Woody Allen, a famous American comedian said, “I’m not afraid of dying; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Unfortunately, death is also inevitable, and as my dear old Mum used to say, “What am I doing here? I’ve passed my use-by date!” However, she certainly did make the most of her 94 years on terra firma, even winning a medal from the Duke of Edinburgh for her work in cataloguing wild flowers in the woods of Northern Scotland.
There are some special age-related problems, for those who live longer. A particular type of blindness called Age Related Macular Degeneration diminishes the eyesight to be lucky to identify three fingers at 2 meters. And we don’t have a fix-it right now, but we’re working on it.
Another disease prevalent in the older age group is Osteoarthritis. Hips and knees just ‘wear out’. We have invented artificial joints that do fairly well, but they only last about 15 years, so if you’re planning to reach 100, better wait till you’re 85.
Of course cancer is on this list. Cancers are primarily a condition of aging. After so many years of functioning properly, some of the cells just ‘wear out’ and an abnormal situation occurs. Without the checks and balances in the body systems, overgrowth of cellular tissue can turn into a malignant cancer.
So what about Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease? Aging of the brain producing a slowing down of cerebral function.
Now all I have to do is get my brain hot-wired into a wireless network and I can meet the world head on, but we’re not quite there yet, so we (you and me) have to retain as much cerebral function as we can. And it turns out that it is not all that difficult.
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.
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 dementia.
Do we have to take up chess tomorrow? No, 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.
(I don’t believe it!)