Most (post-)industrial western societies tend to see aging as a decline from the creativity and energy of young adulthood. The experiences and wisdom of longer life tend to be downplayed against the physical changes wrought by age. But older people tend to know better: they want the young to appreciate that the teens and early twenties are the difficult years, whereas the engaged peace of being over 50 is really where the action is.
That said, those moving beyond 50 can not – and do not – deny changes in the body that must be dealt with: quicker fatigue, joint and tooth aches, changes in eyesight and/or hearing… The AARP’s website is reporting a new study at Neurology.org that links the ongoing and unresolved physical discomforts help increase the likelihood of the onset of dementia as well.
“When a lot of small things go wrong, it can add up to an important risk,” says Kenneth Rockwood, M.D., professor of medicine at Dalhousie University, Halifax (Canada), and an author of the study “Nontraditional Risk Factors Combine to Predict Alzheimer Disease and Dementia.” The study concerned a pool of over 7200 older Canadians whose health was tracked from 1992. One of the findings of the longitudinal survey was that as ‘merely’ physical ailments added up over the years, the probability that those same people would develop dementia, especially Alzheimer’s Disease, went up almost 40%.
The survey is so newly published that others in the medical sciences have not had chance to offer statistical counter-arguments. That said, AARP’s story notes that few doctors believe actively treating those physical ailments will, in themselves, help lessen the likelihood of later dementia. If that is the case, the link between chronic physical concerns and more debilitating mental illness would be ever more difficult to make.
One of the themes of the study drawn out by AARP concerns the notion that some ‘age badly,’ which is to say, they do not keep up with even a moderate program of exercise or brain stimulation. They then tend to have the physical ailments and mental issues that are, alas, one of the challenges of aging.
Many doctors stress keeping up one’s basic health to retain a heightened sense of wellbeing, and to engage even in low-stress activities like walking to help keep mind and body healthy. As with the young, mental and physical health are intertwined. To ignore one is to endanger the other.
Written by: Christopher Gardner, PhD