An estimated 6.5 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer's today. Seventy-three percent are age 75 or older, and altogether, about 1 in 9 age 65 and older, or 10.7% of that group, has Alzheimer's.

As the population of Americans with this disease continues to increase, so does the burden of caring for them. This year alone, the cost for healthcare, long-term care and hospice services for those age 65 and older with dementia are estimated to be around $305 billion.

It's a huge, tragic problem that touches millions of people, their families and friends.
That’s why we have as our guest on the Lean to the Left podcast Dr. Shuvendu Sen, a globally recognized physician, author, speaker and humanitarian. He talks to us about effective, alternative methods of preventing and coping with Alzheimer’s.

In fact, Dr. Sen says during the interview that individuals who are just beginning to experience memory issues can substantially benefit from meditation, including listening to spiritual or other types of relaxing music, and by taking up Yoga.

Dr. Sen received the 2018 Nautilus Silver Award, bestowed previously to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, Deepak Chopra, Mariel Hemingway and others.

A diplomat from the American Board of Internal Medicine, he holds double Master of Science research degrees in Microbiology and Pharmacology from Long Island University, and has received postgraduate training in Internal Medicine from Raritan Bay Medical Center, New Jersey, and in Nuclear Medicine from Cornell Weill Medical Center, New York.
Dr. Sen has been extensively published in many scientific journals and is the Chief Editor of the medical textbook, Principles of Clinical Medicine.

So, I think it’s safe to say that Dr. Sen knows what he’s talking about. He’s the author of the book “Why Buddha Never Had Alzheimer’s -- a Holistic Treatment Approach through Meditation, Yoga and the Arts,” and shares with us today the answer to that question about Buddha.

Some questions we asked Dr. Sen:
Q. So to begin, answer the question: Why didn’t Buddha ever have Alzheimer’s?

Q. For Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers, it is so frustrating, the lack of effective medication to prevent or reduce cognitive decline. Are there holistic methods that can prevent dementia?

Q. What about those patients who already are coping with dementia? Can these methods help them as well?

Q. So you are saying that meditation and yoga have been scientifically proven to prevent disease – including Alzheimer’s?

Q. Then why is not this more well-known? Why don’t neurologists and other health care professionals who treat dementia patients recommend this approach?

Q. What about music? Does listening to music help your patients?

Q. How did you connect Yoga and meditation to dementia, to treating Alzheimer’s?

Q. Your book discusses two types of meditation; mindfulness (an open-type) and transcendental (focused form). Do you recommend a particular type for each person depending on their condition? How does a person know which one to do? In fact, for those not familiar with meditation, how do they go about it?

Q. Can meditation heal other mental illnesses, such as depression and bipolar disorder?

Q. What do you say to those people who are skeptical that meditation and yoga can help with dementia?

Q. Are there any other points you would like to make?

Q. Where can people find your book?

Show Notes

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Show Transcript

Dr. Sen, welcome to the Lean to the left podcast.

[00:02:09] Dr. Sen: Thank you so much for inviting me, for having me on the show. 

[00:02:14] Bob Gatty: I'm looking forward to it. Dr. Sen to begin with, how about answering the question? Why didn't Buddha ever have Alzheimer's ? 

[00:02:25] Dr. Sen: I thought. Before making it an formal and an official title of the book. Actually, interestingly, I made a, very informal survey amongst the priests and monks and and other religious leaders.

[00:02:45] And not too much surprise, I have found that the incidence of dementia incidents of Alzheimer's is very, low among those who have sought the love of God and my expansion for mixing with various religious leaders. They go just not Buddhism, not restricted to Buddhism, but also Hindu.

[00:03:13] And I've always been and also been blessed to have worked with someone called Mother Teresa. I worked at the missionaries of Charity in Calcutta where both me and Mother Teresa come from.. And I had the good fortune to have worked with her. I'm blessed and I've seen the same thing. And she was in her eighties and it was sharp as a tie and, so on and so forth.

[00:03:36] And, I just gave this metaphorical title of why Buddha never had Alzheimer's, because truth be told, these monks and saints and nuns, they never had any dementia, any Alzheimer's. 

[00:03:53] Bob Gatty: Wow, . And you attribute that to what? 

[00:03:58] Dr. Sen: I attribute that to the profound effects of spirituality. The more I researched, the more I found out that unlike other diseases, which affects our cognition, let's say depression or bipolar or schizophrenia, alzheimer's is a completely different beast of a disease and it affects many layers of the brain. And to expect that this will be cured with a single line of prescription medicine has been very shortsighted. Something as profound as spirituality, profound as meditation which also affects various layers of the brain would be the ideal medicine, if I can say it, to combat this this disease.

[00:04:46] And sure enough you what was taught in the caves, in the forest, in India or in the eastern part of the world through meditation and yoga. When it traversed and crossed the ocean and came to the west, it was hotly pursued by the scientist. And I had been in touch and been doing research with various other universities, including Harvard and Johns Hopkins and all of these actually put under the microscope.

[00:05:10] And they've actually found that meditation affects exactly those areas of the brain that gets affected in Alzheimer. And I can get into the details, and that's what my book is all about. The areas in the brain, like the left hippocampus the prefrontal cortex, the areas that gets damaged in Alzheimers, those are the areas where we found that meditation, and again, this is not about religion, it's all about spirituality.

[00:05:35] Spiritual meditation, those areas of the brain. There has been a tremendous resurgence, if I may use the word of neurons, nerve cells, we call it neuroplastic. and and those areas, they get, it's like a new harvest coming. And and, that's why we actually see that those who have sought spirituality they have actually escaped this dreadful disease.

[00:05:59] And it's not just about reading the books we say to rest is to rust. The more you read, the better. Reading books does help, but there are many incidences where professors also getting dementia. So it is a little more than knowledge. It's, into the area of wisdom. That's where spirituality walks in.

[00:06:16] And there have been many, incidences, many evidence coming up where we have actually proved with the help of the recent signs technology advances that we. that those areas of the brain, which are vulnerable to these disease are the ones that gets protected when we get into spirituality and meditation.

[00:06:39] Bob Gatty: Now, what about the patients who are already coping with dementia in some, way? Can these methods help them as well? 

[00:06:48] Dr. Sen: Yes, it can. It can. So it's a bit of a challenge and I'm very happy that you ask this question. It's a brilliant question because if you are deep into meditation, then already the brain has been affected. And then I cannot imagine someone or expect someone with deep Alzheimer's to turn around and actually close the eyes and get into an inward journey or an inward contemplation, which is what meditation is all about. But before Alzheimer's, there is a phase, what we call as a pre-Alzheimer's phase in technical words, we call it mci, which is mild cognitive.

[00:07:24] that's when the Alzheimer's is beginning to happen. But you still know where your bathroom is. You still know how to start your car. You still know how to travel to the post office, but you're forgetting the words. The same, person who used to say the details of a breakfast that I'm gonna have an omelet a toast, an orange juice would, forget those details and would just say I'm gonna have breakfast. Now that escapes the attention of the family because that's a perfectly legitimate and, a well spoken word. But all this while he's struggling to get the details and he tries to escape them and just gives a common name breakfast, which is also correct.

[00:08:05] So that's the area where the Alzheimer's has not set in, where you still know how to button your shirts, you still know how to drive your car. Those undercover Alzheimer's species, those who would be Alzheimers candidates in a few years time. They are the prime candidates to embrace meditation. They are the prime candidates to listen to spiritual music.

[00:08:28] And I can give you a story right away, which is one of those many stories that I have in my book. Yeah. Many, years ago I was a young doctor and I got called by my nurse in the intensive care unit.. So I ran upstairs and I found that my patient and I changed the name of the patient to protect her privacy Gloria S.

[00:08:49] Sanchez, that she was having short shortness of breath because, she was having a lot of fluid in her belly. And so I decided that I'm going to draw the fluid away from the belly and she's gonna start feeling better. And I was in the process of doing it, and she was in a state of complete coma.

[00:09:05] And inadvertently I had kept my cell phone on. I just, in that rush of a adrenaline, I forgot to switch off the cellphone.. And it started to ring. Now that night was 25th of December, and I had changed the tune of my cell phone to that famous Christian gospel song. Joy to the world, the Lord had come. And it started to play.

[00:09:27] And when it started to play, because somebody was calling me, I noticed from the corner of my eyes, Gloria Sanders, she opened half, opened her eyes, her eyelashes were flattering, and she said, is it Christmas? I said, it is Christmas, Gloria. She said, Merry Christmas doctor. I said, Merry Christmas, Gloria. The music stopped.

[00:09:47] The phone died and Gloria went back to her coma.. Wow. Now these are my personal recollections. These are my stories where it clearly shows the tremendous power of music, of spiritual music as the primordial language of, our earth and the power to penetrate to the deepest layer of the brain where not even a medicine in today's world can penetrate..

[00:10:16] So right now can it be proved? Not yet, but it will be proved in the future. There were many things that were not proved, which are now getting proved right, but I have held onto this and even with my. I've been losing memory. I've been telling them, telling their family, telling their caregivers that even if they, you don't have to sit on the posture of a Buddha to, to meditate.

[00:10:40] You can just take a comfortable comment, sit in your chair, close your eyes, and just follow your breathing patterns. Breathing deeply. Hold your breath for some time and breathe out. And even if you cannot do that, switch on a spiritual. And let it subconsciously penetrate into your brain and walk those exact areas of the brain which are waiting to be damaged because of dementia.

[00:11:06] So there are a lot of things that's coming up. Instead of keeping them as intellectual treasures and the university time has come for us to introduce them to our patients with the firm reminder that this is not we are in the habit of taking a pill with half a glass of water and we want to see the effect right away.

[00:11:24] it's not a sharp bend. We are not gonna get the effect tomorrow, right? It's like a wide path, but for sure we are gonna get it. And I have mingled with religious leaders, or if I may use the word, spiritual leaders from all across the world, and I have seen the same effect with them. There is a matic calm effect because they're constantly surrounded by spiritual music, spiritual talk and meditation..

[00:11:52] And now Harvard University, Johns Hopkins, Oxford Universities, universities in Germany, they're all very excited that yes, Dr. Sen yes. These are the things that have been proved to be putting it out of the microscope. We now have these advanced technologies like PET scans, functional MRIs. They can actually get inside the brain and they can actually see, and they can track a spiritual music going inside your brain.

[00:12:15] And they found that those area. Where the music is traveling are those vulnerable areas vulnerable to an oncoming dementia.. So that's what my book is all about. 

[00:12:28] Bob Gatty: Okay. So, you're talking about, you said spiritual music, is that what you said? Yes. Spiritual music. What do you mean by spiritual music?

[00:12:38] Dr. Sen: The type of music that we play in a church. Okay. If I will use the word gospel. Okay. Or simply a song like Joy to the World That Lord Had come, which produced such a magical moment in my own personal life. a semi-comatose patient woke up and not only woke up, came out with a complete speech asking whether it's Christmas or not.

[00:13:00] Yeah. And she was in such a state of coma that I did not even ask permission to draw the fluid because she wouldn't, I just took it as an emergency procedure. So, all types of spiritual music they go a long way in, in penetrating into the deeper layers of the music and the science is actually catching up with religion.

[00:13:19] It's not the other way around. It's, we think spirituality is catching up with science. Science is actually catching up with spirituality and with everyday passed, we are coming out with new discoveries and new confirmation that these are all scientific tools. Okay. 

[00:13:36] Bob Gatty: Now how does yoga play into all of this?

[00:13:40] Dr. Sen: Yoga is a part of meditation. Okay. Yoga has basically two complexes. There's a body posture which is again, improved, that there are certain postures, certain exercises that we give. And because it came from the West, it has a, I'm sorry, from the east. It is an eastern name. If I may share with you.

[00:13:59] It's called Aus, like A S O N A S. Asonas. There are various asonas that did you, and it is easier to. When you adopt those bodily postures whether it's lying down, whether it's bending forward the breathing pattern gets even better. And as a recent study from Harvard University has shown that is the more deeply you breath, there are more oxygenation that goes with the lungs, and hence it goes to the brain and that opens up the nerve cells also.

[00:14:32] meditation with those bodily postures, which helps in theory. The combination is synergistic. So that's how yoga comes into the picture. 

[00:14:42] Bob Gatty: Okay. Now your book discusses two types of meditation, mindfulness, and transcendental. Yes. Do you recommend a particular type and how does a person know which one to do?

[00:14:58] And. 

[00:15:01] Dr. Sen: You're asking the right questions. . 

[00:15:04] Bob Gatty: I'm sorry. I don't I try to meditate. I close my eyes, I try to let my brain go and I start thinking of stuff. . 

[00:15:14] Dr. Sen: Yes. Yes. And we say that this is the first step of meditation, okay? You don't want to harness and capture your mind. The idea is to liberate your mind, okay?

[00:15:25] The idea is not to focus on something as the focus will come after you have let it travel. Okay, so we actually tell in the first few months you let it travel. You just let your brain go wherever it goes. Okay? And the wings will get tired the bird will get tired and the bird will come, back to the tree top

[00:15:43] So rather than punishing yourself that I have to focus on the focus of light that is not the pragmatic way to do meditation. So yeah, to come back to your original, It is individualistic. Some of us are very comfortable in mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is what we call as a relaxed, unaware, like you try to be unaware of your surroundings, okay?

[00:16:07] And not to think about the fact that I'm in a bedroom, I have a bookshelf behind me. I have a plant behind me. I've got a set of books behind me, just. Sit and think that you are in a state of nothingness, that and, let your brain just travel. Now, some of us can do that. It, comes with a lot of effort, right?

[00:16:31] Others would probably follow the spiritual music kind of a thing where you would like to you follow a music, okay? Let the music guide you. Let the music guide you to that ambience. And I know some of the very famous men who have done transcendental me meditation were the Beatles. John Lennon was, a big follower of transcendental meditation.

[00:16:55] Even Sir Paul McCartney. He was a big follower. He is a big follower of transcendental meditation because that helps him, music helps. He's a musician by birth. And so his way of doing meditation is having the music behind. And there are so many contemplative music, and if you want to drop the s word, the spiritual word, we can simply call it contemplative music.

[00:17:17] And he plays a contemplative music at the back and that helps him And, as per his words and the lectures that he's given, the fact that he's leading such a long life, he's still sharp as a tie. He can still pick up the guitar and still plays. He attributes a lot to transcendental meditation.

[00:17:34] Okay, so both George Harrison Paul McCarney, John Lennon . He had an untimely tragic death, but prior to that, there were all big followers of transcendental medicine. So it's, very individualistic, right? I would say for us, those of us who want to protect our brain, preserve our brain, embrace peace.

[00:17:56] You can try both ways. It's cheap. It doesn't cost a dime, it has no adverse effects. I was giving a lecture at Harvard University and then one of some professors just stood up and said, why would I go through all of these? It's taking so much of time when I can get a Xanax, like I, I can get a anxiolytic medication, which can take off my anxiety and that does equally a good job.

[00:18:21] I said, you are absolutely correct, but the difference is this, you start with 0.5 milligram of Xanax and that does a great job, and then after five months, that 0.5 milligram is not gonna work. You're gonna come back to me and ask for one milligram. So that's the science of a drug. That's the science of a pharmaceutically manufactured drug, that it develops tolerance.

[00:18:43] And the other thing that happens is adverse effect. No drug is an angel in the sky. They have their own sweet side effects. And before you know you're dealing with the side effect, there's this meditation process. They don't have any side effect. It doesn't cost anything. You don't need a health insurance.

[00:18:59] Yeah. 

[00:19:00] Bob Gatty: And, that's probably why the neurologists and other healthcare professionals don't recommend it. 

[00:19:07] Dr. Sen: Exactly. It's it, does not gather any interest from the pharmaceutical industry. Yeah. Yeah. Research after research coming from the Ivy League, universities are actually showing that these things work.

[00:19:19] And again, it is nothing, it's not a cult, it's nothing to do with a particular religion, . It's just a way of life, a way of. It's not a cult, huh? Yes. You just, 

[00:19:31] Bob Gatty: I always thought people had meditated. Were in a cult . 

[00:19:35] Dr. Sen: Oh, yeah. Yeah. That's the thing that's what happens yeah.

[00:19:40] Ignorance. Unless you, you shine the shoe it, never shines. 

[00:19:44] Bob Gatty: Yeah. What do you say to people who are skeptical about all of this, that meditation and yoga can help with dementia? What do you, say? 

[00:19:53] Dr. Sen: I tell them you don't have much options cause we don't have any medication for Alzheimer's

[00:19:58] Bob Gatty: That's right. It is so frustrating for people that have Alzheimer's and the people that care for them because there really isn't any, pharmaceutical solution for their situation. 

[00:20:14] Dr. Sen: Have you noticed the number of medications that has been tried, which is very good, which is what I want.

[00:20:18] I'm, the vice chair of research in a mainstream university. I do research based on drugs. Okay. But there comes a time when we are sufficiently challenged to step outside the box and, try something to get comfortable. Really. The uncomfortable we use words like physics and metaphysics.

[00:20:36] We put metaphysics under the realm of spirituality, but metaphysics will become physics over time, and it has. What was considered to be a cult, became a culture. It doesn't take much to change the words from a rubble to a room to a reflection. So think about it. 

[00:20:53] Bob Gatty: What do you think of the over the counter?

[00:20:58] I guess it's a drug. It's called Prevagen. See, it advertised all the time. 

[00:21:04] Dr. Sen: To expect prevagen to, reverse the process of dementia is being very ambitious very, ambitious. There are so many articles, and this is not Dr. Sen, saying, I'm just quoting the other articles that. Okay.

[00:21:21] And this research institute swing that Alzheimer's is much deeper, much more pervasive, much more spread out a disease to be cured by one single drug. There's no harming taking that medication. Okay? One can take the medication. I'm not gonna go against it. It is not yet time tested. It's in the market.

[00:21:41] Rather new. Only time will tell whether it's gonna have any effect. Yeah. And, medications like prevagen have come in the market before and they have been all have FDA approved medications. But as we know over the course of time that they do not really reverse the course of the disease, neither are they good in preventing an Alzheimer's from coming in.

[00:22:04] Yeah. So my answer to a question would be, yes, you can take it. It's not gonna harm you as of now, but in terms of his effects, we got to wait and see.. 

[00:22:14] Bob Gatty: Are there any other points that you'd like to make? I know that you're running short on time here. 

[00:22:21] Dr. Sen: No, I would just like to keep it very simple and this is not a very complicated process.

[00:22:27] I would request my my audiences to not to go by my. To go behind my words and see where those words are coming from, and you will inevitably see that those words are coming from the researchers that has been done in prime institutions like Harvard University. In fact, Dr. John Denninger, who is the Chief of Mind Body Institute of Harvard University, he himself wrote on the front cover of my book and, that do your research, do your due diligence.

[00:22:56] Be convinced. Have faith in your spirituality? Have faith in the sciences behind the spirituality. Yeah. The power of spirituality. Okay. To prevent your brain from being affected from trauma and dementia. 

[00:23:10] Bob Gatty: Where can people find your book? 

[00:23:13] Dr. Sen: It's, available in Barnes and Noble. It's available in Amazon.

[00:23:19] All networks. All right. 

[00:23:21] Bob Gatty: Is there an online version or is it hard copy or what? 

[00:23:25] Dr. Sen: It's both Kindle online as well as in hard copy. The book got translated to French and Italians, but those who are in love with this language, they can use it. Okay. So this is actually doing well in those two 

[00:23:35] Bob Gatty: countries.

[00:23:36] Okay. Dr. Sin, thank you so much for being with us today on our podcast. I really appreciate it. I think the information is extremely valuable and we'll touch a lot of people. So I thank you for taking the time to be with us today. 

[00:23:51] Dr. Sen: And I thank you very much for inviting me to your show. 

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