Use it or lose it something all must know

I thought of an old friend just now. No particular reason except that I was passing a spot where he and I had once camped out and he came to mind. As with so many of my old friends these days he’s “gone to his reward” or “passed on” or whatever euphemistic term you’d care to use. The thing I remember about this friend passing is that he “did not go easily into that good night.” I don’t know if the proper term is dementia or Alzheimer’s but, whatever it’s called, he had it. He had reached a point where he couldn’t even speak coherently. There didn’t seem to be anything among our modern medicines to cure or correct his problem. It was a sad thing to see and a blessing for all concerned, including the fella himself, when he finally died.

What can we do to prevent/avoid things like this? I wonder about diet because my friend was strictly a “meat and potatoes” man, no “green and leafy” vegetables for him. But then, on the television just this morning, they were talking about this problem. They were comparing the age at which a person retires with the probability of becoming demented. The gist of their conversation was that a person working, remaining active, would be keeping those mental cells active. Conversely, once a person retired, their brain was no longer challenged with the activities of the day, no longer exercised. It reminded me of the old adage, “Use it or lose it.” As with so many of those old and enduring expressions there’s a lot of truth in them.

That same advice would apply to any muscle. Use it, exercise it and you build it up. Neglect it and it atrophies, decays, fades away. Here’s a suggestion: after retirement maintain a subscription to a newspaper (hopefully the Mining Journal). Most of the news on the front page of any newspaper can contribute to depression all by itself so leave the front page. Turn to the entertainment section. Look for the crossword puzzle, the word-jumble, the scrambled-sentence puzzle, whatever the brainteasers may be called.

Never mind the waste-of-time argument or avoiding the frustration factor. Anything that makes you think exercises your brain, keeps it working, and is not wasted time. After a while, especially with the crossword puzzles, you’ll begin to recognize the favorite words or definitions of the puzzles creator. You’ll learn what “bitter vetch” converts to for example. The whole puzzle will be easier once you’re familiar with the thinking of its creator.

For many who read this, their belief is that the whole puzzle thing is wasted time. But keep this in mind; you’re not supposed to be creating anything by working those puzzles any more than physical push-ups are intended to build a house. Although you may gain some satisfaction in being able to solve the puzzles the main reason for attempting them is that it exercises your brain, it keeps it active.

We, with our modern medicines and in spite of fast food, are able to live longer than our parents.With modern pills and potions and all we can keep the old body responding to hot and cold, sweet and sour but what about the quality of our lives?

I mentioned my friend and I could reference several other examples among patients I know in the Jacobetti Home for Veterans. They’re still breathing but I question whether or not they’re “living.” Doctors seem to have this penchant to preserve life no matter what.

I wonder if the person being “preserved,” in the state some on them are in, wouldn’t prefer that the doctor pull the plug, let it go. There are things worse than dying and I believe I’ve seen them. Maybe you have too? There comes a time to each of us when we ought to let go. In the meantime, work those crossword puzzles.

Editors note: Ben Mukkala is an award-winning northern Michigan author whose several books on life and living are available in printed and e-book form. Books are available in bookstores and gift shops or through his website,