Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Brain Health, Bringing It Home: Sunday musings…3/17/2024

There’s really an awful lot going on today, St. Patrick’s Day, 2024. So much that I am finding it a bit daunting to narrow down my focus for todays musings. Why so much? Well, actually, that question feeds right into the final piece of advice for my friend who has been so concerned about their risk to develop dementia given a strong family history and the recent death of a family member so afflicted. I am writing as I watch the 4th round of the 50 edition of the Player’s Championship while I rest up for another evening of dinner with Beth and the couple we met almost 39 years ago on our respective honeymoons.

The final piece of the puzzle, the last tactic to bullet proof your brain as you age is to forge and maintain close personal relationships.

We had a free weekend earlier this year when Beth and I were plotting out our calendar. Nothing really special about the dates, we just knew that this weekend fell between any other commitments and work, and that we could sneak away for 4 or 5 days to someplace warm. Our friends Dave and Suzi were free, too, so off we’ve gone together. While Beth and Suzi have been flexing their photographic muscles all over our little seaside spot, Dave and I have been going over our efforts to improve and prolong our respective healthspans. Turns out Dave has spent a bit more time on the financial planning, and I a tad more on the longevity and health thing. Lots of numbers from Dave and a bunch of science from me.

We spent quite a bit of time on questions of testing. Full-body scans? Sure, if you can stand the claustrophobia of the tube. Genetic testing for cancers (Galleri)? Maybe. Gotta get a little better on the false positives since each positive test sends you off on a testing odyssey to find, and hopefully find an early cure, for whatever cancer you may have. Apropos of our brain health project, what about the APOE gene? This is a big one for Peter Attia the longevity doc. You can have zero, one, or two copies of this gene, with increasing risk for the disease as you have more copies. We are torn by this one. If you have done nothing to mitigate your risk for dementia taking this test and finding high risk gives you lots to work on (nutrition, sleep, exercise, alcohol consumption, etc.). But for Dave and for me the only thing really left would be abstaining from alcohol. Less joy, there. We tabled the test for the moment.

Which leaves the excellent research on health and happiness that began with a study of the men of the Harvard class of 1955 and the subsequent addition of high school boys in a lower economic area of Boston, now know as The Good Life Project. A book of the same name authored by the current custodians of the still ongoing study Drs. Robert Waldinger and Marc Shulz lays out the last piece of the puzzle that can be played: make and maintain close personal relationships. The original study on men of Harvard ’55 concluded that the presence of 3 or more friends (your wife did not count) was the key to lifelong happiness. It turns out that 3 (or more) is probably still a key number, but the updated research on the original subjects, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren has concluded that it can really be anyone. Friend, spouse, child, doesn’t matter. What you need is a deep, close relationship.

From the earliest results to the most recent, happiness has correlated most strongly with friendship. More than professional success or wealth. Fame. All of the things we think must certainly be the prime drivers. All of them are dwarfed by the positive effect of making, maintaining and nurturing close relationships. Men and women alike like longer and live better, and experience less dementia than those who aren’t so fortunate.

And that, my friends, is why I find myself banging away at my keyboard late on this Sunday afternoon, rushing to finish the task I promised my friend I would take on so that I can post this before Beth and I meet Dave and Suzi for another great evening at a killer restaurant in paradise. But that’s not what makes it all so great, right? What makes this weekend so wonderful is that I am with the most important person in my life, and we are with close friends with whom we have a deep, abiding bond, and we are enveloped in the embrace of our friendship.

We are, all four of us, happy.

To that friend to whom I promised this series on brain health, I hope this has all been helpful. I hope that you are at least a bit comforted having read it. I know that most of what I’ve shared is stuff that you already have covered, and I hope that knowing this eases your mind, at least a bit. To those like Dave and Suzi who have long surrounded me with their friendship and accepted mine in turn, thank you. I’ll be calling you soon.

And as always, I’ll see all of you next week…

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