The latest research shows that women are more like than men to develop dementia but…. delaying the onset of dementia by 1-3 years can reduces the risks of developing the syndrome by up to 50%.
Women far more likely to suffer neurodegenerative conditions than men
Research from the Netherlands indicates that women at age 45 have a 48% lifetime risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, dementia or having a stroke. The risk for men at the same age is 12% lower at 36%. The headline findings of this large scale study are
“from age 45, 1 in 2 women and 1 in 3 men are likely to develop dementia, Parkinson’s or have a stroke during their lives.”
This research draws attention to a number of important findings. It confirms that women appear to be more likely to develop dementia in later life than men, this is in line with existing predictions. Specifically that at the age of 45 women had a 26% likelihood of developing dementia, for men the probability was around 14%. That from middle age women have a 1 in 4 chance of developing dementia but for men this is about a 1 in 7 chance.
This study (Lifetime risk of common neurological diseases in the elderly population) was conducted by researchers at the University Medical Center of Rotterdam, it is regarded as so important that it has been widely reported in the media. The scale of the investigation adds great significance to the findings, the data of 12,102 individuals over a 26 years period provided that basis for the analysis. Recommendations from the report include the emphasis on preventative strategies at the level of population. This clearly supports a move to approaches able to delay the initial onset of diseases such as dementia. The statistical benefit for delaying the early stages of these conditions by 1 to 3 years, has been calculated at as reduction in lifetime risk of developing the disease of between 20% to 50%.
Put simply, delay the conditions leading to dementia, Parkinson’s and stroke for 1 to 3 years and your chances of ever developing the diseases may be reduced by up to half. This illustrates the basic principle that even small changes to lifestyle can lead to fundamental improvements in your lifelong health trajectory. Prevention of dementia should begin in your 40s not 60s. There appears to be little doubt that stopping or slowing neurodegenerative processes offers significant benefits to individuals and society as a whole.
Compassion as a central component to health and society
A presumed contributory factor in cognitive decline and poor mental health is social isolation. Perhaps humans are hard wired to live with other people, humankind has evolved in intergenerational groups. Choosing to live alone or in nuclear families is a relatively new innovation in human experience. Research has indicated that people living in social isolation have a higher risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke or becoming obese. In short if we stay socially engaged we can expect to live longer with a higher quality of life. But a recent report from Generations United and the Eisner Foundation indicated that the benefits of intergenerational care extend to young people as well as old.
Champion was a community centre in Columbus, Ohio. It has been transformed into an intergenerational enrichment and education center, where community provision for young people and the elderly have been brought together under one roof. The smart use of the physical space makes a good deal of economic sense. But perhaps the greatest benefit has been seen in changes to the lives of the users of the facilities. According to the report, older people involved in intergenerational programs;
enjoy improved health and wellbeing
feel less isolated and lonely
and participants with dementia report increased levels of engagement.
Young people and children demonstrate
increased self-regulation, empathy and improved social acceptance
In the US 89% of people think that meeting the needs of children, young people and the elderly on the same site is a good idea. The evidence indicates that young and old alike derive benefit from the experience and yet there are only 105 intergenerational shared sites across the US. To put the potential of the concept into context there are 11,000 registered Senior Centers across the country.
In addition to the value of intergenerational programmes, this study reinforces the widespread evidence that brain health is linked to a number of lifestyle factors. That having to care for and engage with others enriches us in a concrete way. This supports research illustrating that compassion may be a crucial component in maintaining healthy and productive cognitive activity.
Meditation can support a healthy brain and limit age related cognitive decline.
Help shape your own future
The brain reacts to everything it comes into contact with, this includes stimulus from the senses and internal processes such as those created during meditation. Recent scientific studies indicate that brain structure and function can be positively meditated by methods such as Brain Renewal Meditation (BRM).
One of the big deals with cognitive decline is we don’t really understand how it works. There is of course an inevitability that human brain performance must eventually decline, it is unrealistic to assume brain structure can remain intact for eternity. But as a command and control system the human brain is unrivaled in the universe. We are currently unable to count the billions of neurons in a human brain, and mankind still doesn’t have the computing power to run a biologically reliable digital simulation of our brain, even if such a model could be created. What we do know is that the brain is able to develop new function and structure (plasticity) and there is some evidence that new neurons can be generated in the adult hippocampus (neurogenesis).
The ability of the brain to restructure makes understanding brain aging particularly problematic. Structures are continually changing, new functions require support and obsolete functions can fall into decay. These changes take place against a backdrop of an incalculable amount of stimulus, almost everything we experience or think about can have an impact on the brain. The average rate in the reduction of human cognitive function is generally referred to age related cognitive decline. The factors linked to ‘typical’ rates of decline are still not fully understood and the nuanced way that structures change and interact is far from clear.
The idea that from the age of thirty adults lose a little bit more of cognitive function every year is completely wrong. Whilst cognitive decline is correlated with age, regional and global improvements in brain function during middle and old age have been observed.
From the point of view of meditation, we know from traditional sources and modern science that certain forms of meditation exert an effect on different regions of the human brain. Long term meditators have been found to have ‘younger’ brains than non meditators and meditation is also associated with increased cortical thickness. Meditation is not the only way of maintaining or increasing brain health but it is one of the oldest and most reliably established. The message is pretty simply, if you want to maintain or improve brain age or brain health think very seriously about meditation.