By Dr. Dharma Singh
“You've got to care for the mind; you've got to worry for the mind; you've got to clean it, ordain it and organize it."
The New Reality: Alzheimer’s is a Woman’s Disease
Like many women her age, Judy had lost the gift of memory. She is a 54-year-old dentist who is quite scared. Judy shared that what worried her the most was trouble remembering her patients’ names. Beyond that, she often got confused about which tooth had the problem: was it number four or fourteen. She was also having other memory issues, such as not being able to summon the correct word and difficulty spelling.
Her history was quite compelling. She was a survivor of childhood trauma and sexual abuse. When I asked her to describe her upbringing, she looked down with red-rimmed eyes and said softly, “lots of stress.” She said she didn’t receive even a smattering of nurturance and felt neglected. It was amazing she had done so well.
Unfortunately, she is not alone. Millions of women who are in early menopause are losing their memory. Others have passed through it years earlier and are now starting to show signs of accelerating cognitive decline.
In the coming years, women will be affected in large numbers by the scourge of an Alzheimer’s disease (AD) epidemic; thirty-three million women are on track to get it. Close to seventy percent of all cases of Alzheimer’s today are women. That’s 3.8 million women today and that number is predicted to zoom to over 23 million in the coming years.
Moreover, women account for 65 percent of the more than 15 million unpaid caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s and other serious illnesses. Being a caregiver is very stressful and a risk factor for many illnesses, including Alzheimer’s.
Beyond that, women in their 60’s are about twice as likely to develop severe memory loss as breast cancer. After age 75, that risk skyrockets to three times as high.
Why are women in such danger? What can they do to decrease their chance of developing severe cognitive decline?
One risk factor is that women live longer than men do, and age is the greatest risk factor. But this theory seems to account for only a small portion of the cases. Scientists are now breaking it down to a deeper level of understanding.
Studies are pointing at mid-life brain changes, starting in the late 40’s and into the 50’s and specifically how post-menopausal women show clear changes in how new material is processed and remembered. Much current research, therefore, is focused on how lower levels of the female hormones estradiol and estrogen play an important role in memory function with age.
There are also other significant issues including a loss of brain cell connectivity with age called neuroplasticity; a decrease in brain blood flow; a plummeting of energy dynamics especially in the mitochondria or the brain’s power plant; and a shortening of telomeres, the protective cap of your DNA. Shorter telomeres are a severe risk for accelerated aging and cognitive decline.
Another grave threat is chronic stress—from utero through childhood, teenage years, and throughout a woman’s entire life. Indeed, it’s revealed that prolonged exposure to stress leads to loss of brain cells in the hippocampus or memory center. Women reporting high levels of stress in mid-life have dramatically increased risk for AD.
Judy told me that her neurologist said that there was not much she could do except take a drug, which she knew was wrong. “I read about the scientifically proven research you’ve done on Kundalini Yoga and that meditation called Kirtan Kriya, and I want to try that. I just feel deep down in my heart that this yoga meditation program will really help me. I have a deep longing in my soul that I believe this program can help me fill.”
I told her she was correct. For over fifteen years, our non-profit foundation, The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation or ARPF, has helped design and fund cutting-edge research on Kirtan Kriya and memory. We are now recognized as the world’s leader in meditation and memory research in the Alzheimer’s community and beyond. The diet, supplement and rejuvenation aspect of the plan are also scientifically based and easy to follow.
Judy was excited to get started and worked the program with the same drive and determination she had used to become a great dentist.
In a matter of only a few weeks, she showed good improvement and by two months was well on the road to recovery. Fortunately, she stayed on the plan and was able to enjoy life again. Her dental practice thrived and she had grown so much spiritually, that she volunteered to read to disadvantaged children at her local public library.
In approximately 1997, Yogi Bhajan said to my wife and me, “I’m teaching you this so you can share it with people as they age.” He then instructed us to do research on Kirtan Kriya. Starting in 2003, our work to date has resulted in 30 papers published in prestigious medical journals such as The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s also been presented at a surfeit of major medical meetings including The Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) and enjoyed burgeoning media exposure.
Here is what our work on Kirtan Kriya has revealed:
Our Latest Research Study
Our most ambitious research is now under way at UCLA. We’re studying how Kundalini Yoga and Kirtan Kriya will prevent Alzheimer’s in high risk women. A high risk woman is defined as one with heart disease, menopause, and established memory loss.
What words describe the times in which we live? Anxious, intense, and chaotic, are just a few that come to mind. But thanks to the technology of Kundalini Yoga and meditation, we also have a tremendous capacity to cultivate high levels of health, happiness, and well-being.
For years, women have endured difficulties. Today, however, rather than allowing the times to control you, you can lean into happiness. Famed journalist and women’s Alzheimer’s advocate Maria Shriver recently wrote, “Healing our nation starts from within.”
As Yogi Bhajan has taught, sadhana is our best antidote to chronic stress. Incorporating the powerful Kirtan Kriya into your practice for only 12 minutes a day is a scientifically proven way for every woman to reduce stress, boost cognitive function and prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
For further information, please go to www.alzheimersprevention.org. There you’ll find more information on our research and our Brain Longevity Training Program. This training is the only yoga-based program in the world for everyone to prevent and reverse cognitive decline and help others do so as well.
Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D. is the President/Medical Director of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation and Special Editor for Prevention, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease [email protected].