Tuesday 7 July 2020

Why Buddha Never had Alzheimer's

Dr Shuvendu Sen, MD

Alzheimer's is devastating. Over 850,000 people in the UK and over 5.8 million Americans live with this degenerative disease. As medical science continues to develop, so does the average life expectancy along with it, meaning more people living with brains that- sadly- are not meant to last as long as the body hosting it.

With his new book, Why Buddha Never Had Alzheimer's, Dr Shuvendu Sen, MD, takes us on a fascinating tour of the mind in its twilight. He throws us a curveball- what if, rather than administering drugs for this psychological condition, we prescribed treatments from the world of Holistics? Can meditation, yoga and the arts alleviate the symptoms of Alzheimer's- or even cure it?

I'll admit, starting the book, I was sceptical. A little background on myself as a reviewer- I sustained a head injury due to a complication at birth, and have had lifelong short-term memory difficulties, anxiety and depression. I've dealt with numerous interventions, psychologists, psychotherapists and MRI scanners, finally getting a solid diagnosis aged 26. Since then, I've been fascinated by what the brain does by itself, and what we can do with it using psychology. I'm 37, and still learning. Always will be.

Dr. Sen investigates these unconventional but traditional treatments with effective conviction. Personally, when introduced to Mindfulness a few years ago, I wasn't keen. Staring into nothingness felt like dwelling on my issues to no avail, so I haven't been back to it, but Dr. Sen's details of certain medical studies gave me pause for thought. Tales of wiring up Buddhist monks' skulls to encephalographs sit on the pages, zen-like, next to anecdotes of General Practitioners administering music and meditation to Alzheimer's patients (both of which reaped astoundingly positive results). Dr. Sen's treatments traversed hospital treatment rooms, GP's surgeries, and home visits to capture a range of medical challenges and other professional perspectives (including, if I am reading this right, an actual Dr Doolittle at Yale) and details of how the holistic therapies helped the patient to either alleviate or overcome their condition.

Most jaw-droppingly, personally, are the details of PTSD. I have had many disagreements- and in some cases full-blown arguments- with NHS staff about my memory condition and my depression and anxiety, the latter two of which stem from incidents in adolescence. I've strongly believed the psychological condition, and the mental health condition, were interconnected, although I couldn't always place why. Dr. Sen clears up a long-suspected theory of mine.

'In normal situations, the hippocampus (where the memory is stored) allows an individual to discriminate between threat and safety.' Dr Sen describes how the amygdala- our most primitive, flight-or-flight section of the brain, detects the threat. The hippocampus then down-regulates this to moderate the threat. There should be 'emotional equivalence' between the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex (that which plans complex cognitive behaviour- it does the working out). When this doesn't happen, due to, say, a head injury and damage to the hippocampus, anxieties can run out of control. Can this knowledge quell my own anxieties? What possibilities lie ahead of me now I know this? Well, once the lockdown has been lifted further, I guess I'll find out...

There's more I'd love to tell you about this theory and my own experiences, but it's best if you heard the professional perspectives from the horse's mouth (the book).

After lockdown, I'm looking forward to putting this theory into practice.

A few suggestions- metric as well as imperial measurements would be ideal for other countries, and a glossary of medical terms would be handy at points. But regardless, the book is a thorough, reassuring and insightful look at the juncture of the traditional and the cutting edge.

Thanks go to Ascot Media for providing the book.


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