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Buddha, Alzheimer's and Dementia....

federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky...Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
edited January 2016 in Buddhism Today
This discussion was created from comments split from: Can a Buddha still get Alzheimers?.

As the thread is over a year old, but the question is still interesting, let's launch a new discussion with new perspectives....?
Vastmindyagr
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Comments

  • Would Buddha or any other Buddhist be able to use Buddhist practice to accept the loss of ego, personality, memory and control of bodily functions that Alzheimers causes? Would a core "real" person remain? If so, could an apropriate version of such practices be used to help Alzheimers sufferers who haven't previously practiced Buddhism?

  • I can't remember. just kidding.

    yagrKundodantepw
  • howhow Veteran Veteran
    edited January 2016

    @calmest said:
    Would Buddha or any other Buddhist be able to use Buddhist practice to accept the loss of ego, personality, memory and control of bodily functions that Alzheimers causes? Would a core "real" person remain? If so, could an apropriate version of such practices be used to help Alzheimers sufferers who haven't previously practiced Buddhism?

    What do you think any ones "real" core person is?

    Vastmindlobsterpegembara
  • VastmindVastmind Memphis, TN Veteran
    edited January 2016

    I learned alot of things watching my Nana go through it. The brain is a fragile thing. It was so fascinating to me to see her 'pop in' moments, She could go weeks without knowing who I was, thinking she was somewhere else, doing other things, not knowing how to do anything...but then out of the blue...her eyes would connect with mine and she almost was the exact person I grew up knowing. It was so time freezing. Maybe 2-4 minutes.

    It was sad and frustrating for me to watch at the time, but as I reflect now...those few moments are just as precious to me as those ones from childhood.

    I don't know if she was a Buddha....but she was my hero. <3o:):)

    silveryagrlobstermerx
  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran
    edited January 2016

    The Buddha and Masters that followed had no idea that a lot of our behavior was heavily influenced by the delicate chemical dance inside our brains. When I first started hanging out with a Sangha, one of the concerns was that various people were teaching that the precept to not take intoxicants meant throwing away any medication to treat mental problems like depression or anxiety. I have not seen that argument for a while, so perhaps as the Masters got older and educated they realized the brain is just another organ in the body, subject to illness and needing medication to function right.

    There was a story of a Western man who joined a Japanese Zen temple, and over the course of a year started getting more mellow and zoned out and everyone thought he was really enlightened and had mastered sitting perfectly still for days. But then when he had problems talking, they discovered he had a brain tumor that had been getting larger and mimicked the behavior of a peaceful, calm mind. I guess what I'm saying is, asking can Buddha get Alzheimers is like asking if Buddha bleeds if you cut him open. Meditation and the heavy work of mindfulness and such requires a fairly well functioning brain.

    lobsterVastmind
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    I always wonder what it is like for someone who is "in and out" so to speak. I've known several people with it,including my great-grandfather. Some seem to handle it better than others. But others think they are on grand adventures, and even though it has to be super hard for loved ones not to be known, maybe that wouldn't be the worst thing-to think you are on vacation instead of a nursing home? My friend's mom went through this. But she thought she won the lottery and was on a world vacation, she referred to nurses and her daughters as flight attendants,and seemed to have the time of her life for several months before she died.

    It made me wonder, too, how it affects the Buddhamind. If one were to practice enough,would that influence dementia? Thay's continuing recovery seems to suggest it might,though he had a stroke and not dementia. (He went home to Plum Village yesterday, btw. Yay!)

    yagrVastmindcalmest
  • WalkerWalker Veteran Veteran

    @karasti said:

    It made me wonder, too, how it affects the Buddhamind. If one were to practice enough,would that influence dementia? Thay's continuing recovery seems to suggest it might,though he had a stroke and not dementia. (He went home to Plum Village yesterday, btw. Yay!)

    Well there are certain exercises and activities that can slow the effects of Alzheimer's or dementia. My father-in-law was diagnosed with early onset dementia after suffering a series of strokes and TIAs in his early '50s. He was always very artistic, but that's when he took up painting with watercolours. And he has become quite an accomplished artist. And he has times where he's not 'with it', but really, he has done very well. He no longer drives though, he voluntarily gave up his license years ago. Not that always remembers that - he's gotten behind the wheel a few times (once he went missing for about a week - what a nightmare that was for us, but we can laugh about it now).

    So yeah, depending on the person, I think that meditation and mindfulness could influence dementia.

    BTW, it's great to hear that TNH is doing so well, and has gone home. =)

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran
    edited January 2016

    It pays to ponder......
    When there's a sense that this is happening, but the wandering thoughts (which takes the self away from one illusion depositing it into another), can not be controlled .... what is it that attempts to return/clings to what one perceive as sanity ?

    I think there's research going on which explores the beneficial aspects of meditation in slowing down/combating the symptoms of Alzheimers .....

    http://theadplan.com/alzheimersdietblog/recipes/the-impact-of-meditation-on-alzheimers-prevention/

  • yagryagr Veteran

    Just a question I found myself asking while I considered the thread...

    Does Alzheimers primarily affect the brain or the mind?

  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    The effects of Alzheimer's can be detected in various areas of the brain, through scans. The activity of those areas is measurable and detectable.

    Mind is memories, emotions and responses to recognition of certain objects, people and things...

    As a totally non-medical person though, that's all I know......

    yagr
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    @yagr said:
    Just a question I found myself asking while I considered the thread...

    Does Alzheimers primarily affect the brain or the mind?

    @yagr this might be of some help
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memory

    "Brain areas involved in the neuroanatomy of memory such as the hippocampus, the amygdala, the striatum, or the mammillary bodies are thought to be involved in specific types of memory. For example, the hippocampus is believed to be involved in spatial learning and declarative learning, while the amygdala is thought to be involved in emotional memory.[32] Damage to certain areas in patients and animal models and subsequent memory deficits is a primary source of information. However, rather than implicating a specific area, it could be that damage to adjacent areas, or to a pathway traveling through the area is actually responsible for the observed deficit. Further, it is not sufficient to describe memory, and its counterpart, learning, as solely dependent on specific brain regions. Learning and memory are attributed to changes in neuronal synapses, thought to be mediated by long-term potentiation and long-term depression.
    In general, the more emotionally charged an event or experience is, the better it is remembered; this phenomenon is known as the memory enhancement effect. Patients with amygdala damage, however, do not show a memory enhancement effect.[33][34]
    Hebb distinguished between short-term and long-term memory. He postulated that any memory that stayed in short-term storage for a long enough time would be consolidated into a long-term memory. Later research showed this to be false. Research has shown that direct injections of cortisol or epinephrine help the storage of recent experiences. This is also true for stimulation of the amygdala. This proves that excitement enhances memory by the stimulation of hormones that affect the amygdala. Excessive or prolonged stress (with prolonged cortisol) may hurt memory storage. Patients with amygdalar damage are no more likely to remember emotionally charged words than nonemotionally charged ones. The hippocampus is important for explicit memory. The hippocampus is also important for memory consolidation. The hippocampus receives input from different parts of the cortex and sends its output out to different parts of the brain also. The input comes from secondary and tertiary sensory areas that have processed the information a lot already. Hippocampal damage may also cause memory loss and problems with memory storage.[35] This memory loss includes, retrograde amnesia which is the loss of memory for events that occurred shortly before the time of brain damage.[31]"

    littlestudent
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
    edited January 2016

    @yagr said: Just a question I found myself asking while I considered the thread...Does Alzheimers primarily affect the brain or the mind?

    Basically dementia is a degenerative disease of the brain and therefore affects mental functioning, ie the mind.

  • @calmest said:
    Would Buddha or any other Buddhist be able to use Buddhist practice to accept the loss of ego, personality, memory and control of bodily functions that Alzheimers causes? Would a core "real" person remain? If so, could an apropriate version of such practices be used to help Alzheimers sufferers who haven't previously practiced Buddhism?

    To a degree.

    Dementia is exasperated by stress and the removal of stress/dukkha is a Buddhist practice.

    Somebody I knew at a dharma centre had a degenerative neurological disease. He is dead now but his doctor could not understand the relapse/improvement in his condition.
    'Living in a Buddhist Monastery and meditating, Doctor.'
    His family approved. He was inspiring.

    http://www.alzheimers.net/2013-11-25/how-meditation-can-slow-alzheimers/

    pommesetoranges
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
    edited January 2016

    @lobster said: Dementia is exasperated by stress and the removal of stress/dukkha is a Buddhist practice.

    Perhaps, but from personal experience a common source of stress for sufferers is those around them finding it difficult to accept the reality, ie not wanting to accept that dementia is a degenerative physical disease with permanent and debilitating memory loss. Initially the sufferer forgets who their close relatives are, later on they forget who they are.

    I suppose a belief in storehouse consciousness ( alaya-vijnana ) would put things in a different perspective.

    lobster
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    @Shoshin said: I think there's research going on which explores the beneficial aspects of meditation in slowing down/combating the symptoms of Alzheimers .....
    http://theadplan.com/alzheimersdietblog/recipes/the-impact-of-meditation-on-alzheimers-prevention/

    That sounds more to do with reducing the likelihood of onset, rather than alleviating symptoms once dementia has set in.

  • Rina290Rina290 Johannesburg New

    @calmest said:
    Would Buddha or any other Buddhist be able to use Buddhist practice to accept the loss of ego, personality, memory and control of bodily functions that Alzheimers causes? Would a core "real" person remain? If so, could an apropriate version of such practices be used to help Alzheimers sufferers who haven't previously practiced Buddhism?

    This is a very interesting question and I don't know whether anyone really knows the answer. It definitely is something which should be explored, especially with mindfulness now becoming accepted practice.

    I know that the newest research is showing that the brain can regenerate itself, even at a high age, but very little is still understood. What effect mindfulness practice could have on the development of Alzheimers is still an open question I think.

    My mother died of Alzheimers and so I know that genetically I am predisposed to develop the same illness.

    This is what makes life so difficult to deal with isn't it. So much in our environment and the way we talk to each other is either geared towards the future or at the past. And very seldom at This Moment just as it is, whether with Dementia or Alzheimers or without it.

    And living with this moment when a loved one is suffering from this illness. I have failed many times. Going through the process with my mother has been one of the most difficult of my life.

    Shoshin
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
    edited January 2016

    @Rina290 said:What effect mindfulness practice could have on the development of Alzheimers is still an open question I think.

    I could see mindfulness helping to cope with symptoms in the early stages, but it's difficult to see how somebody in the advanced stages would even know where to begin.
    My mum began to suffer from dementia a couple of years ago and is now in the advanced stages, so I know how difficult it can be to cope with, both for the sufferer and for those around them.

  • yagryagr Veteran

    Thanks to @federica, @Shoshin, and @SpinyNorman for the input, I appreciate it. As soon as the question became apparent to me though, it bred a different line of thought.

    People think of Alzheimers as losing one's mind, in a colloquial use of the word 'mind' anyway. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that one has lost the self - or at least has a tenuous hold on the self. I've not been around anyone with Alzheimers before but it would seem that if one can't remember one's children, then you've really detached from some serious karmic bonds.

    My concluding thought was, that while I don't believe the two are the same by any stretch of the imagination, the onset of Alzheimers might be the closest I get to approximating enlightenment in this life. A weird thought juxtaposed with the OP's original question: Can a Buddha get Alzheimers?

    New thought: If a Buddha got Alzheimers, would anyone be able to tell the difference?

    Kundo
  • @Rina290. I cared for my mother over 5 yrs. who was suffering from dementia. Often it seemed as though the day lacked sufficient hours to accomplish all that needed to be done. Plus the change where your parent becomes your child.

    Caring for a parent is uncharted territory for most of us and I certainly can remember stumbling along the way. Best of luck.

  • KundoKundo Sydney, Australia Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:

    @yagr said: Just a question I found myself asking while I considered the thread...Does Alzheimers primarily affect the brain or the mind?

    Basically dementia is a degenerative disease of the brain and therefore affects mental functioning, ie the mind.

    I'm not sure it's so cut and dry to be honest. I am only speaking from my own experience here, so I may be completely wrong, but from my experience with a degenerative disease of the brain, my memories are quite strong. It's current things that give me a bit of trouble, especially learning new skills. I can still learn them fine, but I need to make notes and little FAQ's for myself because it's now harder to keep the steps stored in the memory bank.

    For example, all the network admin stuff I learned 20 years ago in IT is still there and can be retrieved in a heartbeat. But the admin stuff for my current role - I'm STILL making mistakes and I've been here for 18 months. Granted it's not dementia and is a different set of issues causing the degeneration, but my grandfather who died from dementia, could remember everything from his youth with no issues. It was the later memories and current time that were the problem.

    I guess I don't know if I agree that brain and mind are the same, but there's not a lot to define them as separate either - as I understand it.

    _ /\ _

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    @dhammachick said: Granted it's not dementia and is a different set of issues causing the degeneration, but my grandfather who died from dementia, could remember everything from his youth with no issues. It was the later memories and current time that were the problem.

    My mum was the same. Short-term memory goes first, then eventually the older memories go too. It does seem to be progressive though, a gradual deterioration.

    lobster
  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @SpinyNorman said: My mum was the same. Short-term memory goes first, then eventually the older memories go too. It does seem to be progressive though, a gradual deterioration.

    "was"...? :confused:

  • Can a Buddha still get Alzheimers?

    This may sound strange.

    The body, yes. The Buddha, no.

    Why? Because the Buddha isn't to be found in form, feeling, perception, thoughts, memories.

    "What do you think, Anuradha: Do you regard the Tathagata as being in form?... Elsewhere than form?... In feeling?... Elsewhere than feeling?... In perception?... Elsewhere than perception?... In fabrications?... Elsewhere than fabrications?... In consciousness?... Elsewhere than consciousness?
    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn22/sn22.086.than.html

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    @federica said:

    @SpinyNorman said: My mum was the same. Short-term memory goes first, then eventually the older memories go too. It does seem to be progressive though, a gradual deterioration.

    "was"...? :confused:

    She's still alive but fading fast. She doesn't know who or where she is any more.

  • DavidDavid some guy Veteran

    @calmest said:
    Would Buddha or any other Buddhist be able to use Buddhist practice to accept the loss of ego, personality, memory and control of bodily functions that Alzheimers causes?

    That's hard to say. I guess it would depend on the stage and the individual but eventually acceptance of the loss makes no sense as they don't realize anything is missing except in rare lucid moments.

    Would a core "real" person remain? If so, could an apropriate version of such practices be used to help Alzheimers sufferers who haven't previously practiced Buddhism?

    The person is only as "real" as their memories and a half forgotten life plus the memories from dreams and stories equals a confused sense of self.

    Last night I spent an hour trying to console someone who couldn't understand why her legs were running away.

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    @pegembara said: Why? Because the Buddha isn't to be found in form, feeling, perception, thoughts, memories.

    So where is the Buddha to be found?

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
    edited January 2016

    @David said: The person is only as "real" as their memories and a half forgotten life plus the memories from dreams and stories equals a confused sense of self.

    Memory does seem to form a very large part of self-view and self-identity. As a thought experiment, imagine waking up one morning with complete amnesia...what would be left of you?

  • DavidDavid some guy Veteran

    I've seen cases where people that were considered mean spirited their whole life by their family members turn caring and meek and vice versa.

    I think what remains when memories are lost and jumbled is a very confused version of us.

  • NamadaNamada Veteran
    edited January 2016

    @calmest If so, could an apropriate version of such practices be used to help Alzheimers sufferers who haven't previously practiced Buddhism?

    Dementia and alzaimers are correlated to what we are eating.

    And we are eating a lot of sugar, before humans ate just 2 kg of sugar every year.

    Today we eat 50 kg. Now this is the most drastic diet change in humans history.

    So if we can keep us away from sugar in our daily life, I belive we can also stay away from diabetes, heart diseases and dementia. Easier said then done, because the food industry want us to eat sugar.

    https://www.alzinfo.org/articles/high-blood-sugar-linked-dementia-2/

    lobsterlittlestudent
  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Because I prepare the vast majority of my food from fresh (rather than buy ready meals or sauces in jars) I can pretty much control my sugar intake. Also, I am fortunate (?) to not have a sweet tooth. I will eat a dessert, but I don't eat a dessert every day. I don't take sugar in my tea, coffee or on my cereal. I rarely eat cereals anyway.
    My 'downfall' may be salt. But so far, it hasn't presented any type of health risk and my health check hasn't indicated any excess of sodium, by way of BP.... and I'm close to 60.....

  • howhow Veteran Veteran

    Using brown demerara suger in my tea because I can pyramid up at least two teaspoons worth on one teaspoon and still say it's just one spoonful.

    Walker
  • WalkerWalker Veteran Veteran

    Actually, a heaping spoon of large crystal sugar may not be much more in terms of mass than a slightly rounded spoon of smaller-sized crystal sugar, because of the air gaps between the crystals. I guess one would have use a kitchen scale to determine that though.

    As an aside, Demerara sugar is great for baking!

  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Use raw cane sugar that has not been bleached. I'm not sure if it's any healthier, but at least it hasn't been 'messed about with'...

  • pegembarapegembara Veteran
    edited January 2016

    @SpinyNorman said:

    @pegembara said: Why? Because the Buddha isn't to be found in form, feeling, perception, thoughts, memories.

    So where is the Buddha to be found?

    I dunno. If you find him let me know. Better still, if you can find Spiny Norman please show.

    BTW the best prevention for Alzheimer's is physical and mental exercise.

    http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/guide/understanding-alzheimers-disease-prevention

    Shoshinlobster
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
    edited January 2016

    @pegembara said: I dunno. If you find him let me know.

    I'm pretty sure a Buddha could get dementia, just like anyone else, they would probably end up not knowing who or where they were. You'll probably claim the first isn't a problem, but what about the second?

  • @SpinyNorman said:
    ... but what about the second?

    Toto, I have a feeling we are not in Kansas anymore! o:)

  • pegembarapegembara Veteran
    edited January 2016

    @SpinyNorman said:

    @pegembara said: I dunno. If you find him let me know.

    I'm pretty sure a Buddha could get dementia, just like anyone else, they would probably end up not knowing who or where they were. You'll probably claim the first isn't a problem, but what about the second?

    If you have dementia, you would no longer be there to have a problem. It is those who have to look after you who are left picking up the pieces. Dementia is a " dis-ease" of the caregivers.

    lobsterInvincible_summer
  • Invincible_summerInvincible_summer Heavy Metal Dhamma We(s)t coast, Canada Veteran

    I think when the human condition rears its head in conditions like dementia, it could be useful to remember that the Buddhadharma is a raft to get to the other shore... a tool to help us through ignorance and suffering. Once it's not required anymore (and when that is is a totally different issue) or, in this case, not able to be used anymore, the raft can be discarded.

    JeffreySteve_B
  • techietechie India Veteran

    If a buddha gets dementia, will he lose his enlightenment as well? Will he not even remember that he became enlightened? So a chemical imbalance is more powerful than enlightenment?

  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited January 2016

    @techie said:
    So a chemical imbalance is more powerful than enlightenment?

    If his foot is chopped off, the missing piece of flesh/foot is 'more powerful than enlightenment'? ...

    ... Who would have thought ... tsk, tsk ... next they will be saying he never really died [oops wrong religion] ... went to paranirvana ... gets reborn as the maitreya ... [lobster rambles off into the sunset]

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    @techie said: So a chemical imbalance is more powerful than enlightenment?

    Is enlightenment a chemical imbalance?

  • techietechie India Veteran

    @lobster said:

    @techie said:
    So a chemical imbalance is more powerful than enlightenment?

    If his foot is chopped off, the missing piece of flesh/foot is 'more powerful than enlightenment'? ...

    ... Who would have thought ... tsk, tsk ... next they will be saying he never really died [oops wrong religion] ... went to paranirvana ... gets reborn as the maitreya ... [lobster rambles off into the sunset]

    Without the foot, buddha will still remember he is enlightened, right? But with dementia, will he?

  • techietechie India Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:

    @techie said: So a chemical imbalance is more powerful than enlightenment?

    Is enlightenment a chemical imbalance?

    Is it?

  • DavidDavid some guy Veteran

    And there he was... Gone.

    @techie said:
    If a buddha gets dementia, will he lose his enlightenment as well? Will he not even remember that he became enlightened? So a chemical imbalance is more powerful than enlightenment?

    Is death more powerful than enlightenment?

    Not trying to be cute, just trying to wrap my head around it.

    Perhaps at a stage what is left is merely karmic imprints or dreams and the awakened has moved on to the far shore.

  • calmestcalmest Explorer
    edited March 2016

    I know it's hard for relatives. (In fact I've thought that if I got it I'd move elsewhere and try to disappear for their sake.) And it seems that meditation can help prevent dementia. But my question was whether meditation could help to relieve the suffering of the patient. They get aggressive and seem to suffer - as you might expect if your mind is disintegrating and you're clinging to the wreckage whilst experiencing double incontinence. Could a simplified guided meditation help them to accept their loss? I think that Buddhists and Yogis believe that you are not your body, mind, personality or memories. You are something deep within. Could that belief be put to use to reassure the sufferer?

    Cinorjer
  • calmestcalmest Explorer

    Eg, encourage them let go of the wreckage, and float for a while in the ocean of bliss. Better, perhaps than prodding at their few remaining memories.

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran
    edited March 2016

    @calmest wrote: Perhaps that is kinder. But my question was whether meditation could help to relieve the suffering of the patient.

    I very much doubt it. Meditation would be of more benefit to the patients relatives.

    Cinorjerlobster
  • calmestcalmest Explorer

    Why do you doubt it? It's a Budhist's aim to transcend body and mind. If Alzheimers sufferers inadvertently mimic this state to some extent, why not use Buddhist philosophy to teach acceptance of their loss in the form of a simplified guided meditation. We provide Alzheimers sufferers with music sessions to stimulate memory. Why not try meditation to encourage acceptance? Wouldn't compassion for their dreadful suffering make us give it serious consideration?

    silver
  • @pegembara said:

    BTW the best prevention for Alzheimer's is physical and mental exercise.

    http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/guide/understanding-alzheimers-disease-prevention

    That's indeed what most experts now believe. If they are right, meditation exercises should be protective if you take enough physical exercise.

    However, as long as we don't have a group of Alzheimer patients who were experienced meditators before they got symptoms, we can't know for sure if it lessens the suffering or not. We can only hope...

    lobster
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