Michael Brickey, Ph.D is the author of a new book Defy Aging, which aims to help people ‘develop the mental and emotional vitality to live longer, healthier and happier.’ Dr. Brickey has been a psychologist for decades and now works as a life coach. In this exclusive interview with AlzheimerSupport, Dr. Brickey discusses Alzheimer’s and suggests ways to live longer and healthier lives.
AlzheimerSupport.Com: Why did you decide to write the book Defy Aging?
Dr. Brickey: When I turned fifty I started to ask a lot of questions and I took a sabbatical for a year. I began researching what it takes mentally to live a very long, healthy and happy life. One of the things that surprised me was that I assumed genetics played a much bigger role. It turned out that only 30 percent of longevity is due to genetics.
AlzheimerSupport.Com: And what did this 30 per cent mean to you?
Dr. Brickey:I got thinking about it. The psychological literature is preoccupied with documenting deficits and what people cannot do. The other 70 percent is attitude, beliefs, coping skills and lifestyle. Coping skills determine lifestyle. If we are going to live to be 120 or 150 what will it take mentally? This is what I thought about.
AlzheimerSupport.Com: What in your opinion are the main factors that will foster longevity?
Dr. Brickey: Well, the things I mentioned – attitude, beliefs, coping skills and lifestyle – are all important. For example, Helen Hayes the actress was asked what the best age of her life was, and she said ‘whatever age I am now and the age I live in,’ – meaning this is the most exciting time in history to be alive. If you think fifty is over the hill, you have a pessimistic attitude. Hayes has optimism and sparkle and with these the immune system functions better. Research findings support the theory that older people are happier than younger people.
AlzheimerSupport.Com: How can these factors help people dealing with Alzheimer’s disease?
Dr. Brickey: With people who are taking care of someone with AD, having those types of attitudes and beliefs are particularly important because the disease is very discouraging. It can dominate your life if you don’t have an identity and goals and sense of purpose beyond caring for someone with AD.
AlzheimerSupport.Com: What specifically do you think would be the most beneficial to people trying to prevent AD?
Dr. Brickey: I don’t think it’s really clear yet, other than eating as healthily as you can, and being active mentally and physically. There’s a good chance that there’ll be a vaccine or treatment within 10 or 20 years. So if we take good care of ourselves now, we can benefit from that.
AlzheimerSupport.Com: In your book you state “within a few decades physicians will probably be able to identify and disable genes that cause AD.” What convinced you that this is going to be a reality?
Dr. Brickey: They have already done that with mice and have begun human trials with it. Researchers at the National Institute on Aging believe that we are within a decade of being able to treat and prevent the disease. We have articles in Science and Nature that suggest a vaccine is in the making. So even if scientists are overly optimistic, I’d still say within 10-20 years there will be a treatment.
AlzheimerSupport.Com: What existing medical knowledge do you think is the most helpful to AD patients, e.g. you mention Hormone Replacement Therapy in the book?
Dr. Brickey: Stay active mentally and physically. Eating well – find out what works for you. One person can have coffee and be fine and even find it gives them more energy, but for someone else it’s very bad for them.
AlzheimerSupport.Com: You mentioned coping skills as a key factor in longevity. What do you mean by that?
Dr. Brickey: One of the key coping skills is dealing with the loss of loved ones. A lot of people get stuck in that whereas other people have a good perspective on it and come to terms quickly. For example, in the TV show Sanford and Sons, Fred Sanford has a hard time after his wife dies. But he talks with her constantly and so Liz becomes an ongoing presence in his life. That’s a very healthy perspective on dying. There are many other ways to get a better perspective – religion for example. You have to figure out what works for you and what allows you to feel okay when someone dies.
If you want to live past 100, then another coping skill is to figure out how to stay married or how to be good with relationships. Many relationships will start and end. If you get depressed and guilty every time a relationship ends it’s going to wear you out.
AlzheimerSupport.Com: How do you suggest people deal with all the constant challenges of life?
Dr. Brickey: Fully embrace change and lifelong learning as opposed to feeling like ‘this is another problem I can’t handle.’ Back up and try to see a perspective of a larger time frame.
AlzheimerSupport.Com: Do you have any final thoughts on living longer and healthier?
Dr. Brickey: Support groups can be wonderful. It makes a world of difference knowing you’re not alone.
Coaching also helps a lot. A life coach helps you identify your purpose and vision and helps you to more effectively achieve your goals. It’s like having a mentor who is fully interested in your interests.
Studies of current centenarians found that they have a clear sense of who they are. They stuck to the traditions of hard work and loving what they did. Now we go through so much change and we have so many choices, it’s much trickier. We often have to reinvent our careers every decade or so. It’s helpful to have someone figure out how to make the best of your options.
For more information about the book Defy Aging, or life coaching, you may contact Dr. Brickey at 614-237-4556 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org