increasingly disrupted and made more stressful because of the cognitive, emotional and financial drain on their personal resources. 

Alzheimer’s disease and the associated  disorder of dementia are becoming increasingly prevalent in society as our populations age.  The Alzheimer’s Association maintains that there are 342,000 people in Australia living with dementia and 44 million worldwide.  The Harvard Medical School notes that Alzheimer’s disease is the major cause of dementia. 

When you come into close contact with someone who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, you begin to realise the need to savour your brain as a source of wonder in everyday life.  As you see the progressive loss of key faculties by another person, you begin to realise how much we rely on our brains to live effectively and happily in our day-to-day existence. 

It is often only when we lose something, or see others lose something that we value, that we begin to really appreciate what we have.  The same is true of our brains.  And yet, as Andy Puddicombe points out in a YouTube video, we spend more time looking after our hair or car than we do our brains – the source of our thoughts, creativity, happiness, and practical skills.  Andy suggests that all It takes is 10 mindful minutes each day to begin to mind our brains.

Protective measures

The Harvard Medical School, in their publication on Alzheimer’s disease and its treatment, suggest a range of protective measures that people can take to either avoid Alzheimer’s or to slow the progress of the disease.  They point out however that scientists have not found a cure for Alzheimer’s or found definitive ways to prevent its occurrence – there are still many unknowns in relation to the disease, including the actual impact of genetic factors.  The Harvard Medical School, however, notes that lifestyle factors are a major influence on preventing the disease or slowing its progress.

In line with many other sources such as the National Institute of Aging, the Harvard Medical School recommends exercise, diet, weight reduction, restful sleep and mental stimulation as protective measures.  They remind us that what is good for our brain and body is also good for our heart.

The Harvard Medical School provides health reports on the benefits and techniques for different exercise routines.  They particularly stress the multiple benefits of walking in their publication Walking for Health, including the positive impacts on blood pressure, memory, heart health and weight.  Walking is one of the easiest and most accessible forms of exercise and they suggest that it is a good place to start for people who are not used to exercising.  In a related article they identify 5 Surprising Benefits of Walking.

The recommendation re restful sleep accords with the research by Stanislas Dehaene, author of the book How We Learn: The New Science of Education and the Brain.  Stanislas highlights the key role of sleep in consolidation of learning – in making our learning explicit and building “unconscious competence”.

Mental stimulation as a way to mind your brain

The Harvard Medical School maintains that while level of education has a positive effect on maintaining a healthy brain  (through the process of creating “cognitive reserve” in the form of neurotransmitters and brain cells), what is more important as you age is to engage in activities that stimulate the brain.  They suggest, like the Institute of Aging’s recommendations re “cognitive training”, that mentally stimulating activities such as playing music, reading, writing, doing puzzles and playing games, can help to develop and maintain a healthy brain despite physically ageing.  There are many very active and inspiring octogenarians who provide testament to this possibility.

Minding your brain through mindfulness

Harvard Medical School, in the previously mentioned publication on Alzheimer’s, illustrates how this disease actually shrinks the physical brain as a result of the ”massive loss of brain cells” – which, in turn, “damages areas involved in thought, planning, memory, mood and behavior”.  In contrast, Richard Davidson and Daniel Goleman in their book,  Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body, reveal that mindfulness meditation actually increases the neo-cortex area of the brain.

They also contend that mindfulness meditation can shape your brain to build resilience.  Drawing on the science of meditation they maintain that focused meditation and aligned action can develop the traits necessary for personal resilience – positive connections, awareness, insight into your inner landscape, clarity of purpose and a permeable self.  

One of the positive effects of mindfulness meditation is better use and development of your working memory which is an area negatively impacted by Alzheimer’s disease.   The act of paying attention facilitates short term memory thus enabling better retention and use of information for improved decision-making and behavioural choices.  Harvard Medical School has a series of articles on improving your memory and a comprehensive report on how to keep your brain healthy in the face of age-related memory loss.

Specific mindfulness activities have particular effects relevant to minding your brain.  Tai Chi, for example, enables you to deepen the mind-body connection as well as improve physical health, psychological well-being and overall energy levels (thus facilitating other forms of exercise such as walking). 

Reflection

Harvard Medical School emphasises the need to mind your memory to offset the occurrence of memory lapses which are a natural part of the ageing process.  Looking after our memory can be one of the many protective measures that we can employ to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and its multiple debilitating effects. 

As we grow in mindfulness, through meditation and other mindfulness practices such as Tai Chi, we can enhance our working memory, build resilience, develop our physical brain, and improve our overall psychological well-being which further reduces the strain on our brain brought on by life’s stressors.  Developing the habit of mindfulness is a very sound and healthy resolution for the New Year.

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Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.