There are five dimensions of human activity that are inextricably interrelated and interdependent. These are present regardless of our chronological age and they are not only important components in adult development, they are also factors that become even more critical in the aging process. Each one affects one or more of the others in ways that are often not acknowledged and thus not appreciated or attended to in ways that might ameliorate some of the decline associated with aging. The five dimensions are physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual.
We tend to treat people along one dimension and focus our energy, time and resources on one major concern, possibly missing something important that could be revealed in a more comprehensive analysis and treatment response. While it’s easy to understand why a dominant and possibly negative characteristic captures our attention, it is difficult to be more inclusive and invite other variables into the equation.
For example, a patient goes to a doctor or specialist and the diagnosis is targeted to a single cause. A familiar process starts with a complaint or an observation of a negative or unwelcome change. That is followed by a diagnosis which then gets a label. The 70th edition of the PDR (Physicians Desk Reference regarding drugs, dosage and contraindications) is referred to frequently for treating some of these perplexing problems. Next, and quite often, a regimen of drugs is prescribed along with other recommendations for possible changes in life style. Exercise and diet are among the more popular As people get older they often become more sedentary and eat whatever is appealing thus the recommendations.
What many people, both individuals and families, seem not to want to do is to talk about how they want to live out the last years of their lives, possibly because it’s too sensitive and most have a prevailing attitude that they will just deal with whatever comes when it comes. Postponing the conversation until it becomes necessary is certainly one choice but not necessarily the best one.
Many of the concerns about aging hover around the physical or mental decline as those are the most obvious and often most troublesome. From decreasing mobility and agility to various physical health problems to specific disease and disabilities, we see or experience these changes and they can be quite discouraging and even depressing. Physical symptoms include decreased mobility and agility, various dysfunctions within the systems of the body and often under the general category of loss – vascular, skeletal, neural, muscular, visual, auditory, digestive and vocal. Other losses also play an important role including the loss of one’s spouse or partner, the loss of a familiar home and surroundings and the loss of friends.
The term “dementia” is used to describe a set of symptoms that can include memory loss, difficulty thinking, problem solving, and/or issues with language. Dementia is caused by damage to the brain cells, and because Alzheimer’s is a disease that destroys the brain, it is one of the most common causes of dementia. According to The National Institute on Aging, the two similar diseases are often mixed up in every day conversation and understanding. Dementia is a brain disorder that affects communication and performance of daily activities and Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that specifically affects parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language.
Other conditions can also cause dementia, such as Parkinson’s Disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. In addition, dementia is often incorrectly referred to as “senility” or “senile dementia,” which reflects the formerly widespread but incorrect belief that serious mental decline is a normal part of aging.
Alzheimer’s Disease is a specific type of dementia caused when high levels of certain proteins inside and outside brain cells make it hard for brain cells to stay healthy and to communicate with each other. This leads to the loss of connections between nerve cells, and eventually to the death of nerve cells and loss of brain tissue.
Here is the major difference between Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia — when an individual is diagnosed with dementia, he or she is diagnosed based on their symptoms without actually knowing what is behind the symptoms. In Alzheimer’s disease, the exact cause of the symptoms is understood. In addition, Alzheimer’s disease is not reversible, whereas some types of dementia, such as those caused by nutritional problems or a drug interaction, can be reversed. Thus, it is important to understand and appreciate the differences.
There are numerous activities that have the potential to delay physical and mental decline and exercise is one of these. Walking is often a preferred mode of physical movement that exercises mind, body and spirit. There are numerous others including yoga, tai chi, swimming, and even some modest participation in various sports such as golf and tennis. Social interactions and activities engaging with other people require thought, communication and the exchange of ideas and stories. All of these resources and more can be found in numerous places including senior centers, retirement communities, and from such organizations as AARP (American Association of Retired People) and health-related organizations that deal with specific issues.
The point of attending to all five dimensions of aging gratefully is to integrate, wherever possible, the physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual activities. This broad spectrum approach brings a variety of resources within reach of each person rather than concentrating on one or two issues that seem most difficult.
Physical – Moving the body deliberately with determination and purpose
Mental – Exercising the brain, keeping thought processes nurtured & alive through a variety of activities that may include reading, playing games, being involved in programs that invite both physical and mental participation
Emotional – Expressing feelings, both positive and negative, having someone with whom to share some of the ups and downs of daily living.
Social – Interacting with others in varieties of settings, whether in planned activities with others or interacting with neighbors, friends and family on a regular basis.
Spiritual – Appreciating the natural, sacred and mystical world including art, music and a connection to nature that is meaningful and enjoyable.
As we move along life’s continuum toward the end, there is the inevitable realization that it will end. What we do not know is when or necessarily how it will end. What we can do is to do what we can that will help deal with whatever we encounter along the way until the end. That is why each of these dimensions merit our best effort and attention in the meantime.
We can be grateful for the days that we have wherein we can find ways to capitalize on these resources and bring them actively into our daily routines. This will help keep our minds, bodies and spirits engaged and thus working on our behalf to make positive contributions to our sense of well-being.