The Agelessness of Dementia

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And anyone who has spent time in a nursing home or assisted living facility for the “memory impaired” can see elders with dementia can not only be irrational, confused and unbalanced, but sometimes delusional and even aggressive, turning on and sometimes attacking loved ones and caretakers. Dementia is a symptom that our complex neurobiology has been compromised, harmed, sometimes abruptly, often gradually over time, over years, even decades. And if our neurobiology is compromised beyond a certain point, then we can lose what we commonly think of as a Self. We can lose ourself. Our memories. Our language. Our personality. Our ability to communicate our feelings. Our ability to reason and organize thoughts. Our sense of how to behave in different situations. Our connections to people and places.

However, elders are not the only ones who develop dementia or act demented. So I want to talk about the false belief, common in the U.S., that dementia is a natural consequence of aging. The belief that dementia is something that naturally happens to elders is partly misconception (it’s a symptom of illness, not natural to aging at all) and partly wishful thinking (it can happen to anyone at any age). The truth is, dementia is both unnatural and ageless rather than natural to the aged.

It’s important we understand dementia in this way, as unnatural and ageless, in order to see it in its actual complexity. If we can look dementia in the face without our misconceptions, if we can touch it, feel it, and talk about it without fantasies and denials, then we can get down to the necessary work of healing it and preventing it.

So consider this question for starters. What’s the connection among elders with dementia, diabetics with dementia, Parkinson’s dementia, autism and dementia, chemo-induced dementia, demented mass shooters, and even bees with dementia? Not to mention dementia from overmedication and dementia following traumatic brain injury. If you think there’s no connection, you’re thinking in the box that we've been operating in since the time of Descartes. That box is known by contemporary philosophers as the Cartesian mind/body split. It’s also known as Descartes’ error. And we are long overdue to get out of this box if we are to turn our health care crisis around.

If we accept that body, mind, emotions and spirit are interconnected, and that we can't really separate them, then we can see straight away that people—or bees—with any kind of dementia have been damaged in their neurobiology. Another way to say that is that they have various forms of brain damage—if you understand that our “brain” is not just in our head, but all over our body.

The heart-brain, as it is commonly called, or intrinsic cardiac nervous system, shares the same network of ganglia, neurotransmitters and proteins as the brain in our head. And the gut-brain, or enteric nervous system (ENS), is comprised of over 100 million nerve cells—including sensory neurons, enteric neurons, and afferent neurons—lining the inside of our gastrointestinal tract. The fact is, our heart-brain and gut-brain are responsible for more of our feelings, intuitions and thoughts than the brain in our head. So when we talk about dementia, we need to understand we are talking about degeneration and dysfunction of the nervous system throughout the whole bodymind. This explains the broad variation in forms of expression of dementia—but all of them are signs that the neurobiology of the person is toxic, stressed and dysfunctioning.

Becoming demented is obviously less than what any of us hope for. Nobody wants to be demented. Yet 2018 stats show 5.7 million Americans are living with dementia, and 50 million people globally, with that number expected to hit 75 million by 2050. The numbers are expected to double every couple decades, not just because baby boomers are aging, but because more and more people are being diagnosed with “younger age dementia” or “early onset dementia.” Younger people are also being diagnosed with “cognitive impairment”—an early symptom of dementia.

So if you think you have symptoms of mild cognitive impairment, whatever your age, don’t wait until you have dementia to do something about it. Do something about it now. Question the common belief that dementia affects only the elderly.

Consider, for example, this young man's experience of a hypoglycemic-induced episode of diabetic dementia. He was smart enough to share it on the forum “Diabetes Mine” at Healthline.com so more people can understand that this happens to people with diabetes.

“So, I beat my wife.

Seriously. I've resorted to spousal abuse twice in the past few years and I can't guarantee it won't happen again. OK, hold on. Before I end up being the subject of police raids or adult protective services calls, maybe I should back up and explain.

Don't worry: there've been good reasons. 1. I thought my wife was an alien trying to poison me with apple cider. If I didn't fight back, she might take over my body and clone me for nefarious alien invasion purposes. 2. She was a secret Communist spy trying to crush my patriotic views of the United States, evidenced by her trying to pin me down to confiscate my American-flag-skin-wearing insulin pump. Both situations led me to slugging her, and once she even came down with an infection after I decided to claw at her in self-defense. I think that was the alien response.

OK, OK.... Maybe I should back up even more. Context might be relevant here. (It might also come in handy if I ever find myself in front of a judge….)

You see, I'm one of those people living with type 1 diabetes who sometimes has violent, irrational hypoglycemic reactions. They take away all sense of reality and toss me into what seems like a sci-fi movie script.”

The physiological connection between aggressive delusional behavior and blood sugar dysregulation is revealing. As the brain loses its constant and consistent supply of blood glucose, the brain begins to dysfunction. And as the brain loses function, and the person loses a sense of Self, the bodymind defaults to the brain stem’s adrenaline-driven fight or flight response. It’s as if the situation at hand were a sudden loss of blood to the brain that occurs when one is bleeding to death, triggering a primal response to fight for one’s life driven by the primitive hindbrain and a massive release of cortisol into the bloodstream. Without healthy blood sugar regulation, you end up with someone acting like they’re being attacked by a tiger when they’re not, or someone behaving like they’re really, really drunk, delusional and out of their mind. If this inflammatory blood glucose crisis happens over and over for years and years, it can cause permanent brain damage, and the person can develop permanent diabetic dementia. This is why some doctors are starting to call Alzheimer’s disease diabetes type-3.

This man sharing his story was diagnosed with type-1 juvenile diabetes at age 4. He has been on synthetic insulin ever since. Today he is a married young adult, not an elder. And episodes like this are a part of his life. Both he and his wife know that every episode brings a risk of permanent brain damage; hence his wife’s courageous heart to fight her husband in a delusional violent state—to be punched in the head and scratched by him even—just to get some apple cider or glucose tabs in his mouth. Every second counts, because blood sugar instability is devastating for brain health.

The story of this couple’s struggle with diabetic dementia raises another important question. How in the world does a child develop diabetes by age 4? How does that happen? And that question is part of a bigger question about all factors contributing to our astounding diabetes epidemic; currently over 30 million Americans have diabetes and an estimated 84 million have pre-diabetes. According to the National Vaccine Information Center, doctors began reporting as early as 1949 that some children injected with pertussis vaccine (whooping cough), now part of the DPT or DTaP shot, afterward developed difficulties maintaining normal blood glucose levels. Lab research was done on mice and confirmed that the pertussis vaccine caused diabetes. Later researchers discovered not only injected bacteria in vaccines but also live injected viruses could cause diabetes. And other vaccines are implicated as well. Live rubella vaccination was also shown to cause rubella virus to infect pancreatic islet cells damaging their ability to produce and regulate insulin. And MMR vaccine made from weakened forms of live measles, mumps and rubella viruses were also connected to diabetes.

One 1980 study concluded that rubella virus can infect pancreatic islet cells and that the infection can severely reduce levels of secreted insulin. Another study in the 1980's demonstrated that, after live rubella vaccination, the rubella virus can persist in the body of a vaccinated person for many years.

Like rubella, mumps disease has been strongly associated with the development of Type 1 diabetes. Like the rubella virus, the mumps virus can infect pancreatic islet cells. And like the live rubella vaccine, there are persistent reports in the medical literature that some children develop diabetes after receiving live mumps vaccine.

An accumulation of scientific research today suggests that Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmunity is created when the immune system malfunctions and attacks its own body. Genetic predisposition and environmental factors (such as a viral infection) are thought to be co-factors in the development of autoimmune disease, including diabetes. Because a vaccine artificially manipulates the immune system in order to make it act as if it has recovered from and is immune to a particular disease, some scientists are investigating whether vaccination can be a co-factor in the development of autoimmune diseases like diabetes. 

If the end result of our aggressive vaccine schedule is an epidemic of diabetes, we need to look that reality in the face and do something about it. Let’s just start by being honest about the social causes of our chronic illnesses that we have created. If the inability to regulate insulin causes diabetes, and diabetes causes diabetic dementia, turns out vaccines can cause dementia. And that’s something we can take action to prevent.

In my next blog, I’ll identify other tangible causes of dementia (there are many more), and tell you what you can do to avoid them and reduce your risk of dementia. But for now, this is where I’m going to end this blog post, which I hope has awakened some primal impulse in you to take care of yourself. 

If you’re worried about brain health, yours or that of someone you love, you might want to start your day and theirs with Dr. Kelly Brogan's brain food smoothie recipe. It's designed to prevent drops in blood sugar in the morning that stress and harm our conscious embodiment.