Many physicians have told me “Richard, you have dementia, probably of the Alzheimer’s type.” For many years I believed them. I let many of the stigmas associated with the label Alzheimer’s disease eat up my time and energy and feelings, and frankly eat up parts of my mind and heart and myself.
After listening to hundreds of people living with a diagnosis of this or that type of dementia; after listening to hundreds of “dementia experts;” after listening to myself – I have come to see my cognitive disabilities (I forget more than others, I am easily confused, I have little sense of what I am going to say because my ability to recall and organize my thoughts has seemingly slipped away) not as a disease, but as a natural occurrence of growing older. After considerable effort trying to understand what it is I actually have, I have come to the conclusion that I am simply growing older every day. I am the same as everyone else my age, and I am different from everyone my age. I am more similar to some than others, but I am unique to all human beings as they are unique to me and each other.
Yes I have more of some things in my spinal fluid than others. Yes I probably have more amyloid plaques and tau protein in my brain than others. But many of the Nuns in the famous “Nuns study” and many folks in the most recent large sampling of brain cross sections had more than I will probably have, yet they had no symptoms of dementia.
So what is it I have? I have me. I have the consequences of the food I ate, the air I inhaled, the parents who created me, the schools I attended, the culture I grew up in, and most of all the number of days I have lived.
I believe our brains are way behind evolving to meet our needs as a 70 year old person. Some brains are better at coping with this fact than others. All brains are still expecting life expectancies in the 30-50 year range. They haven’t caught up (evolved fast enough) with the fact they are going to have to function an additional 20-30 years more. They are stressed as are our hearts, kidneys, bones, joints, hair, teeth, eyes, prostates (for males), etc. Each of these parts of us copes with this stress as best they can. Some break down, some break, others fall out, some become misshapen, and some grow larger for no apparent reason. And, this happens unevenly across any age group.
Some folks don’t seem to grow older after this or that age, while others seem older than their age. Some seem to slow down aging’s effects through physical and mental exercise, through better eating habits, through yoga, more education, palates, meditation, plastic surgery, positive thoughts, coconut oil – and the list goes on and on.
The brain in its own unique way copes with growing older. The language of thought seems to slow down a tad to a lot. The management functions seem to not only to slow down, but sometimes they produce confusing and confused conclusions.
There are clearer and clearer indicators for some of the forms of dementia. All the forms are not caused by aging, in fact there are probably more multilayered, multi-interacting, sensitive to genetics, genetic changes, the environment, and so on and so on. Growing old is complicated. Growing really old is even more complicated.
My stars we are looking an molecules right now in our search for the magic bullet that causes Alzheimer’s disease. Add to all this complicated cause and effect/interaction our brain tries its best to cope with the results of the strains that are placed upon it. So we each grow old in a manner slightly but importantly unique to each other and we each cope with this process in our own slightly but importantly unique to each other ways.
Is there a single cause for all this stress/change/adaptation—NO. Will there ever be a single pill, shot, drink to reverse, halt or prevent all this aging—NO! Are we still spending billions of hours, dollars, and efforts looking for the contents of the holy grail of growing older? YES.
What a waste of time, energy, and money—multiplied by the fact there is a finite amount we are willing to invest in the understanding of this phenomena. When we dump everything into the bottomless cure research pot we end up building extravagant carts while the horses deteriorate awaiting for the magical carriage to carry them to The Magic Kingdom where on one grows old.
I am still and will always be Richard. I am still a whole human being, as is everyone on the planet. We will all continue to be the same in this sense until about two minutes after we all draw our last breath. In a sense we will all ultimately continue to be the same, dead!
Must we be crowded into boxes, with stages and sub-labels etched on our foreheads and medical charts in order to make it easier for you to understand us, study us, relate to us? I think not. Stop thinking about a guy’s name who lived a hundred years ago. Close your donation check book.
Open your minds and hearts up to those around you who are showing signs of what seems to happen to most of us as we celebrate more and more birthdays. We all grow older. We all need enabling support. We all need an evolving sense of purpose. We all need to meet all the needs we needed to meet when we were babes in someone’s arms, children living in a village with a family, and onward through the stages of living.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
- George Bernard Shaw
Learn more at Richard Taylor’s website, click here.