Saturday, December 31, 2011

Mind your mind....

Dementia has become a growing problem in recent years. Increasing pressures at work, a world-wide financial crisis which is affecting every household in the UK, lack of exercise and diets which are high in saturated fat have all added to the problem. Are we living longer or simply staying alive longer?

In February 2007 the BBC wrote that: More than 1.7 million people in the UK will have dementia by 2051, costing billions of pounds each year, experts have forecast. This translates to 154% increase on today’s figures. So what is going wrong in our society?
More recent figures taken from The Guardian in February 2010 say that: the number of people with dementia, at 822,00, is 17% higher than has previously been estimated and will pass the 1 million mark before 2025, the Oxford University has found.

These sobering figures do not make for happy reading. While advances in medicine are winning the battles against other major physical diseases, it seems that we are at risk of losing our mind.

Nowadays, people are working far longer hours than they ever used to and are under increasing pressure to achieve more results for salaries that do not necessarily reflect their efforts. This, compounded by the long hours we spend commuting in crowded transport or busy rush hour, raises our stress and anger levels on a daily basis. Longer working hours equate to less leisure time available for family, rest, spending time exercising or enjoying our favourite pastimes. And when we do find time for each other, it is either hurried, or we are too tired physically and mentally to enjoy those precious moments together. Lack of quality time with our family may lead to a false state of feeling independent - doing things our way. In fact it is probably a state of internal loneliness.

Addictions have become an unhealthy outlet for our ever-growing daily stress and internal void. Increased smoking and drinking habits take their toll on our immune system. Some people might also choose to use other substances to temporarily escape the daily realities, without realising that they are compounding their problems. Most Friday and Saturday evenings, towns turn into a mass gathering of anti-social behaviour caused by out of control drinking, heavy smoking and pent up pressure.

During the week the story is slightly different. For the majority of people a good evening is endless and mindless hours spent in front of the TV, being spoon fed repeats, reality shows and other brain cell destroying image flashes. An article by the Los Angeles Times written on the 12th January 2010 by Jeannine Stein said that: Watching television for hour upon hour obviously isn't the best way to spend leisure time -- inactivity has been linked to obesity and heart disease. But a new study quantifies TV viewing's effect on risk of death. Researchers found that each hour a day spent watching TV was linked with an 18% greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, an 11% greater risk of all causes of death, and a 9% increased risk of death from cancer.

The key words in the article being inactivity, which is not only the obvious physical one, but equally as important the mental soporific effects thoughtless hours in front of the box have.
The TV does have its place. It can be educational and entertaining, when the right programmes are viewed. For example, there are a number of documentaries about the planet, sport and of course a nice cuddle on the sofa with a good movie. We all have our favourite shows, which help us relax away from our daily grind. Even so, the more processed the images are, the less gymnastics our mind has to do. On TV we see things the way producers serve them to us.

A book, on the other hand, creates positive challenges for the brain. ‘The big green tree,’ has a different image for each one of us, because our brain processes the information differently and according to our understanding of tree, big and green. ‘A tall person,’ is pictured differently by a 6 foot reader compared to a 5ft 4” one. TV takes away our thinking, because we can all see the same tall person.

A book can transports us to worlds of fantasy - riding horses with knights, or teach us facts by taking us to battle grounds of the past or the present. A book helps us increase our vocabulary and our writing ability. Some dyslexia groups recommend reading as part of a person’s daily routine of coping with the symptoms. Cross words and Sudokus also stretch the brain, keeping it going.

My father started suffering the symptoms of stress in 2004.  Long working hours, high pressures at work and little time to himself.  He spent his waking hours constantly watching the news, flicking from channel to channel. His addiction led him to believe in nothing other than disaster and human tragedy. In 2005, I took a career break to help look after him as my step mum could not cope alone. I bought him books in the genre he was interested in, but he just shunned them for the news on TV. I would try to persuade him to watch a comedy at least, but he would sit there impatiently until he could flick over to crisis and disaster once again.

His condition rapidly deteriorated. He started off by repeating things; like a young child. Initially, I thought he was doing it to annoy us. I realised though that he was not when he behaved like that with people he did not know. Then he started falling behind closed doors. One day he went to the bathroom. My step mum did not think much of it until a thud was heard. She ran to the bathroom, whilst phoning me in a panic to hurry home. I rushed home to find her trying to get into the bathroom without injuring him.

His care became a full time job, which required professional knowledge. Even home help was not able to cope anymore, so we moved him to a specialist nursing home, where he is now looked after 24/7.

I didn’t know much about dementia then, but I knew it was not right to be glued to crisis and disaster all day long. The flashing images, the constant negativity was overpowering. I had to leave the room many a times to get away from it. I now leave the room saddened by the empty shell he has become – the once successful PhD graduate.

`The body does wear with the years, but the mind can grow.`
`Look after it, nurture it and don’t let others control it.`
An article by:
Conn Bardi,
London - UK

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