Find out how Living in the Now may prevent Alzheimer's Disease.
Published in Recovering The Self: A Journal of Hope and Healing July2012-Vol. IV, No.3 -www.recoveringself.com
Why do people with Alzheimer’s forget their immediate loved ones—the most precious people in their lives?
It’s because Alzheimer’s affects the parts of the brain that deal with recent memory. But what if understanding the emotional components of this devastating disease can shed light on this question? And what if addressing the emotions embedded by lifelong programming can actually prevent someone from getting this disease?
Let’s start by exploring the role “living in the now” plays in our human experience.
“Use It or Lose It” Adage and How It Affects the Brain
It’s easy to feel like we’re moving at fast-forward speed. Whether it’s talking with a friend or watching our kids play, we frequently think about the next thing we have to do, right? In fact, many of us are so busy doing what we do, we function on automatic pilot.
When we think mostly about the past or the future as a habit or a modus operandi (way of operating in the world), we aren’t exercising the parts of the brain that deal with the “now.” Knowing this makes us wonder if current memories even get recorded in the brain of a person who has Alzheimer’s.
“What we don’t use, we lose” is a well-accepted adage. In this discussion, it means for the brain to function properly, the “living in the now” portion of the brain must be used or its effectiveness gets lost.
But for those who have Alzheimer's—
The cortex of their brains has shrunk, damaging tissue that’s involved in thinking, planning and remembering. Shrinkage is especially severe in the hippocampus, an area of the cortex involved in memory forming, organizing, and storing.
The temporal lobe is damaged, causing disruptions in their ability to accept, organize, and store information. It also causes problems doing verbal coding and processing experiences.
The frontal lobes aren’t active so information needed to make decisions isn’t being captured or interpreted. As a result, they simply can’t make sense of things.
Physical Components of the Brain
Hippocampus—The hippocampus handles the meaning of things. Its function includes continuity and coherence (in the sense of sequencing events), memory of events, experience of oneself, sense of time, history, tradition, how everything fits together, and so on. One could label it the understanding function.
When functioning breaks down in the hippocampus, a “lost in the moment” feeling occurs. As a result, there’s no comprehension of what things signify and where everything fits into the scheme of how things work, as described by Dr. Michael J. Lincoln in his book Messages from the Body.[i]
This tells us that, to process the meaning of anything, it’s important to be “in the now,” not “lost in the moment” of the future or the past. A good example of this is described at http://www.psycheducation.org/emotion/hippocampus.htm
Emotion and memory are very closely related. You know this from your experience. Go to a party and meet a bunch of new people. Which faces are you going to remember? The woman who made you laugh, the man who made you feel embarrassed, or your new boss—the ones who had an emotional impact. So perhaps you would not be surprised to learn that the portion of the emotion system of the brain (the limbic system) is in charge of transferring information into memory. From years of experiments and surgical experience, we now know that the main location for this transfer is a portion of the temporal lobe called the hippocampus.
The hippocampus is particularly important in forming new memories and connecting the emotions and senses to memories. Referring to Dr. Lincoln’s work, the emotional component or psychological meaning of hippocampus problems reveal that people have trouble with (1) their sense of continuity of self and (2) how they experience the continuum of events and reactions over time.[ii]
In healthy brains, the hippocampus gets exercised by forming new memories; it connects the emotions and senses to remembering. (“Living in the now” thoughts alone provide that experience for individuals.) The hippocampus is also kept healthy by:
- understanding the meaning of things,
- experiencing the continuum and sequence of events and time, and
- knowing where these experiences fit into the whole scheme of things.
What happens when people live either mostly in the past or in the future? They tend to vacillate back and forth between the two. This prevents them from experiencing a continuous stream of events and time. With no processing of the “now,” the portion of the brain’s emotion system (limbic system) that’s in charge of transferring information into memory has no information to transfer.
If you’re not “living in the now,” it means you don’t experience the emotional aspects of the moment because you’re not fully present. On the physical level, the limbic system does not get exercised thus it has trouble transferring information from the “now” into memory. This can cause the hippocampus to shrink because it’s not connecting the emotions and senses to memories. Again, it’s not being exercised.
Taken to an extreme, the Alzheimer’s brain has completely lost the ability to process “in the now” information and its limbic system is idle.
Temporal Lobe—Dr. Lincoln compares the emotional component of the temporal lobe affected by Alzheimer’s to disc failure on a computer. This kind of disc failure disrupts an Alzheimer’s person’s ability to accept, organize, and store information. It also causes problems doing verbal coding and processing. On a programming level, it harkens back to what Dr. Lincoln wrote about people with temporal lobe problems: “In their upbringing they were subjected to very rigid restrictions on what was and what was not acceptable.”[iii]
The brain’s temporal lobes are essential for memory. When damage occurs, certain objects might be recognized but there is little or no ability to capture new information and remember it later (a process called encoding). Information that’s properly encoded is easily retrieved. But when disc failure due to a rigid upbringing occurs, repeatedly information may not have been properly coded.
Even before symptoms can be detected in early stages of Alzheimer’s, plaques and tangles begin to form in the brain areas involved in learning, memory, thinking, and planning. Experiencing a rigid upbringing could produce the hard rigid plaques that form in the Alzheimer’s brain. When such beliefs form a mindset of inflexibility in the brain, they become a way of thinking and can dictate how a person operates through life. This rigidity can set up the hardening of brain tissue at a young age.
Frontal Lobes—The frontal lobes are considered the emotional control center and home to personality. They’re involved in motor function, problem solving, spontaneity, memory, language, initiation, judgment, impulse control, and social and sexual behavior.[iv]
On a physical level, if person’s mindset and MO is “I can’t make sense of things,” it means the frontal lobes of the brain don’t get exercised. That affects one’s ability to capture the information needed to make decisions and to interpret or integrate the information needed to solve problems. According to Dr. Lincoln, it can result from parenting that has induced confusion into a child’s brain over time.[v]
Emotional Components of the Brain
Alzheimer's ultimately affects all parts of the brain. However, each person experiences different effects as his or her disease’s progresses. Varying emotional components are explained below but they have one thing in common: They have been set up through programming during one’s upbringing and have become a way of operating through life. These emotional components can affect the brain if the person was programmed in a certain way at a young age. It can lead to brain dysfunction and eventually to Alzheimer’s.
Brain problems in general—Psychological brain problems can show up as over demanding and feeling drained, serious conflicts between the ego and divine intent. Dr. Lincoln: “They (those with Alzheimer’s) feel unable to manage their life. They grew up in a family who did not respond to their needs and in which a lot did not make sense, yet it was justified as being God’s will or the equivalent. They were forced to take over the meeting of their own needs because no one else would. As a result, they developed an abiding distrust of the universe.”[vi]
Hippocampus—This is a horseshoe-shaped paired structure with one part of the hippocampus located in the left brain hemisphere and the other in the right hemisphere. Left hemisphere houses the “irrational” component. Dr. Lincoln: “They are suffering from a befuddlement of the ability to conceptualize, to interpret, and apply logical analysis. They got a strong ‘Don’t think’ injunction.”[vii] Right hemisphere houses the “no comprehension” component. Dr. Lincoln: “They have handicaps in the handling of perceptual integration, emotional/experiential process and intuitive functioning. They were not supposed to ‘get’ what was going on in their dysfunctional family.”[viii]
Occipital lobes –This area houses the “can’t see it” component. Dr. Lincoln: “They are being hampered by distortions and derailments of their ability to organize visual inputs and to form images. They were given a strong ‘Don’t see’ injunction.”[ix]
Considerations for Preventing Alzheimer’s
Those at the end stage of Alzheimer’s disease appear to be in their own “private world”; they can’t let themselves out or let others in. This is significant considering that “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. He also pointed out that neurons by their nature are social; they shun isolation and depend on their neighbors for survival. “If they aren’t sending and receiving messages from other neurons on a constant basis, they literally shrink and die.”[x]
So if an individual’s neurons are social, shun isolation, and depend on neighbors for survival or they’ll shrink and die—is that a metaphor for how people can “shrink and die” without strong connections? If people aren’t “living in the now” and being fully present, are they failing to make the strong connections for their neurons to function properly? That’s an important consideration.
So is the emotional programming people get growing up, as Dr. Lincoln’s work clearly reflects. A person’s overall mindset or way of operating is crucial to understanding how it affects different parts of the body—and ultimately what disease develops.
What do I mean by programming? Our parents, teachers, and family “hypnotize” us to construe what’s around us into what we hear, see, and take as our truth. In effect, this labels the world for us. Over time, we attach names and give voices to the beings and events in our lives. Before long, our labels confine us. They create patterns that define us. We cannot “read” our surroundings in any other language or “hear” the other things said to us. This programmed way of “reading” the world becomes our modus operandi or MO—how each of us operates in the world.
Yet if this way of being produces disease, it becomes necessary to change the way we operate in the world and especially to “live in the now.” Here’s an example of what I mean: On my fast walk every morning, instead of thinking about what I have to do for the day or future commitments, I now hear the birds sing, smell the newly cut grass, and see the beauty of our quaint neighborhood. I feel exhilarated as I imagine my brain being exercised in this way. I’m keeping it healthy. My previous pattern of thinking about the past or the future has been broken.
When we break our own programming, we can hear, see, and think in a way that speaks from a place of greater awareness. As we change, we write down all possible meanings into a new book of our existence—one that we create as we wish.
How can we change our MO and “live in the now”? A technique called the MO Technique helps individuals release the emotional component or psychological meaning of the symptoms, conditions, and diseases of their bodies. Specifically, it releases the psychological meaning of symptoms so it no longer affects them and they can avert developing a full-blown disease. (I offer a full explanation of the emotional components of disease and how the MO Technique works in my book Wisdom to Wellness, available at www.maureenminnehanjones.com)
"Living in the Now" Equals Healthy Brain
Because nothing exists outside this present moment, thinking about the past or the future helps no one. Yet as this discussion of Alzheimer’s shows, “living in the now” provides the brain with a healthy way to function properly.
What’s more, people who mindfully “live in the now” tend to be happier, more exuberant, more empathetic, and more secure than those who don’t, according to Jay Dixit’s article in Psychology Today.[xi] They have higher self-esteem and are more accepting of their own weaknesses. Anchoring awareness in the “here and now” reduces the kinds of impulsivity and reactivity that underlie depression, binge eating, and attention problems. Mindful people can hear negative feedback without feeling threatened. They fight less with their romantic partners and are more accommodating and less defensive. As a result, mindful couples have more satisfying relationships.
Do you see how “living in the now” is extremely empowering as well as healthy? And those people who are most precious in our lives will never be forgotten because the “now” is where we live and what we remember.
Our world has yet another critical reason to practice “living in the now”—to prevent one of the most devastating diseases on this planet, Alzheimer’s. As Maria Robinson said, “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”
Maureen Minnehan Jones is a Registered Nurse, Guided Imagery Practitioner, and Holistic Healer, Author, and Speaker. Her book Wisdom to Wellness provides guiding examples of how true healing can happen. For those seeking freedom from the shackles of disease, this compassionate book reveals the author’s powerful healing technique, the MO Technique. Using case studies of both celebrities and ordinary people, Jones teaches how to tap into the power of unconditional love to heal.
Maureen’s studies and clinical work in the past 14 years have shown disease can be halted by understanding one’s modus operandi or MO and “hearing” what each symptom, condition, disease, and body part tells us.
Specifically, her MO Technique addresses the psychological meaning attached to the body part involved in a symptom, condition, or disease. Working in tandem with traditional medicine, the MO Technique goes after the underlying emotional source of the disease. In effect, the emotional components of our ailments teach us, expand us, and move us forward—if we understand and heed them.
Says Jones, “Incorporating the psychological meaning of disease is the missing piece for healing that’s critical to preventing not only Alzheimer's disease but all diseases.”
[i] Lincoln, Michael J., Ph.D. Messages from the Body, Their Psychological Meaning. Talking Hearts, rev. 2006, (9th print 2008). p. 99.
[ii] Ibid. p. 100.
[iii] Ibid. p. 98.
[v] Lincoln. p. 98.
[vi] Ibid. p. 97.
[vii] Ibid. p. 98.
[viii] Ibid. p. 98.
[ix] Ibid. p. 98.
[x] Louis Cozolino. The Neuroscience of Human Relationships: Attachment and the Developing Social Brain. W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. P.9
[xi] DixIt, Jay. The Art of Now: Six Steps to Living in the Moment. Psychology Today. Nov. 1, 2008. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200810/the-art-now-six-steps-living-in-the-moment