A new study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging predicted that 15% of people over the age of 70 will get dementia (NEJM, April 4, 2013). The cost to society both financially and in terms of human suffering is enormous. But just because you’re forgetting names, losing track in conversations, can’t remember where you left your keys does not mean you’re getting Alzheimer’s dementia.
The media and pharmaceutical company advertisements are telling us that if you’ve lost a bit of your edge better see your doctor because you could be suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. Referrals to neurologists and neuropsychologists will increase, we’ll order more brain scans and we’ll surely order more drugs (that don’t work half the time and don’t slow the disease.
What ever happened to the days when Uncle Morris was forgetful but still reasonably well functioning, and we attributed it to hardening of the artery’s.. Just because you’re losing it doesn’t mean you’ve lost it. We are all losing it, that’s what happens as we age; we lose hair, hearing, sight, muscle mass, sexual urgency, because we’re getting older. The critical issue is finding a way to come to your losses appreciating what’s left and deal with it.
I’m losing a bit my balance, in part due to the acoustic neuroma in my brain, but mostly because my left leg and foot are weak as a result of disc disease and multiple back operations. I just finished working with a physical therapist who was very helpful; who at the end of our sessions told me that if I continued to do the exercises to strengthen my leg I’d be able to maintain my balance long into the future. If my foot did ultimately drop and I needed a brace, it was no big deal. I could still keep doing what I liked doing best.
My ego can’t imagine my needing a leg brace, but it’s getting tamed enough to appreciate that whatever helps me continue to celebrate who I am, I can live with it.
We are all losing it, but if it’s not enough to immobilize you, I say ____ everybody lighten up, celebrate whatever you have and surround yourself with friends and family that love you.