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The old saying, “mind over matter”, takes on new meaning when scientists view it in terms of the complaints some older people make during routine doctor visits.
Instead of pooh-poohing these concerns as simple age-related worrying (and fear of senility), physicians are being asked to pay more attention to the mind.
“The concerns are being taken more seriously,” notes Zaven Khachaturian, PhD, and editor of Alzheimer’s & Dementia, a journal. This concern is even more important, notes Doctor Ron Peterson of the Mayo Clinic, as medicine moves toward earlier and earlier intervention. In fact, this intervention – in the form of clinical trials and ongoing studies – has begun to identify older individuals’ concerns as perhaps the first onset of Alzheimer’s and other age-related mental illnesses like dementia and depression.
This disease begins in a part of the brain that controls memory, and causes brain cells to literally die. As it spreads, it can affect a large number of intellectual, emotional and behavioral characteristics, ranging of sociability to personal hygiene and toilet skills.
The fourth leading cause of death in America, Alzheimer’s affects about one out of every 100 adults. As of 2015, 5.2 million adults over 65 were afflicted with Alzheimer’s. More than 200,000 under 65 also had the disease. The odds of developing Alzheimer’s climb by 400 percent among families where it is prevalent. Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States, with similar rates occurring all over the world in developed nations.
The first symptom of Alzheimer’s and it’s affect on the mind is usually a loss of recent memory: that is, what has occurred, or what must be done, within the last few hours or days. This can range from forgetting to turn off the oven to forgetting medication.
Later, Alzheimer’s patients will have trouble working with numbers, and this shows up when they are unable to calculate the exact cost of several things, or when paying bills (versus the amount of money in the checking account).
Ultimately, Alzheimer’s patients will forget where they live, the names of loved one, or recent events. They become, first, quarrelsome and difficult, and then remote, and are unable to physically care for themselves.
Dementia vs. Senile Dementia of The Mind
Dementia simply means “loss of mind”. When it occurs among elderly people, it is labeled senile (for “senior”) dementia.
There are a number of kinds of dementia, ranging from Alzheimer’s to Lewy body dementia or vascular dementia (which results from changes to blood vessels in the brain). They also include such esoteric names as frontotemporal dementia. Dementia is associated with certain diseases, notably Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s chorea, or disease. Senile dementia, which was once a used as a diagnosis, is no longer valid, but doctors often retain the term because it describes the failure of mind associated with simply aging.
The likelihood that a person will develop some form of dementia depends on age, family history, alcohol and tobacco use, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. However, because aging makes us all a little less sharp and focused, some older people who are merely forgetful may accidentally be labeled with dementia when in fact it is simply a normal effect of aging.
Forgetting to take medications, taking too many, or forgetting to drink fluids can also lead to symptoms similar to dementia, and result in false diagnoses.
Preventing Mental Disease
So far there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, though much significant work has been done on diagnosing its cause.
There is, equally, no cure for Lewy body, Parkinson’s or Huntington’s. But just because there is no cure for dementia, doesn’t mean people can’t help prevent it. Here are some things to do to delay the onset of mental aging:
- Pets. Having a pet is important for single seniors, but not always possible. Pets can help prevent the anxiety and depression typical of aging, but not every older person is capable of caring for an animal, or wants one.
- Hobbies are also helpful because the focus the mind, create pleasure, and usually deliver a tangible reward – at least to the hobbyist. But as the hands lose their dexterity, the eyes their acuity, and the general health its stability, hobbies may also become more and more difficult.
- Holistic healing, which involves the use of herbs and supplements, may also be helpful. At the very least, they are not likely to be as harmful as pharmaceutical preparations. In addition, some are vitamins that deplete as we age, and some are supplements that we can’t get without a perfectly balanced diet (and who has one of those?). These “mental healers” include:
- Omega-3 DHA
- Vitamin B (especially B-12)
- Choline, (L-alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine)
- Bacopa Monnieri
- Huperzine A
- Ginkgo Biloba
- Vitamin D
- DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid), omega-3 essential fatty acid
- Huperzine A