For more than 12 years author Angela Caughey took care of her husband, who had dementia. Following on the international success of Dealing Daily with Dementia, and How to Communicate with Someone Who Has Dementia, she turns her focus to the wider questions of the brain’s development in her latest book A Better Brain for Life: Preventing Dementia and Other Chronic Diseases. This is the second in a series of articles written by Angela for the Eldernet Gazette.
“Ah, here’s a book to help me not get dementia in my old age”, you think, as you read the blurb and open the cover. Well, it may be almost too late if you are already middle-aged! It may give you many pointers and help you in a few ways; but it would have been more valuable if your parents had had it to study, because its advice is geared to all ages; and it covers more than dementia. It covers chronic diseases as a whole.
Everyone says dementia is reaching epidemic proportions. Not correct! It’s just that people are living longer. But we are living longer because medicines are being discovered which help keep us alive. Just think, before antibiotics, people died from mere scratches which became infected! As well as taking antibiotics for granted, our way of life has changed. Our standard of living (in the First World) has risen and risen and risen. Many of us have begun to eat a limited variety of foods, drink alcohol to excess, use electric tools instead of our muscles, burn the candle at both ends, and spend time sitting looking at screens instead racing around doing the hundred and one things our forebears used to do.
The book explains the complexity of the living human body simply. It has billion of cells interacting simultaneously, and it is during these interactions that long-term damaging mishaps can occur. Minor mishaps occur often, which the body fixes itself; but major mishaps, which antibiotics can do nothing about, often leave serious after-effects. The person concerned may not even notice the mishap. What we unknowingly breathe every day in is an example.
Take Finland, for instance. It is a prosperous country, but it has the highest dementia statistics in the world. Why? Because Finns mainly live in wooden houses in extremes of temperatures. During their freezing winters, they all have warming air-conditioning to turn on; but their houses are built of timber treated with preservatives, and the warmth from the air-conditioners leaches out the toxins in the timber preservatives which, when breathed in by the Finns, can produce dementia in the long-term.
That is one danger. Consider the others around us, depending on our occupations: pollution from building sites and heavy equipment, traffic exhausts, swirling dust, crop spraying, mining explosions, floor-staining, detergents, cigarette smoke, viruses, pollen, micro-plastics . . . the list is very long. And that is before we go inside our bodies, where incredibly complicated, vital processes are continually in play. They are absorbing and using the foods we eat, putting their carbohydrates, flavonoids, polyphenols, gluten, vitamins, fats and so on to good or bad use through the actions of homocysteine, digestion, haemoglobin and the other long words which are used and explained briefly and then avoided as much as possible in the book!