Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Demented or What?

The Alzheimer Society of Canada has been surveying a thousand of us Boomers. They found we mostly don't have a clue about dementia - how to recognize it coming on and what it means for the sufferer and the caregiver. Yet some of us already are involved with relatives in decline or soon will be. Some of the most unlucky amongst us may even be sufferers, mostly with the early stages - what the docs call Mild Cognitive Impairment. Two thirds of those will go on to full-blown dementia if they live long enough.

In my days running biotech companies researching potential treatments or diagnostics, I got to work on two occasions in the field of dementia medicine. It's the Holy Grail for medical R&D since it's becoming an epidemic and there's still no good prevention or treatment. Worse still, detection is a bitch of a problem. By the time the brain looks like scrambled egg, things are all downhill. And you can only confirm the signs in the brain after death.

Denial is a lot of the issue.
After all, old folk are supposed to be forgetful and slow! Really? I recall my positive and outgoing dad in his fit early eighties suddenly stopping his beloved golf and even turning away pals at the door. He was overseas and I tried to get my family over there to see what was probably happening. But I, of course, was depressingly knowledgeable. Family was just like the Society finds. The dots weren't connected with Dad's sister having had Alzheimer's. I turned out to be the lucky one, only getting to witness his declining faculties on the occasional business trip. He went through the full menu - lost on walks, failing sense of time, anger, then endlessly repeated questions and finally all recognition pretty well gone.

Dad was one of three siblings: one died of the more traditional outcomes of aging, the other two from the consequences and associations of dementia. Since there's a genetic correlation, the odds may not be that great for me should I morph into a true senior by collecting the lengthened life bonus our technical civilization bestows. Losing this lottery, I would fit the alternative definition of this 'bonus' i.e. we just take longer in dying than we used to. This points to the core of our dilemma as Boomers - how to maintain a historically unprecedented quality of life in the face of physical and mental decline without mortality.

We are told that maintaining mental alertness is good for memory and that depression is negatively correlated with development of dementia. There are going to be a lot of us looking to stay alert and upbeat. Just how are we going to do that? Are we the solution to declining charity funding and government social services? The Internet would seem to be a godsend. Environics' Michael Adams in his new book "Stayin' Alive" says the Boomer view of technology has turned more positive the last few years. It's certainly easier to use, but it would be nice if more truly grown up people designed the interfaces and applications! Perhaps that's what we should be doing - learning programming and developing apps for the likes of us!? Certainly would stretch the grey cells!

1 comment:

  1. I understand the concerns a family history of dementia and Alzheimer may raise. Apart from what is genetically determined, I think the points raised about embracing new technology and thus keeping the mind active are very valid. Combined with physical activity we can certainly help keeping both body and mind in better shape than retirees who fall in a dark hole not knowing what to do with the extra time.

    I have been lucky in a way because it always seemed to come naturally to me. I had a chemistry educational background, a manufacturing career and computers as a hobby from the very first appearance of personal computers. As one career direction slowly dead down, I ramped up the hobby and added regular visits to a gym to replace the physical activity of the corporate manufacturing world. With a bit of second career training I am turning this computer hobby in a free lance career in web development and I also get deeper than ever before into the open source and Linux computer environment. Add to that a strong interest in good movies and music, as well as an insatiable hunger for news from all over the world, and I do indeed lead a life that keeps both mind and body active.

    Some people a century ago might have called people who explored many different directions Renaissance people, others more cynically might say we lack focus. But we know who we are, and we know that there is so much out there worth exploring that we would never settle for a narrower view.

    And if you do too, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

    Chris

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