5-Step Plan to Preventing Alzheimer's--or At Least to Living a Connected Life!
3/17/2011 8:51 AM
5-Step Plan to Preventing Alzheimer’s—or At Least to Living a Connected Life!
“Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds.
A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.”
~William James, American philosopher and psychologist
From my research and experience, I’ve learned that individuals at the end stage of Alzheimer’s can’t let themselves out or let others in. I’ve also learned that people with Alzheimer's disease have likely had these two characteristics for most or all their lives:
- They’re highly private. For example, although he was an innately private man, former president Ronald Reagan became a movie star, governor, and president—professions that often keep others at bay and can be unconsciously chosen by those who may have difficulty getting close to people.
- They’re unable to let themselves out or truly let others in. Reagan’s son said his father never hugged him until after he had developed Alzheimer’s; his daughter said he was emotionally distant.
This is significant because “it is the power of being with others that shapes our brains” as Louis Cozolino wrote in The Neuroscience of Human Relationships: Attachment and the Developing Social Brain. So if the neurons in our brains depend on connecting with neighboring neurons for survival, then do our own neurons shrink and die without strong connections—and metaphorically speaking—we shrink and die, too?
This leads to a related question: How do we take time to nurture close connections in our relationships (hence in our brain’s neurons) as a hedge against getting Alzheimer’s disease?
In her book Living a Connected Life, Dr. Kathleen Brehony has created a five-step plan for nurturing close connections. She offers this plan so you can be aware of your priorities and nurture your relationships in the midst of your already-overflowing life. Here are the steps:
1. Identify how you are presently using your time.
You may want to keep a notebook or journal and pick a few times a day. It may be 7:00 A.M., noon, 4:00 P.M., and 7:00 P.M., for example. Write where you are, who you are with and what you are doing at those times. Begin to become more conscious of exactly how you are spending your time. The goal of this exercise is to become more cognizant of exactly what you do with the precious the commodity of time.
2. Analyze your behavior with regard to honoring priorities and setting goals.
For one week write down your core friendship values and the behaviors that support those values. There is something important about writing these down. In fact, the mere act of writing them down may encourage you to do more of them. Where do friendship values show up in your life? Are the most important values being addressed in your life through the application of time?
3. Develop action plans to realize your goals.
What do you need to do differently in order to honor your friendship values in your life and how will you proceed? Begin by establishing short term and long term goals and describing a plan.
4. Implement your plan.
If the average TV viewer spent half the amount of time shoring up connections and making new friends that she/he does in front of the tube, her/his social capital would skyrocket. Even television can be an opportunity to interact with friends. If you all love to watch tennis, plan a potluck and watch the US Open together.
§ Avoid perfectionism—life is not perfect and neither are you.
§ Don’t use lack of time as an excuse for disconnection—recognize that you are a lovable person and deserve to have loving friendships in your life.
5. Reevaluate your use of time.
Living a Connected Life states that “our difficulties in maintaining strong connections and creating new ones in our lives is not really about lack of time: it’s failure to honor our priorities and values.” Do you struggle with honoring the priorities you set?
(Used with permission from Kathleen A. Brehony Ph.D., Living a Connected Life: Creating and Maintaining Relationships That Last, Holt Paperbacks 2003.)
Following Dr. Brehony’s five-step plan has been an amazing exercise for me because, yes, I do get out to many community events but really, I like being a homebody. That’s not good for nurturing my neurons and human connections! So as part of my plan, I made a pledge to connect with two friends a week and to be active and fully connect with others when I attend events.
Interestingly, I decided to take this challenge at the height of last holiday season. I continued my tradition of making candies and cookies as gifts. Of course, this means baking alone, which is the opposite of connecting with people I want to be close to. But this time, I got out of my comfort zone and took a plate of goodies to my friend whose wife had passed away from Alzheimer’s. Then I took more goodies to another friend whose significant other had also passed away several months before. Doing this gave us time to sit down, chat awhile, and connect in a meaningful, heartfelt way.
Connection. It’s the real reason we are here on this planet. And like William James said, it’s just plain common sense! So let’s learn to better connect with each other and let our neurons dance!