Dementia, Alzheimers Disease and Adversity


Auguste Deter – Alois Alzheimer’s first patient Nov. 1901

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are affecting growing numbers of people according to the Alzheimer Society. The age at which people become affected is dropping. In Canada alone, there are 16 000 people under 65 with dementia


Some obvious reasons:

  • Better and earlier diagnosis
  • People living longer
  • Ageing populations – The Baby Boomer “bulge”

However I don’t believe that’s the whole story.

For thousands of years a significant number of people in societies with reasonable levels of nutrition and absence of widespread conflict, have survived to old age and remained free of dementia. There are many examples of people remaining active and mentally alert past the historically expected 70 years, into their 80s and beyond.

There are surprising examples of people living to a dementia free old age in areas with high conflict and a lack of resources. People without access to clean water, a balanced diet or medical facilities.

What are the reasons for increased dementia?

This comprehensive article in Wikipedia lists accepted and possible factors.

I believe there are several other factors that may have an effect.

  • Unhealthy modern diets
  • Exposure to pollution and increased chemical levels
  • Lack of physical and mental exercise
  • Reliance on technology
  • Absence of true adversity and discomfort
  • Lack of resilience

The increase in Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia and mental health problems is a concern for those of us in the Baby Boomer generation. It is of major concern for younger generations. Particularly millenials, if the trend continues, many of that generation could start experiencing symptoms in their 40s.

Many of them are already experiencing mental issues, a recent article in The Telegraph blames the “Selfie Culture” for a 42% increase in five years, in the number of children in the UK being treated in hospital for anxiety. What will be the long-term effects of that?

How do we protect ourselves?

By eating healthily and exercising our bodies and our brains.


Chess – Helps prevent dementia

This article on “How to Boost our Brain Power” appeared in eMedexpert. It gives 17 tips on things we can do to help us stay mentally active. To reduce the chances of dementia.

It quotes research that disproves the old belief that our brains stopped producing new neurons after age 20 – that mentally it was all downhill from there.

Now we know that our brains can continue to develop as long as we challenge them by using them.

Learning new things, learning to play a musical instrument, using our non-dominant hand to do simple tasks like brushing teeth, tying shoelaces.

Many years ago, in Zimbabwe when on-line payments and email were not available and cheques were widely used. I broke my dominant (right) arm and foot in a Polo accident. I was unable to use it for several months, had to learn to write, sign cheques and do simple tasks, with my left.

After Polo Accident June 2000

The habit stayed with me, as part of my daily routine, every morning I write four or five lines in my journal with my left hand. The same old injury makes using a computer mouse painful, so for five years, I have used my left hand with the buttons reversed. If I try to use Sue’s computer mouse with my right hand it feels awkward.

There are many more good ideas in that article. Adopting them will make your life healthier, more interesting and help prevent the onset of dementia or mental illness.

Silence and brain health

According to an article in ideapod, a study in 2013 showed that two hours of silence helped mice produce new brain cells.

The article shows the many benefits we get from periods of silence. It refers to silence from noise. Silence from, or removing ourselves from the distraction of visual chatter from electronic devices probably has even greater benefits.

It’s interesting that people living with serious adversity, war, natural disaster, oppression don’t seem to experience the same high levels of dementia and mental illness as those in the safe, well fed, peaceful countries of the West. Africa has the lowest levels of dementia related mortality of any continent. It also has the most countries with low life expectancy.


The statistics are certainly skewed by different mortality rates, life expectancy and other factors. However from my experience and that of others, I am convinced that premature dementia is one of the consequences of living too safe, “soft” or unchallenging a life.

What do you think?

graphic & photos courtesy Wikipedia – Public domain

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  4 comments for “Dementia, Alzheimers Disease and Adversity

  1. Roberta Hunter
    February 2, 2017 at 6:48 pm

    What do I think? Where do I begin?

    This is a topic I think about a lot because my eldest brother has Alzheimer’s. He is the first in my family (3 generations) with this disease.

    Or is he?

    The term, “Alzheimer’s’ is a fairly new one. I am not saying that there is more or less Alzheimer’s today than in the past because I do not know. Nevertheless, what used to be called ‘old age’ and ‘losing one’s mind’ is today often called Alzheimer’s.

    My father’s eldest sister may have had Alzheimer’s. But in the 50’s and 60’s that was not a term that was used. When I look back at how she behaved she certainly could have had Alzheimer’s.

    In the 1940’s 1950’s and 1960’s the terms for Alzheimer might be: batty, loony, crazy, cuckoo, mental, unhinged, or a dozen other words.

    In the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s more elderly aged and died at home. We took care of our loved ones and we did not put them in a hospital or old person’s home as often and quickly as we do today. Family took care of the aged.

    The old were surrounded by familiar places, things, and people.

    I might have been 4, 5, or 6 years old and I remember my paternal grandmother was sick in bed until she died. The family took care of her. A county nurse came in about once a week to help. Dying with a caring family near in some ways was more humane than putting someone in an old age home with strangers in my humble opinion.

    And I do understand that today people have work and family activities that take up a lot of time and that we often can not take care of our dying father, mother, or other relatives.

    I am not sure, Peter, that there is an increase in Alzheimer’s as you state in your post. Maybe there is an increase in knowledge and an increase in the use of the word. I would like to know the percentage of people with Alzheimer’s in the 1950s and in 2017.

    The above is certainly not the end of the discussion. But these are my thoughts and feeling right now today.

    I would like to hear what other people think and say.

    • Peter
      February 10, 2017 at 11:29 am

      Thank you Roberta. I think you are right that up to the middle of the 20th century, fewer people were subjected to ageing in the unfamiliar environment of a retirement home. Being with family, living in familiar surroundings, and contributing in some way to the family and community would all help delay the onset of dementia – whatever name it was given.

  2. February 3, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    An interesting hypothesis Peter.

    Roberta, your thoughts too are interesting. My grandfather lived until he was 98. At 97 he had a bad fall and suddenly he was unable to get around and needed around the clock care. We knew he was forgetting things but until he was out of his normal ‘routine’ did we notice how much he did not remember. When we had to move him for around the clock care, it was way way worse and he remembered very little. Had he died at home perhaps we never would have known how badly his dementia had gotten.

    Thank you again Peter for your thought provoking ideas.


  3. Peter
    February 10, 2017 at 11:37 am

    Thank you Michelle, a neighbour’s grand father had a similar experience to yours. Despite a somewhat well lubricated and hard life, he was still walking 5km a day at 100. Eccentric but competent until a fall while working in the barn broke a hip. Confined to bed, he went into a steep mental and physical decline and was gone in months.

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