Monday, June 21, 2010

Tabula Rasa

In the latest blog by an AFA Teens Advisory Board member, hear why Megan Parsons thinks information about Alzheimer's disease is relevant to her generation.

According to John Locke, humans are born a moral blank slate – a tabula rasa. Sensory experiences differentiate us after birth, and mold us into who we are as adults.

I think the idea of a tabula rasa is interesting, but perhaps not entirely correct.

We interact with our environment in a reciprocal relationship: we change our environment through our actions, and our environment acts to physically alter us. But what does this mean? The first statement is rather obvious; our decisions have consequences on our environment, relationships, and other people’s perceptions of their own environment. The second statement, that our environment acts on us physically, has definite scientific underpinnings. Circumstance is able to alter the manifestation of our very DNA – altering gene expression throughout our lifetime – and causes our very person, body and mind, to reflect our experiences.

With current advancements in medicine, the average human life expectancy is increasing. (The U.S. Census Bureau projects that 241,000 Americans will be centenarians by 2020.) Because a primary risk factor of Alzheimer’s disease is age, the prevalence of the disease will increase as life expectancy increases. As teenagers living in the 21st century, we may face challenges reminding us that Alzheimer’s disease is a rising epidemic.

When a grandparent is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, we are often deeply affected, as we’ve seen with Chris in the previous entry. It’s a frightening diagnosis, and many teens find themselves left with many questions, including, “Is my parent next?” For some people, it’s a reality rooted in our DNA; a few genes may boost susceptibility, but having these genes does not mean that a person will definitely develop the disease. It is only natural that we begin wondering about our own futures.

There are however, lifestyle choices that we can be made starting at any age, which can promote successful aging and overall good health. Exercising regularly to improve cardiovascular health, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables (and getting those omega-3s!), and maintaining a socially active lifestyle, may contribute to better cognitive performance throughout life and may reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Oh, and maybe have a cup of coffee with that morning crossword puzzle. Doing a bit of research and instituting some lifestyle changes now may make a world of difference later.

Given our family histories, many of us may wish for nothing more than a tabula rasa. But research shows that taking steps towards a healthier lifestyle—even as a teenager—is one of the best things you can do for your body and your brain, and research for treatments is ongoing.

No comments:

Post a Comment