Why Dementia Is Hitting Us Now

Couple on a Bench

Cognitive Decline Expanding and Accelerating

Why is the prevalence of cognitive decline expanding and accelerating in older adults in America (and elsewhere)? Why is it also affecting people in their 50s and 60s? Some say it’s because people are living longer, but if dementia is not a natural part of aging—and even the National Institute of Health asserts it is not—then why should that make a difference? And why are those numbers increasing at such astounding rates?

One reason we can point to are changes taking place for the first time, in both our environment and our lifestyles. The transformations we have seen in the 150 years from the industrial age to the electronic age would make the world we live in barely recognizable to our ancestors. These changes are impacting our bodies and minds in ways we could never have imagined, and they relate to most of Sharp Again’s 10 causative factors.

Changes Impacting Our Bodies and Minds

What kinds of environmental changes are we talking about? There are several categories, starting with our food supply. The soil of conventionally grown foods is no longer as nutrient-dense as it once was, and many of the seeds used have been genetically altered to increase yield, withstand weather, kill insects and other disruptors, and facilitate processing. The downside is that these seed alterations have also rendered these foods unlike what we evolved over half a million years to thrive on. Most processed foods today contain non-food substances that our bodies cannot easily recognize or process.

As our diets have changed and we consume more engineered and depleted foods (as well as an alarming amount of sugar per capita), we are seeing a narrowing of facial structure and an increase in breathing issues from asthma to sleep apnea. In children and in adults, the narrowing of the airway continues to reduce oxygen to the brain and impair the brain’s critically important ability to detoxify at night.

Over the past 50 years, chemical toxins have been found increasingly in our food, water, air, and work/home environments (in the form of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, fluoride, industrial waste, pharmaceuticals, paper and packaging, plastics, heavy metals, and more). The food industry alone uses 12,000 different chemicals as ingredients or for processing.

Pervasive Chemicals

Chemicals are so pervasive that well over 200 are commonly found in the umbilical cords of newborn babies. A one-time exposure may not cause much damage by itself, but the sheer number of exposures to different chemicals over the course of a lifetime creates a build-up of toxins in the body’s tissues. As this toxic “body burden” accumulates, the body’s sensitive mechanisms (such as the hormones of our endocrine system) start to break down, which distorts and even prevents proper functioning. Mercury, a neurotoxin found in our food, air, and so-called “silver” dental fillings, can cause symptoms identical to those that define Alzheimer’s Disease.

Living Longer Now

Happy Couple in the Mountains

Even though the National Institute of Health agrees that dementia is not a natural part of aging, it is also true that the longer we live, the longer we are exposed to and accumulate toxins. At the point where one’s body burden is reached and the tissues can no longer absorb and sequester the toxic load, symptoms start to develop—in this case, memory loss and other manifestations of cognitive decline. Symptoms can also develop at younger ages if the level of toxic exposure is high enough.

Prescription Drugs

Although prescription drugs can be life-saving, many prescriptions are written to address symptoms rather than causes of disease. It is not surprising to find our elders taking more than 12 different medications, whether they live at home or in nursing facilities. The listed interactions and side effects of many medications include confusion, dizziness, memory loss, and disorientation. When the number of medications is reduced to only those that are required for comfort and safety, these symptoms often disappear.

Inflammation

Chemicals and toxic exposure also lead to inflammation in the body and can reduce our resistance to infection. We have seen a rise in Lyme Disease, mold, MRSA, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, all of which cause inflammation. The rise in food allergies and sensitivities is another manifestation of how chemicals and GMOs have diminished our ability to absorb and process nutrients. Much of this has to do with the chemical and antibiotic assault on the organisms in our gut microbiome, which, we are learning, has an overwhelming impact on the brain and bodily function.

Advance of Technology

In industrialized countries, environmental toxicity is compounded by the advance of technologies for both work and leisure that invite us into physical inactivity, social isolation, and mental numbness. Many of us sit over too many hours a day, whether watching television, in front a computer or playing video games. But our bodies evolved to be in motion, and these sedentary activities all diminish vitality and damage our health. Sitting is the new smoking, making us vulnerable to diabetes, heart disease, depression, anxiety, and obesity.

The electronic age also brings with it exposure to another form of toxicity, electromagnetic radiation (EMR’s). These are emitted by our cell phones, cordless phones, computers, electrical wires, WIFI, and cell towers. We have evidence that EMR’s contribute to the development of cancer and impact our health at a cellular level, but the true extent of the effects are not yet known.

Great Physical Stress on the Body

All of the above factors cause great physical stress on the body. Add to that the tsunami of information and responsibilities we are asked to deal with daily, and the overload is enough to cause depression, anxiety, fatigue, and tremendous mental stress, especially when added to home and family life. Our stress levels are also high because most people do not have the time or energy to engage in stress-reducing activities like meditation, yoga, and regular workouts, let alone simply enjoy quiet time or catch up on sleep. Our bodies were made to deal with stressful situations and then relax. If no respite takes place, stress builds and leads to a myriad of diseases, one of which is dementia.

New research also shows that stress from traumatic life events, whether emotional or physical, can cause memory problems in middle age and dementia later in life. Traumatic brain injury due to high-impact sports, car accidents, falls, violence, and combat injuries have resulted in later diagnoses of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.  Adverse Childhood Experiences can be physical or emotional and often lead to problems with memory in midlife and dementia later on.