Verónica Vega

Pain. Illustration by Yasser Castellanos.

HAVANA TIMES — After watching Away From Her, a touching film about Alzheimer’s disease, that mysterious and devastating affliction whose depredations I’ve experienced up close, I can’t help ask myself whether everything else in life isn’t governed by a similar, fatal destiny.

This-degenerative disease manifests itself as a gradual cognitive deterioration and a series of behavioral traumas. As neurons die and different areas of the brain atrophy, we begin to witness the progressive loss of memory and other mental faculties. In short, an individual’s personality literally falls apart. The process, which often lasts years, deprives the patient of will power, paralyzes those who care for them and sometimes the life of an entire family.

In the film, we see the conflict this represents for a couple that has lived together for 44 years, how the husband sees his wife (masterfully played by Julie Christie) become more and more distant, not so much in the direction of the old people’s home where he visits her on a daily basis, but towards a mental country to which he has no access.

The husband, who sees his wife shower another patient with attentions, begins to suspect her amnesia may be a farce staged to punish him for his affairs of old.

Though Far From Her ends with a moment of lucidity the patient experiences, it does not offer us a happy ending, but, rather, a kind of respite in the midst of the character’s downfall. The afflicted husband had already been forewarned that such moments where random flashbacks that presaged the final, all-consuming darkness.

The constant references to winter and desolate landscapes in the quiet ambiance of the comfortable nursing home, overwhelming us with a portrayal of life’s gradual paralysis, puts us in contact with life’s final season, the one no one wants to think about – until it arrives.

There are, however, some glimmers of hope – in the persistence of love, in the patience with which the husband waits for an awakening of the consciousness that finally unites the lovers, even if it is only a farewell.

Reasons to Not Give Up

Traditional medicine suggests that the causes of Alzheimer haven’t yet been fully discovered. It suggests – or advances – three main hypotheses to explain the phenomenon: a deficit of acetylcholine, the accumulation of amyloid or tau and metabolic traumas.

Other sources conceive the mind as the cause of all illnesses (physical and psychological) and regard these psychosomatic symptoms as the result of certain self-destructive mental patterns that are sometimes unconscious.

For Louise Hay, author of the best-selling You Can Heal Your Life, Alzheimer’s is an expression of a subconscious rejection of life resulting from profound frustration, fear, and resistance to the experience of pain. In that flight, consciousness becomes more and more lethargic by avoiding everything that causes it pain.

An unwillingness to let go of old, accumulated ideas inhibits the creation of new ones and, since one’s attention becomes increasingly centered on the past and not on the present, short term memory becomes deficient and ultimately atrophies, unable to provide us with anything new or creative.

Two journeys thus begin: one towards the past, towards childhood, as evidenced by an egotistical and childish behavior, the other towards death, for which the entire body prepares, accelerating the aging process. It is as though an entire life cycle became compressed, uniting two ends of existence.

Alternative medical theories generally meet with great skepticism. In addition to materialist prejudices or the inertia of tradition, the immense monopoly of the pharmaceutical industry is responsible for this. By the looks of it, that fact people who have benefitted from non-academic methods are trying to divulge their testimonies is of no importance to this industry.

Louise Hay’s life is a practical example of what she preaches. Using her methods, she was able to overcome traumas arising from childhood sexual abuse and uterine cancer without surgery or chemotherapy. Hers is not an isolated case and there are many recorded examples of cancer cases that “mysteriously” disappear. Science, unable to rationally explain the phenomenon, calls it “spontaneous remission.”

For Louise Hay, Jacques Martel and other therapists who are despotically classified as “New Age”, Alzheimer’s can be reverted with therapies aimed at self-acceptance and an acceptance of the present. Hay claims that “the brain is the body’s organizer. Blood is rejoicing. The veins and arteries are canals where that happiness flows. Negative thinking produces blockages in the brain.”

En un país como Cuba, sin acceso a internet, es decir, sin derecho a la investigación por vía individual, podrían y deberían aprovecharse terapias que no demandan recursos económicos.

The harsh reality faced by elderly people who are unable to run after a bus, who are displaced by the ferocious new generations, who lack a wheelchair with which they can be taken to a polyclinic, who cannot even dream of buying hygiene products such as the extremely expensive Pampers, can only be understood by those who have experienced it personally.

A friend who visited an old people’s home in Havana’s neighborhood of Centro Habana was telling me that incontinent patients were sometimes left naked because of clothing shortages, that that crowd of flaccid and squalid bodies brought Dante’s Inferno to mind.

The enormous deficiencies of Cuba’s healthcare services for the elderly include late or simply absent Alzheimer’s diagnoses and specialized follow-up treatments. Is it so hard to print the literature on the subject, which people can download from the Internet and circulates digitally?

Books such as You Can Heal Your Life, Dictionary of Ailments and others should be sold at reasonable prices or be made available at the libraries of clinics and hospitals. Patients should be allowed to lay their hopes on faith or not while they have the willpower and mental faculties for such decisions.

Since science hasn’t been able to solve the problem of senile dementia, why should we refuse to explore the world of the mind, about which we know so little and in which we are going to exist in any event, as our existence is in thought.

I don’t know how many people are afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease in Cuba, but a simple look around me suffices to deduce the number is high and, sadly, on the rise.


Veronica Vega

Veronica Vega: I believe that truth has power and the word can and should be an extension of the truth. I think that is also the role of Art and the media. I consider myself an artist, but above all, a seeker and defender of the Truth as an essential element of what sustains human existence and consciousness. I believe that Cuba can and must change and that websites like Havana Times contribute to that necessary change.

4 thoughts on “Cuba: The Country of Alzheimer’s

  • Based on your opinion, It is hard to imagine how the other 6 countries ahead of Cuba would survive.

  • By 2030, 30% of Cuba’s population will be over 65. If the current rate of Alzheimer’s is 19.6%, then something like 39% of the population will have it by 2030. It’s hard to imagine how Cuba can survive such a demographic crisis.

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