Am I Right?

How to live ethically

Alzheimer's and Habits

Remaining mentally stimulated may reduce the risk of the illness

A new study of Alzheimer’s disease by Dennis Sellkoe supports the idea that remaining mentally stimulated reduces the risk of the illness.

“This part of our work suggests that prolonged exposure to a richer, more novel environment beginning even in middle age might help protect the hippocampus from the bad effects of amyloid beta, which gradually builds up to toxic levels in one hundred percent of Alzheimer patients,” said Selkoe. http://healthhub.brighamandwomens.org/food-for-thought-learning-n...

One reason that we often fail to learn something new is because many of our habits serve us well, . allowing us to negotiate the world quickly and efficiently. If something worked well the first time, we do it again and again. The problem is that sometimes we don’t recognize the way in which we are no longer served by this routine behavior.

Here is an example from my own life:

Between my house and Jericho Turnpike there are two stop signs. These signs, near an elementary school, had been there at least as long as I had been living in my hometown, about twenty years at that time. While no car drive is so routine as to become a habit, two decades on a less than one-mile route comes close to it. So without much thought, I used to start to slow down a half-block before each sign, come to a halt, and then proceed.

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One year one of the signs was moved a block closer to the school. Yet for many years I slowed down at the corner where the first sign used to be and occasionally, when my mind was not fully on driving, I slowed down before I needed to and came to a full stop where there was no longer a sign.

Mostly no harm came from following this old habit; it was just strange and inexplicable behavior. But once a car passed me as I stood still in the middle of the street. This nearly caused an accident with a car turning in from a side street. My stopping for no good reason turned out to be a bad thing to do..

My habit had once served me well, but now the reason was gone. What once been second nature now was an impediment to good driving.

How much like other things. The past provides us with experiences from which to learn. But what was once a useful lesson can stand in the way of useful living when circumstances change—and they often do.

I'm never certain what to hold on to and what to let go of. But I do know that not everything once helpful is so any longer. Stopping for a sign that is no longer there isn’t only senseless but it is also dangerous.

I need new habits and these I acquire by paying attention to what is in front of me, not what I think is there because it once was.

And if this isn’t reason enough to get rid of bad habits, there is always the Alzheimer’s study. As the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Health Blog says, “So take up a new hobby, learn a new language, or sign up for a class at your local community college. Someday soon it could be just what the doctor ordered for a healthy brain.”

 

Arthur Dobrin, D.S.W., teaches applied ethics at Hofstra University. He is the author, coauthor, and editor of more than twenty books.

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