Ron recently read an article in Time Magazine about Dementia, as we are at the age to start worrying about it. I have always been scattered and forgetful. In fact I once forgot to go to a shower that I was hosting. Luckily, the other hosts filled in for me, but I was embarrassed and disappointed. I really wanted to go to that shower! So now when I can’t recall a name, a date, or the word I was about to use when I started the sentence, I attribute it to forgetfulness and don’t get panicky. Nevertheless, I read every article I can about ways to tell if you have dementia and also ways to prevent it.
Ron’s article stated that women who have been employed are less likely to get dementia. That seemed surprising. Why? I asked myself, “What is about employment that is beneficial?” I thought back over jobs I have had and can’t isolate the elements that might serve to keep me healthy. The first real job I had, aside from babysitting, which was a good way to get into someone’s liquor cabinet (not helpful), was as a packer in a popsicle factory.
One summer as I scrambled to put together enough money to go to college, I was hired by a grungy factory in Freeport that manufactured those popsicles that come in plastic envelopes that you freeze at home. The owners were Chinese and the other employees were all Spanish-speaking. My job was to sit at an assembly line and pick up twenty packages of colorful unfrozen pops and pack them into a cardboard box. I then placed the box on the floor and proceeded to the next.
The main problem was that the machine that squirted brightly colored sugar water into the five side-by-side envelopes they were meant to fill malfunctioned regularly. The smelly hot plastic envelopes emerged first, then the liquid was injected into all five, then the envelopes moved a tad forward, and the machine was to heat seal the envelopes. Then the sealed envelopes would get cut and fall onto the moving assembly belt. The problem was that the machine would often skip the sealing process, and the sticky colored water would pour down on my head and left arm. By the end of the day my hair was matted with sugary liquid and my face and left arm were stained in primary colors. I looked as if I had been marbleized. Needless to say, I was miserably uncomfortable as well.
Time crawled at this job. I could see the big clock on the wall from my seat at the conveyor belt, and I would watch it eagerly all day. I believed that there was something wrong with the clock because it didn’t advance as quickly as it should. At ten and two we had breaks and at last the break truck would pull up in front of the building. I would head out to the truck to get some coffee, but I was the only one who did so. I looked around for my fellow employees and heard them before I saw them behind the piled up cartons in the storage area. When I walked around to introduce myself, I observed the others engaged in recreational sex and laughing merrily and I quickly withdrew. Any opportunity I might have had to learn Spanish (or Mandarin) flew out the window. I couldn’t wait to get home for a shower, but while the hot water got rid of the stickiness, the colors and the memory of the sex acts remained.
That summer I worked nights at a fancy seafood restaurant in Rockville Center. Even though I was clean, I was too colorful for the customers who complained to the owner. This, obviously, was before every young person had tattooed sleeves. The owner told me I had to choose which job I would keep, as he couldn’t let me stay on with multi-color face and arm. Of course, after only one long week on the job, I quit the popsicle-packing job. I was not a great waitress, though, and had to run back and forth for things I had forgotten to bring to the table. Also, I engaged in way too much conversations with the diners. The owner felt sorry for me, though, and kept me on. But, looking back, I can’t see how either job would have improved my chances for avoiding dementia.
Of course I have had many other jobs since then that have been less physical and more stimulating. I also thought about the few brief periods of time when I was not employed and remember not enjoying the isolation. When I first moved to Charlotte with two little kids and was a stay-at-home-mom, I became depressed. My therapist prescribed finding a job as a way out of the morass. I was employed at Country Day and I felt better immediately.
Could it be that the part of employment that helps prevent dementia is either engagement with other people or intellectual activity? I can see how those activities would help, but employment doesn’t necessarily provide either. My sense is that staying engaged and active is the best thing you can do to stay with it. It doesn’t take going to a frustrating nine-to-five job that you might just hate. Towards that end, my friend Julie and I are about to start a class at AB Tech called, Medicinal Plants and Their Healing Power. This should really give my brain a work-out, plus I can begin to make and sell potions. I might even learn which herbs will stave off dementia. Stand by!