Author Archives: Colleen Davis

Can We Grow Old Without Getting Dementia?

Can we grow old without getting dementia? If you’re a #caregiver bearing witness to #dementia, the prospect of getting older may fill you with fear. Watching my mother’s struggle, I wonder if I can live a long life without losing my mind. Researchers around the world have been doing studies on very old people living healthy lives. Their habits can teach us something.

Can We Grow Old Without Getting Dementia

Current life expectancy in the U. S. is 78.6 years according to the National Center for Health Statistics.  Studies in Scandinavia, Australia, and Italy have examined the health traits of people in the 90 to 100 year age bracket. Their findings suggest that it’s possible to reach advanced age without developing #dementia.

Aging around the world

A Swedish study looked at a group of 100 people who reached the age of 100 or above. Among those 100 or older, only 27% of the group had problems with memory or word lists. Personality assessments also showed that people in this group were “more responsible, capable, easygoing and less prone to anxiety” than the general population in general. Most were also blessed with a strong physical constitution and few were plagued by high blood pressure.

The Italian research project focused on Acciaroli, in Southern Italy. This town is home to a very high number of centenarians. Town residents over the age of 100 showed low levels of a hormone called adrenomedullin. Adrenomedullin slows circulation which can lead to serious diseases such as heart problems. The 100 year-olds of Acciaroli had adrenomedullin levels similar to people in their 20s and 30s. The study looked at the diet of Acciaroli elders and found they consumed lots of local fish, game, rosemary, and olive oil. Their recipe for long life incorporated another special ingredient: romance! One researcher, Dr. Maisel, observed that, “Sexual activity among the elderly appears to be rampant.”

The RDNS Institute which assists over 100,000 Australian elders, reviewed the health records of more than one thousand people aged 95 and older. Although the group showed some evidence of chronic illnesses, one researcher noted, “They seem to be able to manage better.” One amazing statistic is that among those who reached age 100 years, their need for home visits actually declined! As with the other groups, researchers emphasize that, “Good genetics are important, and so are good habits regarding food and drink.” The Australian group also seemed to manage the stress of life more easily than most people. One participant said, “I sort of don’t worry about things too much.”

Are fewer people Getting dementia?

Finally, a comprehensive study conducted by Qiu, Chengxuan and Fratiglioni, Laura examined data on dementia around the world. They found that dementia development rates are declining in many parts of the world, including North America.  Studies of large populations also showed that among those over the age of 100 “male centenarians are more likely to be cognitively intact than their female contemporaries.” In a British study of 11,000 people aged 100 or older dementia was recorded in only 11% of people.

What does it mean for us?

Obviously, we should not all expect to live into our 90’s. Genetics, health habits, and access to care have a tremendous impact on the extent of our life span. But even if I could get old without getting #dementia, I’m not sure I want to live into my nineties. I’ve met a lot of people who have celebrated their 90th and 100th birthdays. Those who have outlived their loved ones don’t seem to enjoy the benefits of their longevity. The really lucky elders are those who are still closely attached to their families in old age — and that seems to be a rare thing. My current plan is to keep eating lots of greens and olive oil, get daily exercise, and keep a little romance going at all times. Because if I do eventually lose my mind, I’d like to do it with a smile on my face that makes the nurses wonder why I’m so happy.

Don’t Let Dementia Steal Mother’s Day

Don’t let dementia steal Mother’s Day from your family. That #mother-child bond is sacred, no matter what’s happened in the years since your birth. For the past 11 years, I’ve had to remind myself of this on every #Mother’s Day. Though not fully present, my Mom is still here and I’m grateful for the life she gave me.

Dementia Steal Mother's Day

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
by Lao Tzu

She was always tiny and cute in her whirling skirts and pixie hair cuts. My mom was a good cook but a better dancer. Although she made a mean roast beef, she was happier doing the jitter bug. My parents didn’t always get along, but they found harmony swinging through space on any dance floor. Tall, handsome dad turning pretty little mom on the fulcrum of her high-heeled shoes. Sparkly earrings on a Saturday night with the Dorsey Brothers, Sam Cooke, Doris Day, or Motown. She could dance to it all.

My mother had a lot of rules and her two daughters tried to follow them. A strange authority emanated from her small body. When we made her mad, she cried as she scolded us. The sight of her tears was far worse punishment than an afternoon stuck in our rooms.

Her greatest teachings focused on work ethic. Though she delivered forty weekly hours of effort to her boss, Mom still came home eager to tame an unruly household. Laundry, housecleaning, financial management — she excelled at all of it. Her performance standards were high. My sister and I absorbed that.

Can #Dementia Steal Mother’s day?

I feel that Mom’s efficiency must have cost her something. At what point does #dementia sneak in? How does it find you? Why does it pursue you so slowly, so relentlessly? The disease raises a hundred unanswerable questions. But it’s taught me at least one thing: While dementia may erase their memories, it has no claim on yours. As long as a mother is alive — and well after she’s left this earthly plane — you can commit yourself to cherishing the things you value about them. You can remember who they were and what they did to plant you in this world of boundless possibility.

I have to finish here and cry a while before I go to observe Mother’s Day with my mom. She’s tinier than ever, folded like a paper doll into a giant, deluxe wheelchair. Now I call her my Origami Mommy. She’s cute as ever, nearly silent, yet somehow still aware of the charm she exerts in this world. God bless her and all the mothers silenced by dementia and other grave illnesses. May we all draw solace from the gifts they gave us so long ago.