Category Archives: Ideas to Float on

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.

The Power of Memory

The power of memory may seem puny if you’re caring for someone with #dementia, Words, plans, and even regrets just disappear. Yet there are moments when a song, a smell or a taste can quickly spark some hint of the past. Smell an #Easter#lily or a hyacinth and you’ll know what I mean.

The Power of Memory

I attended church every Sunday as a child. We were not allowed to skip a service unless we had mumps, measles or some other serious disease.  Our town was small, but it was filled with places of worship. There were Slovak, Lithuanian, Polish, and Russian churches. A tiny Jewish synagogue sat next to my elementary school. A large Roman Catholic parish, with its own school, was just one block away. My parents took us to church so we’d develop a strong moral compass. They also made us feel that membership in a faith community was part of our identity.

We belonged to a Lutheran church, which had no ethnic affiliation. The congregation included families with German, English, Irish, Welsh and Dutch roots. Our lives were tied together by the belief that religious commitment is an active matter. Faith wasn’t something proclaimed from a pulpit. It was something we did by donating food for the homeless or visiting elders who couldn’t get out.

Our church was built from hewn blocks of grey granite. Every Sunday the altar was decorated with tall bouquets of flowers. Families donated additional plants to fill the front of the church on holidays. Easter was special. Dozens of lilies filled the air with a mesmerizing scent.

Easter was always a big holiday for us because we each got a new spring dress. We wore our pastel clothes to church with a fresh pair of shoes. Often they squeezed our feet because they were stiff and new. We had to scuff them on the sidewalk to add a little friction to the soles.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten many details of childhood, but those memories are still magnetic. When I try to think of ways to engage my mother, I often fall back to songs we sang in church. I don’t have a great voice but I can still sing a few verses. Her eyes tell me the tunes are familiar.

The power of Memory = the sense of smell

I picture my mother wearing a short pink dress with a scalloped neckline. Her dress matched my sister’s and mine. We all carried small purses. My father, who had a tremendous voice, sang solos from the front of the church. The smell of lilies buoyed each musical note like a fragrant mist. That scent is imprinted in our minds. It’s an invisible code that time hasn’t erased.

At this point, language has deserted my mother. She can’t tell me what she remembers or enjoys.  But when I push her wheelchair close to the white flowers that proclaim the arrival of spring, her eyes open wide. Scientists say that smell is the first sense developed by humans. Judging from my mother’s reaction, it may also be the last to go.

When I hold a lily close to my mother’s nose, the power of memory seems even stronger than #dementia. Our brains are mysterious enough to baffle the greatest scientific minds. At times I feel my mother’s brain has betrayed her. Yet in these odd moments when a smell sparks the light in her eyes, I’m amazed at what her mind can still do.

If I’m lucky enough to grow old, I hope these intense sense memories don’t desert me. I hated wearing those stiff new shoes, but I can’t feel them at all when I close my eyes and remember all the lilies.