I recently happened upon this article about an Arizona State University study describing the effect of social interaction on honeybees. Essentially, the study found that older honeybees remain more youthful when they assume roles that would normally belong to their younger counterparts.
While it’s impossible to hold back the hands of time, the article does suggest there are things we can do to maintain our vitality.
- Staying active — Going for walks, taking music or swimming lessons
- Staying social — Being a member of a social organization, staying engaged with friends or family or volunteering for a local school or cause
- Maintain cognitive stimulation — Read, play games (card, computer, iPad, smart phone etc)
Years ago, when we started to notice Mom’s decline, I remember being so frustrated. The idea of ALZ hadn’t even crossed my mind yet, as I gradually watched her become less and less involved in life. When she retired in 1998, she had plans for the future – she wanted to travel, take up a hobby or two, and volunteer in the schools or at one of the local hospitals.
First, though, she just wanted to take a break. I remember her saying that after all those years of working, she just relished the idea of getting up in the morning and reading the paper in the sunroom. After all those years of living on a schedule, the time had come to relax and stop watching the clock.
The problem was, she never did get moving. She never followed through with her plans, and little by little, bit by bit, she began to withdraw. The person who was always so social, always the life of the party, didn’t want to do anything, and the more I nudged, the more she seemed to dig her heels in.
I’ll always wonder how much her inactivity contributed to the speed with which ALZ took hold. But then again, in the spirit of the chicken and egg, which actually did come first? Perhaps the disease was already manifesting itself well before any of us noticed changes in her. Maybe she knew in her heart of hearts that something just wasn’t right. Maybe she began to doubt herself because of the disease, and soon she was being held prisoner in a viscous cycle. The more she doubted herself, the more she withdrew, and the more she withdrew, the worse the situation became, until the disease began to win…
In Mom’s case, we’ll never know which came first. As for those of us in our 40’s and 50’s, all we can do is vow to remain active, keep our minds challenged, and always have a purpose in life. It’s scary as hell, though, isn’t it? The thought of being trapped by this disease and sucked into that lonely, vicious, never-ending cycle…