As an Alzheimer's caregiver, I've always looked for clues in a person's life. Why did Alzheimer's happen to this person?
The diagnosis of Alzheimer's is a default diagnosis. So, I'm listing here the recurrent life issues that I've noted in the lives of everyone I've known said to have Alzheimer's. I suggest everyone else interested in this issue does the same. Why? Because genetics have not yet accounted for Alzheimer's. So, life factors may well be a factor. They are seldom studied in drug company financed research.
Ten Factors in the Lives of People With Dementia
1. Lack of Nurturing in Infancy and Early Childhood:
The biggest single issue seems to be being born into hardship – concentration camp, starvation, mentally-ill parent, alcoholism, abandonment, abuse. Suffering emotional deprivation. The result? Prolonged over-production of cortisol, the stress hormone identified as the attacker of brain function and even of the brain structure itself.
2. Major Lifestyle Issues:
Poor diet, little exercise, addictions – these are all to be found prevalent in those with dementia.
3. Environmental Toxins:
Exposure to long-term degradation of environment or being exposed to a short-term but major toxicity, anything from mercury poisoning to war toxins.
4. Head Injury:
The Mayo Clinic reports that about one-third of everyone who has dementia has had a head injury earlier in life. Whether the exact nature of the head injury or the area injured is a factor, medical researchers have not yet fully established.
Long-term users of prescribed tranquillizers and other mood-controlling medications as well as medication specific to controlling afflicted brain mechanisms may develop dementia. Additionally, the average elder takes anywhere from six to fifteen different medications. None of them have been tested in combination by their manufacturers.
6. Surgery and General Anesthesia:
A significant number of those with dementia have had at least two operations involving the use of general anesthesia when over the age of 65. These days, many surgeons offer other alternatives for elders undergoing necessary procedures. For example, many hip replacement procedures are now done under sedation of a different kind, for this very reason. Always ask if there is a comfortable alternative to general anesthesia.
7. Cumulative Trauma in Old Age:
Insurance actuary tables show that stressful events are often the forerunner of severe illnesses or accidents, and we see this constantly born out in the lives of elders. Maybe they have been relocated, have experienced the death of a spouse, were involved in a car accident, or were the victim of a crime. Given the general lack of peer-group support systems, an older person can be left feeling seriously traumatized with little support for emotional recovery.
8. Lifelong Undiagnosed Mental Illness:
Every Alzheimer's care unit usually has a group of residents who are mentally ill much more than demented. My experiential guess is that at least ten percent of all people said to have Alzheimer's are more likely to be suffering from a longtime mental illness and not the organic disease of dementia.
9. Dietary Dementia
Due to lifelong dietary deficiency or its development in old age affects health. An issue seldom addressed is the reduction of digestive enzymes in elders, leading to nutritional deficiency. Even when they may actually be eating good food often enough, without sufficient digestive enzymes the complex sugars that the brain requires will not be distributed to the brain.
10. Undiagnosed Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus:
Hydrocephalus in older adults is caused by a gradual shrinkage of the pathways which formerly drained the fluid away safely. This can be the result of strokes, the actual shrinkage of the entire brain, or other factors of old age. A brain pressure test needs be part of any Alzheimer's work-up and sometimes family members have to insist on it.