| Brain Longevity |
By Dharma Singh Khalsa and Cameron Stauth
Genre: Inspirational & Self-Help
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The Cortisol Connection
The Cry of the Wounded Boomer
My first patient of the day tried to settle into his chair, but he was so tense that he just teetered on the edge of it, his arms clamped to his sides. He was a block of rigid muscles and right angles.
He was afraid that he had early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, and feared that I would soon doom him with that diagnosis. He knew that if he did have Alzheimer's, conventional medicine could do little to help him. He would simply have to wait for the terrible progression of symptoms to begin.
This man hated the idea of waiting passively while his brain disintegrated. He was a fit, fiery man of considerable success, who was accustomed to grappling with his problems until he solved them. He wanted to fight for his mental acuity, and that's why he'd come to me. He'd read in a medical update newsletter that I had developed a treatment program for memory loss and optimal mental function.
Before he had arrived, I'd done an extensive review of his medical records. Based upon what I'd seen, I was not at all convinced that this fifty-one-year-old man was indeed in the early stages of Alzheimer's. It appeared much more likely that he had a type of memory loss that is common among people his age. In most people, this type of memory loss does not lead to goo Alzheimer's.
When I explained this to the man, he seemed very relieved, and he let out a sigh. I could hear the air hiss out of him. Then what's going on with me?" he asked. "How come I've started to get so absentminded?"
I told him that, in all likelihood, he had some degree of what neurologists call "age-associated memory impairment," a condition that is virtually pandemic among people of approximately age fifty. Theoretically, according to most neurologists, losing some brain capacity at fifty is a "normal" sign of aging, just like diminished eyesight at age forty.
I told him I was pleased that he'd come to see me before his symptoms had become more pronounced, because preventing mental decline is much easier than reversing it. If his memory problems were indeed relatively mild, I told him, he could probably regain full use of his ability to remember. He could also greatly increase his ability to concentrate. With improvements in memory and concentration, his learning ability would almost certainly improve. In all likelihood, he would experience a rebirth of brain power, as had many of my other patients.
Then I asked him how his memory problems were affecting his life.
He launched into a passionate litany of complaints. He said that over the past couple of years he'd begun to forget people's names, and to forget important items when he packed for business trips. Lately he'd had to stop being a referee at his daughter's soccer games, because he often forgot which team had last touched the ball when it went out of bounds. The girls on his daughter's team had been getting angry at him, and his daughter was becoming increasingly embarrassed. His life at home was also suffering, he said, because he was often irritable. He didn't have much patience with his daughters, and he was tense so often that it was creating distance between him and his wife.
Almost every day now, he said, he had problems with what he called his "fuzzy brain." In the morning he'd be unable to find his car keys, and at lunch he'd forget his wallet. He often forgot where he'd parked his car, and when he dialed a number, he'd have to recheck his Rolodex in mid-dial.
Years before, he said-when he'd had a steel-trap mind-these things had rarely happened.
At work, his memory was stunting his career. For twenty years he had sacrificed to reach his current lofty level, but now his job was in jeopardy. Before important meetings, he said, he would be given long legal briefs and be expected to read them, learn them retain them, and then discuss them intelligently. He couldn't do this as well as he once had. He said he couldn't "shut out the world" anymore. Even without deadline pressure, it was harder for him to learn new information, such as his firm's new software system. He was relying increasingly on his secretary and his assistant. His secretary would remind him who he was having lunch with, and his assistant would preview his briefs and highlight the key points. They both covered for him when he tired out in mid afternoon, and his assistant would return calls that he should have been handling himself.
Net result: His superiors were getting impatient with him.
The competitive atmosphere "inside the Beltway," as he put it, was intense. Some of the ambitious young lawyers in his firm, he said, were trying to grab his job. They seized an advantage every time he forgot a detail or made a slip of the tongue. He felt as if they were circling him in a pack.
I knew full well what he was talking about. I often heard similar versions of the same complaint. I even had a name for it: The Cry of the Wounded Boomer.
Baby boomers, who were just now hitting the "memory barrier" of their late forties and early fifties, were consulting me with increasing frequency. They were shocked by the sudden onset of age-associated memory impairment, and by the corresponding declines in their hormonal systems. They were suddenly losing the mental sharpness that had propelled their careers, and had allowed them to juggle families and jobs. They were also losing their endocrinological spark as their "youth hormones" dried up. Their sexual urges were flattening out, they were gaining weight, losing muscle and hair, and needing more and stronger coffee just to slog through the day. The boomers' loss was Starbuck's gain.
Most of them had the "dual curse": memory impairment, combined with decreased ability to concentrate. Each of these problems exacerbated the other, and both impaired learning ability. My midlife patients often told me that they just couldn't "soak up" facts as they had during their peak learning years. And they missed this wonderfully vital state of mind, just as much as they missed other aspects of their younger years.
But the worst thing of all, according to many of them, was that they were losing the inner fire that had once made them jump out of bed in the morning ready for action and full of fun. Now they pushed the "snooze" button, and got up grudgingly. Their lives had become dull. Fun was too much trouble. So was sex. Action was a chore. Life was...work.
Many of them had tried to rationalize their recent declines with talk about "acceptance" and "maturity" and "lowered expectations." Others had tried to deny their deterioration by pumping weights, dyeing their hair, and getting their tummies tucked. Many were self-medicating with caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and megadoses of vitamins.
Nonetheless, what I saw was a frightened generation.
And they had good reason to be scared. For years they'd struggled to build a foundation of security and prosperity for the last half of their lives, but now they were smacking headlong into an unexpected roadblock: the decline of their brain power an energy at the very peak of their career curves and family demands. Early burnout was not something they'd planned for. In addition, I had discovered, almost all baby boomers with age-associated memory impairment were haunted by a dark fear: the specter of Alzheimer's disease. They knew that Alzheimer's-which usually takes about twenty years to develop fully-reduces people to virtual infancy. It renders them unable to speak, use the toilet, remember family members, or even smile. They also often become paranoid and hostile. And in that pathetic condition, patients often survive for up to ten years.
When these baby boomers had gone to their local doctors for help, however, they'd been told that no medical protocol existed for arresting or preventing Alzheimer's disease, or for treating age-associated memory impairment.
In general, the medical profession takes a lamentably passive approach to cognitive decline. According to long-standing conventional wisdom, nothing can stop Alzheimer's, or relieve age-associated memory impairment.
Supposedly, some memory loss is inevitable for virtually everyone, starting at about age forty-five to fifty. Age-associated memory impairment is one of the most common medical problems of people in midlife.
Alzheimer's disease is also commonly considered inevitable for a great many people. Today, Alzheimer's strikes up to 50 percent of all people who live to age eighty-five. Because of this high incidence, Alzheimer's is the third-highest cause of death by disease in America, after cardiovascular disease and cancer.
But I don't accept the inescapability of Alzheimer's, or of age-associated memory impairment.
I believe that Alzheimer's disease can be delayed and prevented.
I believe that age-associated memory impairment can be eradicated.
I believe that people in their forties, fifties, sixties-and beyond-can retain not only an almost perfect memory, but can also have "youthful minds," characterized by the dynamic brain power, learning ability, creativity, and emotional zest usually found only in young people.
These beliefs of mine-now shared by other cutting-edge researchers and clinicians-are absolutely revolutionary. Ten years ago almost no one in medicine subscribed to these ideas, I certainly didn't. But now I'm positive they're true, for one central reason: the clinical results I have achieved. For a number of years I have been applying to the brain a unique medical regeneration program that is at the white-hot forefront of anti-aging medicine. This program employs complementary medicine, a relatively new clinical approach that combines Western technological medicine with the most powerful proven techniques from Eastern medicine.
I have become, to some extent, a medical pioneer, implementing a program that creates "mental fitness" and "brain longevity." The results have been astounding. My patients have, quite literally, achieved the impossible.
I have helped people regain the minds they once had. Rejecting the assumption that all minds must deteriorate with age, I have helped many patients regain "youthful minds."
I have been able to achieve this, in part, because I have begun addressing an element of memory loss that has only recently emerged from the laboratories of brain research: the "cortisol connection."
Excerpted from Brain Longevity , by Dharma Singh Khalsa and Cameron Stauth . Copyright (c) 1997 by Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top