No, the black hole is not President Trump’s Twitter account, nor the witless ideas of “the Squad”. Unlike the public, political, economic and other issues which the media keep stoking, stroking, invoking, this black hole will eventually hit almost every family, regardless of race, gender or religion, if it hasn’t already.
I have witnessed the effects of this black hole called Alzheimer’s disease in my mother-in-law, other families whose loved ones spent their final days in the nether world of mind-loss and memory care facilities. It gives another, wholly unwanted meaning to selfless. Why do I say this black hole threatens life as we know it? Two reasons: 1- While the bodies of those afflicted remain on earth, their “life”–personality, memory, abilities–are somewhere else. 2- Given the rate of growth of both Alzheimer’s and other dementia’s, and the aging of the largest population cohort of the USA–baby boomers–and the lack of practical ways of paying for care, this black hole will soon dwarf other political, environmental and economic concerns.
What can you do personally, and for your family, to be proactive in reducing the gravitational pull of this black hole? No one knows what actually causes Alzheimer’s, including me, yet I have seen enough of it, and read enough accounts, that I will venture that a contributor is your own thoughts. Many of the victims of Alzheimer’s I have known were “blamers” and unforgivers.” They had trouble getting over slights and disappointments. They tend not to be resilient. Negative thoughts have a corrosive effect on personal peace. Scientists estimate that we have between 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts every day. Whenever you think about something, it is a form of self-talk so you can see how important it is to control your thoughts. Resilient people do not whine, complain, or blame others; instead, they have the mental toughness to take responsibility for their actions. Since you are not perfect, there will be mistakes and failures; instead of responding with negative self-talk, what if you accept responsibility and turn your attention, and energy, toward learning from your mistakes and failures?
I’m sure there’s plenty of exceptions, but I believe this: “Energy follows attention—wherever your attention is focused, your energy will follow. If your inner critic is beating you up about a failure, your failing will be the one thing you focus on.” (former FBI agent LaRae Quy). Even if I am wrong, learning to control your self talk is beneficial and worth the effort. I use my blog to monitor my self talk and work irritations out of my system. But that’s the same as journaling, except more public. I can think of no more useful tools for fighting Alzheimer’s and dementia than these exercises for your mind:
1. Read books, spend more time reading than watching videos, developing the habit of active learning rather than passive. Search out new sources of intelligent writing even beyond books. I am retired, living alone, and I have Netflix, Hulu, Amazon video, and cable TV through my building, but I observe a firm rule to assure that I will remain an active learner: No Tv or video before 5pm, after having spent the rest of the day reading, writing, blogging, being out in public.
2. Write, take notes on the books you read, write your thoughts on what the author says, beyond writing what the author says. Journaling is great for interspersing your own thoughts with those of others. Blogging is even better, because it forces you to be more disciplined in your writing, knowing that others are reading you.
3. Play brain games, especially those which allow you to measure and track your performance, and compare yourself to others of both your age group and other age groups. I have used Lumosity, Elevate and Brain Yoga. The comparison part is important. I was scoring in the high 90th percentiles of my age group on memory tests, and thought I was pretty slick, until I compared my scores to those who were 40 years younger. My results were in the 40+ percentile range. Aging badly affects memory. I would have been more worried if I scored low in my own age group; that would suggest I needed to get professionally tested for Alzheimer’s.
4. Read, read, read. Did I already mention that? It’s that important. Do I have any studies to back up what I am advising? No, but it can only help.
5. Watch a few quality movies about Alzheimer’s to get a better understanding of how it develops and the effects on families and caregivers. Movies? Some are worthwhile. I recommend Still Alice, and Away From Her and Still Mine to start. Don’t bother with searching on Netflix, their suggestions are terrible. Amazon video has them all and a much better algorithm for finding others. Two documentaries on Amazon are Alzheimer’s, Every Minute Counts and The Sum Total of our Memory.
6. Plan, both financially and logistically. Do your elderly loved ones have durable power of attorney for healthcare, and advance directives for end of life, such as a healthcare directive, filed with their medical providers and hospitals? Your state medical association will have ready made documents on their website, you just fill in the blanks. Then make sure copies are filed with your providers and children, because the documents are worthless sitting on your printer.
Planning financially is far more difficult. The alternatives for paying for long term care, which is essentially assistance with activities of daily living, also known as custodial care, are: personal savings, private long term care insurance (LTCI), or, if you have neither of the foregoing, Medicaid. Don’t count on Medicare for that expense. My advice: 1- Visit Genworth.com. They are not only the largest provider by far of LTCI, but their website is a treasure trove of information about long term care. 2- Visit Alzheimer’s.org, the website of the Alzheimer’s Association for accurate, non-biased information about the disease.
What are you waiting for?