There is an alarming rise in younger dementia patients, says a headline in The Straits Times of 6th February 2016. It goes on to reveal that the number diagnosed last year was four times the number diagnosed in 2011. Associate Professor Nagaendran Kandiah of the Singapore National Neurological Institute is concerned about the trend. So are we all. At TMI we notice it in a different way from Prof. Nagaendran. People in their forties and fifties are presenting themselves as needing to think for their own solutions. Their lives are dominated by solutions provided by the boss, by Google, by Wikipedia and other sources on the internet.
Their instinct that this is potentially dangerous is right. The prospect of process taking over from personal analysis and decision is scary, especially for those who are not inclined to be mentally very active anyway. And that includes a lot of us. The business of being made to think is important partly because it is hard work. Mental exercise is different from physical exercise but it is always more difficult. Should we all play tablet games to keep thinking?
Certainly, all mental exercise is good and a variety of it is best. Concentrate on chess or crossword puzzles by all means but don’t let them take over your mental life. It is quite possible to get selective dementia where one part of our thinking remains good but other parts atrophy. What do we find is the best way to get people thinking again?
First, perception or observation. We all see the same things differently. I observe numbers, I have a colleague who observes situations. Our thinking projects from what we observe. She draws conclusions about causes; I draw conclusions about trends. This is a gross simplification, of course, since both of us are trained to observe widely, not narrowly. But our training had to be to enable me to see causes and for her to be able to handle numbers.
It makes the point that how we perceive will determine how we project. And how we project determines how we decide because all our decisions are based on what we think will happen as a result of them. The best simple stimulus to perceive better is to follow current affairs – not just those in our local city or country but all over the world. In ten minutes a day you can know the fifty most important things going on everywhere. If you then answer the question about each of them ‘how will this affect my life’ you will start to think.
Your thinking will greatly improve if you extend your questions to how the news affects other individuals, what will be its impact on the safety and prosperity of the world generally and what decisions to make about economic and social behaviour to help your own situation. Try making some simple forecasts and see how they turn out – a good challenge for everyone.
If this sounds a very simple way of staving off dementia I can say that it is only one of several ways, a few of which suit some people more than what we suggest here. But this is a simple starting point. Your thinking does not have to lead to perfect conclusions. It is inconceivable that you will always reach the right answer to the problems of the world. But your conclusions will improve. They will even help you to choose who you vote for more logically.
Staving off dementia and becoming more politically influential at the same time cannot be a bad mix of exercises. It will certainly be a fun one.