Written by Chris Claussen, Co-Founder, Chief Innovation Officer
About the Author: Chris has over 20 years of experience in product and business development. For the past five years he has focused exclusively on innovative product development in the functional foods and functional mushrooms space. Chris brings experience exploring, experimenting, and conducting extensive research on the relationship between functional foods/ mushrooms and metabolic, brain, and mental health.
June is Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month, a significant occasion for us at First Person as Alzheimer's disease is at the heart of our company's origin. From a young age, I deeply admired and looked up to my grandfather, a patented inventor and successful entrepreneur. I can still vividly recall standing by his desk, just tall enough to peek over it, and marveling at the array of business awards and plaques adorning his wall. It was in that very moment that I made the decision to follow in his entrepreneurial footsteps.
It was on the evening of my 17th birthday when my grandmother passed away, and I received my first profound exposure to the devastating effects of Alzheimer's. It quickly became apparent that she had been skillfully compensating for my grandfather's cognitive decline. In that instant, I realized I had lost both my beloved grandmother and my revered grandfather in one fell swoop. My grandfather was never the same, gradually declining until his eventual passing six years later. The final years of his Alzheimer's journey resulted in tragedy for him and his children acting as primary caregivers and all of his grandchildren who missed out on his guidance in early adulthood.
As my grandfather's condition worsened, my father took my brothers and me aside and uttered these haunting words, “Do not let me end up like this. If I lose my mind hit me upside the head with a rock and put an end to it!” Tragically, at the age of 65, my father embarked on a ten year journey into the heart-wrenching ordeal of Alzheimer's. This second eye-opening experience spurred my brother, Joseph, and me, two of the co-founders of First Person, to embark on a path of prioritizing brain health and optimizing our cognitive performance and longevity.
“The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.”
― Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way
This personal tragedy became our mission: to transform the familiar narrative of Alzheimer's into one of triumph. We felt a profound responsibility to disseminate the knowledge that brain health is intricately tied to the choices we make each day. Even if, like us, you carry a genetic predisposition to cognitive decline, it is ultimately our epigenetics, our lifestyle choices, that hold the power to shape our long-term cognitive well-being.
Life is an incredible journey filled with valuable lessons and opportunities for self-reflection. It allows us to observe the world around us and delve into personal growth. My own experiences with witnessing loved ones suffer from Alzheimer's and making lifestyle changes to prevent a similar fate have provided me with profound insights into Alzheimer's, cognitive decline, and cognitive optimization. Here, I would like to share a few of these insights:
- The significance of early brain care cannot be overstated. Alzheimer's disease actually initiates its course 20 to 30 years before any symptoms become apparent. Therefore, it is never too early to prioritize the well-being of your brain.
- You do not want to end your life in the grip of Alzheimer's! I had always imagined my father spending his retirement years at a peaceful lake house, tending to a garden, and enjoying serene fishing evenings. Unfortunately, this cherished dream would never come to fruition due to the devastating impact of the disease.
- The suffering endured by caregivers and family members of Alzheimer's patients is immense. Not only does Alzheimer's rob individuals of their memories, but it also consumes the lives of caregivers and deprives the family of the love, wisdom, and guidance of their elder.
- Amidst the many challenges faced while caregiving for a family member with Alzheimer's, there can be moments of genuine joy and laughter. Looking back, I recall fondly the instances of shared laughter, whimsical stories, lighthearted gestures, and unexpected interactions with perplexed strangers. These memories bring a smile to my face.
- It is crucial to recognize that the person you know and love is still present within them, even if they struggle to communicate it. Although Alzheimer's sufferers may exhibit childlike behavior, it is essential to avoid treating them as such. Instead, we must acknowledge their essence and honor the respect they have earned. This simple act can greatly enhance everyone's experience.
The most significant lesson I have learned from this experience is that the choices we make today directly impact our health, quality of life, and the potential burden we place on our loved ones in the future. Often, our lives become consumed by caring for others, raising children, and looking after aging parents, leaving little time for self-care. However, we mustn't neglect ourselves. By incorporating simple changes into our daily routines and prioritizing selfcare, we can dramatically improve our prospects for a healthy future. A resilient mind and a strong body are the ultimate selfless gifts we can bestow upon our families.