Let’s face it. The average age of liberal Friends is increasing. And the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s Disease is simply advanced age. What can Friends do to decrease the odds of falling prey to dementia? Well, there’s a drug—norepinephrine—that can help. Norepinephrine or noradrenaline is a hormone and neurotransmitter that can improve memory and help different brain regions work together more efficiently. Specifically, norepinephrine facilitates the connections among brain cells, stimulates neuron-producing cells, and makes Alzheimer’s Disease proteins less toxic.
The nicotine in cigarettes can increase norepinephrine in the brain, but who wants to die of lung cancer in the pursuit of a sharp mind? I personally chew nicotine gum not infrequently and like to think that the resulting increase in norepinephrine helps me mentally without the danger from the carcinogenic substances in tobacco. I also take Adderall as a treatment for sleep apnea, and Adderall increases norepinephrine in the brain—as does Ritalin. But is there anything Friends can do to boost norepinephrine if they don’t smoke, don’t use smoking cessation products, and don’t need Adderall or Ritalin for ADHD or sleep apnea?
Well, yes. Physical exercise produces more cerebral norepinephrine as does concentrating hard or experiencing emotion. Other norepinephrine-boosting activities include experiencing something new or unusual, taking on a mental challenge, or even just social interaction with others.
Thus, the kind of life we lead directly impacts norepinephrine’s protection from dementia. People who travel to different countries and learn new languages are both experiencing something new and taking on the mental challenge of language learning—not to mention practicing the language through social interaction.
Of course, the novelty could be a visit to a non-Quaker church, the mental challenge might be studying Calculus, and the social interaction could be provided by a new boyfriend or girlfriend. The novelty could be observing the 2023 total solar eclipse, the mental challenge might be learning to count cards at Blackjack, the social interaction could be speed dating or a weekly Bridge club. Well, you get the idea.
So, if you want to stay mentally sharp in old age, it’s time to do or experience something new, take on a mental challenge of some kind, and interact with your fellow human beings instead of staying in your recliner and watching Better Call Saul on Netflix. May your brain stay eternally young and contribute significantly to Quaker life even though your body is old and worn-out!
(This article was based on a module from The Brain Health Project of the University of Texas at Dallas.)
~ Richard Russell
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