I have stopped worrying about Alzheimer’s Disease. Between Google and my nine year old daughter, I can find anything. In the mornings when I leave home, there is Little Miss, with index finger outstretched, showing me just where I parked the car last night. And Google, the patron saint of writers, is always there to remind me of the things I had forgotten. Now all I have to do is get my brain hot-wired into a wireless network and I can meet the world head on.
However, we’re not quite there yet, so we (you and me) we have to retain as much cerebral function as we can. And it turns out that it is not all that difficult.
We have known for some time that if you don’t use your muscles, they waste away. By not using your hands for physical work, the skin on your hands gets thin. However, we also know that if you use your muscles again, the muscle tissue builds up and becomes strong once more. If you use your hands again, the skin builds up and becomes thicker. The message is that all is not lost! Recovery is possible.
However, we were always told that the one organ of the body that could not reverse the wasting process was the Central Nervous System. Once it started to fail, that was it. Dementia was just around the corner.
That view has recently been challenged and the results are comforting, to say the least. Experiments have been carried out that showed that by inducing stress in an animal resulted in chemicals being released. This on its own was nothing new, but what was new was the fact that some of these chemicals produced a difference in the brain’s anatomy! The idea that the brain could not change was incorrect! It could be ‘short-circuited’ resulting in a new wiring pathway.
What was even more exciting was that if the animal was restored to its own ‘safe’ and non-threatening environment, then the brain reverted to its pre-stressed anatomy! It was possible to ‘re-wire’ the brain.
In turn this has led to much research into the effects of stress and its reversal, and then on to Alzheimer’s Disease (if I have remembered to spell it correctly)! And if it were possible for its reversal too!
Returning to the research, we have shown that stress can physically damage nerve cells used in storing memory. We have also found that mindless watching of the goggle-box also produces a decline in brain function. In fact the numbers are more worrying than that. It has now been found that people with no stimulating leisure activities, and who are couch potatoes instead, are nearly four times more likely to develop dementia compared to those people who have leisure stimuli and do not waste hours in front of the TV.
Taking that a step further, and turning the scientific data around to be useful, it has been found that in being the converse to the couch potato, intellectually stimulating leisure activities had a ‘protective’ effect for the brain and its capabilities. What is more, they have also found that if you are doing a job you enjoy, then this was again protective, but a dull job with no stimulus or challenge was another way to head downhill.
This does not mean that we all have to take up chess tomorrow, because in place of intellectually stimulating hobbies, it has been found that physical exercise itself stops memory loss and stimulates growth of nerve cells.
Another protective factor appears to be marriage! Those who have never married have twice as high an incidence of dementia than those who are married. So there you are, rather than say that your wife is driving you insane, it appears that she is driving you towards sanity instead.
So the secret towards staving off dementia and Al whatsisname’s disease is to have a job you enjoy, get some exercise, watch a very limited amount of TV and settle down with a good cook (sorry, that should have read “a good book”).