Would Living a Connected Life Prevent Alzheimer's?
9/23/2010 2:37 PM
In my article, The Missing Piece in Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease it states that one of the keys to preventing Alzheimer’s disease is connection with ourselves and others—to let ourselves out and truly let others in.
Kathleen A. Brehony Ph.D. has given me permission to give you gems from her book, Living a Connected Life.
From Kathleen’s Book:
Her friend Eileen lived the perfect life. A single mom for years had at last found love. She married Andy on New Year’s Day and she and her husband moved to a small valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains. They were raising her son from a previous marriage and their new baby daughter, now almost a year old. Good fortune, good health and beautiful family. Eileen juggled family and her career and in spite of lots of demands Eileen was very happy. Eileen’s life was abundantly blessed until late one night when she awakened with a searing pain in her gut.
An ambulance rushed Eileen to the hospital where it was discovered that her appendix had ruptured and infection had spread through her body. Her recovery was touch and go at first. Antibiotics and expert medical care saved her life but her doctor insisted that she spend the next two weeks in bed. No lifting, No bathing babies. No driving her son to school. No work.
They were stunned when they realized how disconnected they were from any sense of community in their lives. They were content and most definitely busy, and it was only with this unexpected challenge that they looked around and realized they were “going it alone.”
Eileen and Andy are normal people—highly functioning in fact. They have casual friends and neighbors who wave as they drive by. They are quite friendly with the parents of their son’s classmates who share play dates and school activities together. They both have great colleges at their jobs. They even have some fairly close friends scattered around the country. Friends who would want to help them out in this crisis but whose lives are equally jam-packed with responsibilities to families and jobs.
What Eileen and Andy didn’t have is the containment of nearby family or intimate friends—the kind of friends you can call at three o’clock in the morning. They don’t have the kind of friends they can ask to help care for Eileen in her recovery, or run to the grocery store, or pick up their son for school, or give their baby a bath. They don’t have the kind of friends who will anticipate some of the things they’ll need over the next few weeks, who will show up at the door with a pan of lasagna or watch the baby in the morning so Eileen can get some rest. It wasn’t until Eileen got ill that they realized that they didn’t have a vibrant community, tribe or clan.
How many of us relate to this? Is this the reality of the times we live in for many? As I have wrote in my article ,The Missing Piece in Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease—I believe that the “private world” that Alzheimer’s patients retreat to in the end stages of this devastating disease may have been how they lived their entire life but didn’t realize it. Eileen and Andy did not realize it until their crisis. For many of us we may not see this disconnection until we experience a crisis but for many of us it is there in the sadness of everyday.
"With the wild, swirling pace of today’s world, it can be easy to ignore our deep and innate needs for relationship and community. We sometimes forget that belongingness—the sense of being accepted and embraced by others is not a luxury in life. It’s our life blood. It’s like air. The bad news is that by almost every measure we have become increasingly disconnected from one another. " (from Kathleen's book)
Is this truly why someone is diagnosed with dementia every seven seconds and every 70 seconds someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States because in this modern world we have so many demands on our time that there is no time to truly connect?
I will share other stories from Kathleen’s most important book. After reading her book I have become a person who wants to connect and get out of my “private world” and hopefully prevent Alzheimer’s. I now let go of some of my other responsibilities so I can help someone out in need and truly connect from a deep level inside myself.
A good friend in the end stages of cancer requested my homemade chicken soup. The soup takes many hours to prepare and complete and I just didn’t see how I could fit it into my hectic day. I was very honored and I knew this was an important piece to not only be there for my friend in his last days on this earth but also for me to get out of my “private world” and to connect. It was such a good feeling!
Another friend had surgery on her arm and could not use it for six weeks. I took dinner over to her and let her know that I wanted to help her and be there for anything she needed. It created a closeness that we did not have before and it just feels wonderful!
If we knew we could prevent Alzheimer’s Disease by getting out of our "private worlds” and really connecting and creating enduring relationships with others and ourselves—wouldn’t most of us start trying to become an expert at forging deep and meaningful relationships? The only side effect would be living more fully and satisfying our deep need for human connection and possibly preventing Alzheimer’s disease!