• Doug Valentine

Dementia ~ Its Cause Not a Mystery to Me

Updated: Aug 7, 2020

The truth is I cannot remember exactly when early stage dementia kicked off for me because the onset was very gradual and undramatic.

I understand that it is fairly normal to not become aware until the symptoms reach a certain level. In my own case drinking alcohol daily that obliviated all my senses clearly contributed to my lack of awareness. My feeling is that the latent signs of dementia would have been detectable to me before the age of forty and perhaps even before, if I hadn’t chosen to keep myself numb to the level that I did. It was definitely discernible by my mid-forties.

By then it was becoming a struggle to remember things with any accuracy even from the day before and sometimes not at all. I recall my life around that time being a sort of terror that I might forget something vital which could affect one of my customers and therefore harm my business and inevitably my family, and so I wrote everything down on lists and carried multiple messages to myself in my pocket.

I was not honest about my mental state of being, telling myself that this was just what happened as one got older. These memory issues added to my already high stress levels because I didn’t feel I could talk to anyone and admit what was going on.I felt that if I did, I would have had to cease working in my business, and couldn’t bare all the financial implications that that would have had on my wife and my children. So, I chose to hide it and not seek any help.

Furthermore, I buried my head in the sand with regard to considering what could have caused my memory loss. The abundant alcohol drinking, as well as copious caffeine consumption continued as before, without any thoughts of at least cutting down either or both, if not even more sensibly giving them up completely.

In my late 50s, something in me started to wake up and slowly, bit by bit, a realisation grew of the abuse that I had long been subjecting my body to.I started to question many of the choices I had been making for a very long time. For example, if alcohol is a poison, which ethanol, the recreational drug contained in alcoholic beverages technically is, and anaesthetises all my senses as it did, why had I been putting it in my body daily for so many years?

And if caffeine in coffee and some other beverages races and stresses my nervous system, therefore my entire physiology, which it did, why did I need to do that to myself several times a day? Was my high blood pressure related to the use of these two drugs? Were my memory issues also related to the choice to consume something (coffee, alcohol) that has such stark effect on a body, when it is no secret that alcohol slows down activity of the central nervous system and the messages going between the brain and the body. It is also no secret that alcohol is very damaging to both the brain and the liver.

It became more and more clear to me that I needed to give up both these substances completely and unreservedly. I came to feel certain that not doing so would be very harmful to my long term well-being, which was already in a pretty bad shape. On this occasion I had no problem giving up alcohol, even though it had always called me back to it very strongly whenever I had tried to take a brief break from it in the past. Although I never at the time thought I was an alcoholic, probably because I didn’t need to drink during the day, there is no doubt in my mind now that alcohol owned me to quite some degree and had I been honest at the time I would have admitted I was addicted to alcohol.

Giving up coffee actually proved to be harder than giving up alcohol, which I would have never guessed. It took months to give up caffeine, because every time I came to around day four, the withdrawal headaches reached a point where I would cave in and have a coffee to relieve the headache. This transpired to be a very foolish thing to do, each time resetting me to the beginning of the process, whereas if I had managed to tolerate the headache just for another few days, I would have avoided the hamster-wheel-effect going around in circle that was leading nowhere but to further months of headaches and frustration.

Over the next few months my health slowly improved and somewhere around the six months mark, I noticed that my head felt very much clearer and the fog that had previously had permanent residence had gone. I reckoned that the last time my head had felt so clear was when I was a young boy.

I also found that I had gradually ceased writing myself lists and messages, and what really convinced me that the true process of healing had commenced, was when my partner at the time asked something about the previous day and my recollection often seemed to be clearer than hers, which was a first for a very long time. So, with huge appreciation to myself for making these changes to the lifestyle,Iquietlydeclared that my early stage dementia was en route to being healed.I have no doubts whatsoever that without making these changes, I would have been a fully diagnosed dementia patient today and would have not been able to write what I have written here.

What I have come to understand about dementia is that it is related to presence or more to the point, alack of presence. Presence meaning to be with oneself, with whatever one is doing. I also came to understand the concept of checking out, meaning to choose to not be present with oneself. So, for example, if whilst chopping vegetables I am thinking about the week ahead or a meeting coming up the next day instead of my mind being with my body while it is chopping, the thoughts are off in the future, therefore, I would be checking out, hence not present with myself as I chop.

Choosing to think about yesterday, last week, month etc… whilst doing any task is also a form of checking out, because we have chosen to not be present with ourselves in that moment. Other examples of checking out that are easy to relate to is if you have ever arrived at a destination in your car and realised that you can hardly remember anything about the journey. Or have you ever spent hours in front of a TV or computer screen a, tablet or a smartphone and wondered where the time went?

It is really a very simple concept and it is easy to see and experience that if we choose to be in the past or the future rather than in the present moment or when we spend time in front of screens without purposewe are checking out and the more that we do this, the more we are perhapssowing the seeds of our own dementia.

As dementia progresses, it is well understood that the person’s clarity regarding who they are talking to and what is going on becomes less and less over time, until further down the line they have only rare lucid moments. If we look at this with respect to the presence and checking out paradigm, this fits and makes total sense, that as the disease progresses, the person is less and less present.

But is this what happens or is it actually the other way around? In other words, could the choice to check out and not be present be leading one to the start of dementia?

Looking at my own history of checking out, in other words my progressive process of withdrawing from life, I can see how the commitment to life reduced gradually over a long period of time and how a feeling of giving-up slowly crept into some parts of my life and then spread to others, how the more I withdrew from deepening my connection with people the worse it got and even led to increased amount of drinking, since alcohol was the crutch I used to get me through and also to, even for few fleeting moments, assist in alleviating the pain of the choice to give up on both myself and others.

Yet I realised that, in truth, nothing could ever relieve the ache I felt in my body for making choices to not live the only way as humans we have been designed to live - - completely committed and connected to life, love and people.

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