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On Death and Dementia

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dementia and attitudeFor so many medical conditions, the package inserts – that thin white paper with the fine print –  for doctor-prescribed medications say that “diet and exercise” are first line. This applies to medications used to treat high blood pressure, weight loss or even type 2 diabetes.  Would it surprise you to hear that diet and attitude are first line defenses against dementia or other cognitive decline?  More and more research is pointing to the importance of the foods we eat as well as our outlooks on life as preventive measures to forestall the onset of dementia. 

            Start with cynicism.  Researchers in one study started with a group of more than 600 people whose average age was 71.3 years at the beginning of the study.  Initially, the researchers collected data on the patients overall health, their levels of cynicism (yes, you can measure cynicism) and their cognitive statuses using validated scales.  Over the course of 8.4 years, the researchers continued to assess all patients’ levels on all these metrics.  At the end of this time frame, 46 of the original number of patients had, in fact, developed dementia.  The scientists adjusted for age, gender and depression, but still found that individuals who started out this study interval with higher measureable cynicism were statistically more likely to develop dementia.  Moreover, about two years later more than half of the study participants had died, and those who had been classified as statistically more cynical were more likely to be among the number who died.

            Switch gears now, and another study based out of Rush Presbyterian Medical Center in Chicago found a positive link between people with quantifiable “purpose” in their lives and their ability to live dementia-free.  This study followed about 1,000 people age 80 for about seven years.  It measured physical, psychological and cognitive aspects of these patients over the duration of the study.  These subjects also agreed to donate their brains for further analysis upon their deaths.  At the end of the seven years, the researchers found that those with the highest scores on “purpose” were 2.4 times more likely to remain free of any signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease.  These subjects also were less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, one of the early signs of impending Alzheimer’s.

            Those with high purpose also had had a lower mortality rate than the others and had fewer disabilities as they aged.  When the patients did die, the doctors performed autopsies of their brains.  Even among those who had manifested no signs of Alzheimer’s on cognitive tests and had maintained measurably higher levels of “purpose” some still had the plaque of AD on their brains.  The conclusion was that the patients with purpose could more readily work through the deficits and maintain higher functioning cognition.

            The moral?  We often hear people talking about the importance of attitude.  And a good attitude certainly enhances the quality of life of those around the people with good attitudes.  Evidently, it is also very good for the health, mental functioning and longevity of those with the positive attitudes too.

            Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  Please email your questions to info@cr eativecaremanagement.com.

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