5 Tips for Avoiding Dementia and the Suicidal Thoughts It Can Cause...

Dr. Janet Zand
August 26, 2018


We all know the reasons to avoid dementia. But one factor we rarely consider is what dementia does to the way you think and see life. Recently, researchers decided to investigate whether cognitive decline contributes to suicide rates. What they found might shock you. But there are ways to avoid going down this path....

The researchers conducted a review study on this topic to look at the relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and suicidal ideation. They also considered the role of depression.

The researchers found 13,732 articles on the topics of suicide and depression, amyloid, or dementia. They narrowed this down to 31 studies from 2000 to 2017. 

Through the review, the researchers found some links. Late-stage dementia does seem to protect against suicidal ideation and attempts. However, this is likely due to poor executive functioning. 

Sadly, with early cognitive decline, the risk of suicide increases. There are a number of reasons for this. For some, recognizing the physical changes and wanting to avoid being a burden or losing independence drive the decision. Robin Williams made this decision as his Lewy body dementia was progressing.

Others suffer from mood or adjustment disorders. These may contribute to both cognitive decline and suicidal ideation. For example, amyloid plaques can cause both Alzheimer’s disease and depressive symptoms.

In others, decision-making and inhibition processes decline. But if other cognitive functions only decline slightly, suicide attempts can still succeed.

The researchers also found that suicidal ideation may increase stress and trigger cognitive decline. However, this link is difficult to prove.

The bottom line is that if you or a loved one has any form of cognitive decline, you should be aware of this issue. Look for help.

Your doctor may be able to refer you to a wise counselor. And continue to seek out loved ones.

This study is another important reminder of why we need to protect our brains from physical decline. Here are some of the best ways to make sure you never have to walk down this path.

Don't think your brain is too jam-packed with a lifetime of facts to remember one more thing. It can store the equivalent of 10 million books-full of thoughts! Trust me. You have plenty of space in your brain.

First, make sure that you have no physiological reason for a failing memory. Thyroid disorders, depression, and other medical problems can explain a progressive loss of memory. So can certain medications. Once your doctor gives you a clean bill of health, it's time to look at non-medical solutions.

Tip #1: Pay attention

This may seem obvious, but it's not. Remembering means concentrating without distractions and we tend to be a society of perpetually distracted, busy people. Unless you deliberately focus your attention on whatever you want to remember, that thought is likely to slip away.

I have a friend who asks me the same questions over and over again. It's not that he doesn't listen. He does. But he talks on the phone while working on his computer while listening to me. He's not doing two or three things at once. That isn't possible. His attention is jumping back and forth from one task to another. He doesn't stay with one thought long enough for him to remember what I've said a few minutes or seconds ago. No wonder he doesn't remember what I've said. Don't multi-task when you're trying to remember something. Pay attention.

There’s even evidence that multitasking can contribute to dementia. Dr. Paul Hammerness and Margaret Moore, authors of Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life said that multitasking increases the chances of making mistakes and missing important information and cues. Multitaskers are also less likely to retain information in working memory, which can hinder problem solving and creativity. In fact, it could lead to forgetfulness and seeing dramatic reductions in your ability to remember things like you used to.

Tip #2: Use the magic number seven

Your brain is a remarkable organ with a huge capacity for storing information. But it can only store so much at any one time. Seven is the magic memory number. Princeton University psychologist George A. Miller found that we are able to remember up to seven chunks of information for a few seconds to a few hours. The best way to remember anything is to break it down into groups of seven or less.

If you're trying to remember a number or fact that's longer, break it down. Phone numbers, without their area code, are seven numerals long. If you want to remember a phone number complete with area code, separate it into two bits: the area code and then the seven-digit number.

To remember a poem or song lyrics, focus on the first seven words or lines. Either qualifies as a single chunk of information. Once you've retained it, work on the next chunk. You'll find you remember faster and retain information longer when you use the magic number seven.

Tip #3: From immediate to long-term memory in six hours

How long do you want to remember something? Your brain can hold thousands of bits of information for one or two seconds. But if you want to "set" a thought into your long-term memory, the optimal time for retention is within the first six hours.

Concentrate on whatever you want to remember and repeat it over and over during these first six hours. It helps to have visual images. Whenever you add images, a thought becomes more vivid and easier to access. Once this piece of information is fixed, that memory is stored in your long-term memory bank for life.

Tip #4: Use this memory trio

There are a number of methods you can use to convert short-term to long-term memory. I particularly like this memory trio: intention, filing, and rehearsing. They work best when you use all three steps, so don't skip any of them.

Begin with a strong intention. Think about how useful it will be to remember that address, daily schedule, credit card number, person's name, or shopping list. Don't just assume or hope that you won't forget. Unless your intention is strong and clear you're not likely to retain it. Once you've stated your intention to yourself, break up the information into chunks that are no longer than seven words or phrases. Then find a way to file these chunks.

Filing means organizing information. Since we can remember images more easily than words, you may want to choose an image that you can associate with a particular word or phrase. Before a recent trip to China, I decided to learn a few phrases in Chinese. I wanted to learn how to ask, "How are you?" which is "ni how ma." Just repeating the phrase didn't work, but when I visualized my knee as I stepped forward toward an imaginary person, the first word became easy to retain. "How" is the first word in the question, and "ma" just followed effortlessly.

You may want to remember your shopping list by visualizing yourself walking around the store in a particular pattern, and seeing the objects you want to buy glowing on the shelves. Or you could find an association between a number or letter that helps you remember the string of numbers that follows. To remember my new license plate number, which began with 7W, I thought of "lucky number seven" winning something. The rest of the numbers were easy to remember.

Rehearse: Whenever I give a talk on health, I rehearse my opening sentence until it becomes part of me. I've found that I can give a talk with a few key words written on a 3x5 card and a memorized first line. This opening sentence gives me the direction I want to take and the confidence to expand upon my material. So I write it in my mind and revise it until I'm satisfied with it. My intention is strong. My thoughts have been organized in a way that makes sense to me. Then, I repeat it until it's set in my mind and I know I can access it even when facing hundreds of people.

Repetition is the step most people begin with. However, it works best after you have a strong intention and have organized the information. So, repeat whatever you want to remember, but only after taking the first two steps.

Tip #5: Feed your brain

Your brain needs specific nutrients to function optimally, and the older we get, the more we need them. This is because our bodies either absorb or make less of them.

Our need is constant, but our supply dwindles. I've talked before about nutrients that feed the brain in the past. They include phosphatidyl serine (PS), coenzyme Q10, acetyl-l-carnitine, and magnesium.

If you're as fascinated by the brain and how it functions as I, you'll absolutely love The Owner's Manual for the Brain, Third Edition, by Pierce J Howard, PhD (Bard Press, 2006). It's easy-to-read and filled with information from sound scientific research.

What’s more, taking all of these steps will give you more purpose in life, which helps prevent suicidal thoughts from ever entering your mind. You have a lot to give. Don’t let dementia rob you and your loved ones of all your gifts.


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