The fear of losing one’s mind wears on a lot of people. And for good reason. Alzheimer’s is a hideous disease.
No one wants to suffer from dementia. But quite a few of us will. That’s one of those stark realities of life we like to ignore. And for good reason.
Recently, I learned my odds of developing Alzheimer’s may have worsened. It seems people with severe or moderate head injuries that knock them out for a significant period of time, or who suffer amnesia as a result of the injury, are at significantly higher risk. No one seems to know why, but the correlation is clear and statistically significant.
A few months ago I was knocked unconscious for a considerable period of time when my head slammed into my steering wheel and back (I was wearing my seat belt, but the front airbag did not deploy). I can’t be sure how long I was out; however, from the EMS report I know it took the ambulance 16 minutes to arrive. I also know that, when I regained consciousness, emergency personnel were already on the scene. Moreover, I suffer from amnesia. So, based on the medical research, it seems my odds of contracting Alzheimer’s just went up.
My reaction to that possibility (if not probability) is, So what? I have more pressing concerns.
I don’t mean to be flippant about it, but such data really don’t alter my outlook. Not in the slightest. And here’s why.
I assume each and every day could be my last. So my focus isn’t on the long term. I don’t worry whether I’ll live to 70. Or 80. Or 90. Or lose my mind in 10 years. I am much more concerned with living now. More fully. Better. Really live and not just put in the time.
Putting in the time is a present risk, not a future potentiality. And it’s a risk that too often is realized, especially when I lose sight of the fact of the contingency of life, which I’m apt to do. Frankly, I waste too much of my time.
If I needed a reminder of the contingency of life, the accident was it. I know it could have gone differently — much worse. But what nearly happened to me was no different than what could happen to any of us, any day of the week. Life is contingent.
Which is fine. What’s not fine, however, is the way I squander my time — now, when I have my wits about me and am not suffering from any form of dementia.
I’m constantly amazed — and disappointed — by the amount of time I squander. To me, this represents a far greater threat than any increased risk of contracting a particular form of dementia in the future.
And it’s not related to my semi-retirement status either. The fact of the matter is, many people with full-time jobs fritter their time away, too. Many are just putting in the time. In fact, the distraction of full-time employment may make it easier to fritter one’s time away. Busyness easily can create the illusion of materiality and significance.
We all have specific risks of contracting particular diseases — conditions that may undermine the quality or duration of our lives. Sometimes they are passed onto us by our ancestors (genetic predispositions). Sometimes they are the consequences of our own actions (tobacco, alcohol and drugs). Or trauma (accidents). Or the environment. But no matter the specific risks or causes, it’s clear and obvious the end game is the same for each of us. It’s clear that each of our moments is equally valuable.
I may lose my mind, but, in the here and now, I’m much more concerned about losing a significant portion of my life: by squandering my time, by being a fritterer.
Ensuring that doesn’t happen requires thoughtful intentionality. And an awareness of what matters — what adds, what negates.
Unfortunately, merely putting in one’s time is a risk I’m not always adept at handling. Yet I’m keenly aware it represents a real and present danger. No one should have to be knocked unconscious to get that point.