From Surviving 2 Thriving

Suzanne Butz - PACFA Registered Clinical Counsellor

Ageing, Dementia, Stress and Trauma

Having just put our 89 year old mother in aged care with rapidly progressing dementia I get to wondering about is it inevitable that dementia happens?  I know that there is lots of research that says that it doesn’t have to happen and all the rest of it but is there a correlation between stress and dementia?  So when I look at my Mum’s life there was early childhood trauma and she would have scored high on the ACE scale if those tests had been available.  Not as high as some but high enough,  she probably would have at least been a seven-ish.  I know that her coping mechanisms for the rest of her life has always made her to be a difficult woman.  She is a naturally intelligent woman but the dementia seemed to ramp up her intelligence and with that she developed stubbornness and with that classic narcissism which became one of her coping mechanisms.  She absolutely wasn’t able to genuinely empathise, she could only feel for other people if it related to her.  So if someone had had something traumatic happen she would feel upset and say “Oh my god if that had happened to me” rather than genuine concern for the person.  That doesn’t mean she was a bad person as we know because that’s a whole other story about narcissism and stress and trauma.

I heard a comment by another 80 something year old couple who just live their life pleasantly, comfortably, with great contentment, travelling and just doing things.  Their observation was one that has been a generational observation that had come out through their family, that the people that think the most, that are most intelligent are more prone to dementia.  Now is that a genetically based thing? Is it that because we are gifted with a higher IQ that we are challenged with that IQ being taken away later in life?  Although there is other research that shows that women in a family are more prone to dementia than men, not that men don’t get dementia too but you will find it not uncommon that there are families where the sisters will all get dementia but the brothers don’t. 

So I look at my own Mum’s family – her sister is 95 years old and has severe dementia I don’t think that her brother who died a couple of years ago had dementia, I could be wrong.  But I don’t think he had any signs of it, whereas when we look at Mum her coping mechanisms of controlling behaviours of being a fighter of all the behaviours that she did also allowed her to mask the onset of dementia.  Because we look back over 20 years ago and see distinct signs of her overwhelm and dementia at that point.  The fact that she would write notes, she had to leave paperwork out in piles all over the floor so she could find them, she couldn’t mentally sort them.  So this dementia of Mum’s has been progressing for some time. 

Now as someone in my sixties I have to wonder am I destined to get dementia?  I’d like to hope that all the work that I do with stress reduction and increasing blissfulness that maybe that isn’t my destiny.  So it’s curious are we able to reduce, if we are reducing our stress hormones, the cortisol held in our body by completing the stress cycle can we delay the onset or even prevent the onset of dementia?  So only time will tell with myself, so I certainly will be reducing my stress by keeping up my tremoring, my regular belly breathing, my exercise that mimics fighting and fleeing and increasing my bliss levels on a regular basis, through social engagement, through enjoying the natural world around me, through playing with children, through playing with the dog, they are all sources of great joy and wonder and awe.

If you need to reduce stress in your own life, please look at our related post How to Stop Stress and Tension

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