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The Alzheimer's Risk

July 24, 2011 | by Emuna Braverman

Relinquishing our illusion of control.

"Lifestyle Changes Can Reduce Risk of Alzheimer’s" reads the headline. Apparently, “a new, theoretical analysis finds that about half of the risk factors for Alzheimer’s are potentially changeable…” Some of these factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, sedentary behavior, depression and low educational level.   

That’s amazing news.  Alzheimer’s is a horrific and terrifying disease.  There are really no words to adequately describe watching a loved one battle its onset – or live without their faculties.   

My father passed away a few months ago from Alzheimer-related complications.  So this study seems like an unbelievable breakthrough, a stunning relief.  We can make lifestyle choices that will prevent our developing Alzheimer’s.  Fantastic. 

But wait, the article cautions: “In reality, the causes of Alzheimer’s are still unclear, and it hasn’t been proven that stopping smoking, for example, actually lowers one’s risk of getting dementia.”  The information is not as straightforward as it seems.  We don’t have as much control as we thought. 

And that, I think, is the point.  Even if we do find a cure for Alzheimer’s, another illness will pop up.  For all our progress and our research and our solutions, there seems to always be a new disease on the horizon.   

And I think there always will be.  Because I believe, based on no evidence or source whatsoever, that disease is a message to us.  I think we are being told, “You are not in control.”  Of course we have to do our part; we have to make our effort. If exercise helps, we should exercise.  If diet helps, we should watch what we eat (everything in moderation including chocolate and ice cream is a good rule!)  We should take reasonable precautions. That's our responsibility.  

But nothing we do is a guarantee.  Nothing is a panacea.  Nothing is magic.  This ensures that we never lose sight of the fact that the Almighty is in charge. 

We have a very strong desire to be in control.  We turn to the latest exercise (is it Pilates or spinning or Zumba?) or diet (is it South Beach or Atkins or flaxseed?). We enroll in the latest life goals seminar or visit the most highly priced physician.  All in search of that elusive key to immortality. We convince ourselves that if we follow a certain regimen no harm will ever come to us.  We even become superstitious in our desperate desire to assert control. 

This attitude makes the drop that much farther down, the landing that much more difficult when life hands us its inevitable challenges.  It leaves us bewildered and devastated when, despite our best efforts, disease strikes. And it leaves us with none of the tools necessary for fighting back. 

We are much better off if we relinquish our illusion of control.  Staying awake the whole flight will not make you the pilot.  We need to accept that everything is in the Almighty’s hands. It is actually in our best interests to turn to Him for comfort, for reassurance and for perspective. 

Disease obviously has specific lessons to impart to the individual who contracts it and to their loved ones.  But it also has a general message for the rest of us.  Of course we need to work for cures, it’s a noble goal – but I think it’s unlikely we will every fully eradicate sickness until we learn the lesson of Who’s really in charge.  Perhaps if and when we do, we will be able to truly rejoice over these newspaper headlines.


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