By Valerie Minard
When neonatologist Dr. Ingeborg Syllum-Rapoport, walked out of the University of Hamburg’s medical school with her second doctorate degree this June, it was a bittersweet moment. 102-year-old Ingeborg had just become the oldest ever to receive a doctorate in Germany. Denied her degree during WWII because of Nazi-race laws regarding Jews, Ingeborg waited 77 years before seeking the opportunity to take her oral exam.
According to Uwe Koch-Gromus, the dean of the medical school who tested her, “she was brilliant, and not only for her age,” he said. “We were impressed with her intellectual alertness, and left speechless by her expertise, also with regard to modern medicine.”
Ingeborg’s example debunks one of the commonly held misconceptions about aging— the inevitable decline of mental faculties–and offers hope to the 5.3 million Americans who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, affecting their memory and judgment.
A recent medical study by Dr. Dale Bredesen, of UCLA Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, also offers hope. He claims to have demonstrated, for the first time, “that memory loss in patients may be reversed — and improvement sustained” using a therapeutic program these researchers developed, which includes the use of diet, brain stimulation, exercise, vitamins, and drugs.
However, Bredesen was not the first to demonstrate this. A century ago, 89-year old founder of The Christian Science Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, recognized and demonstrated that mental decline was not inevitable. She saw that intelligence and memory were divine qualities that didn’t reside in the brain but in God, which she called divine Mind. Consequently she refuted the belief that these divine qualities could reach an expiration date, become confused, and conk out. She writes in her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, “Because mortal mind is kept active, must it pay the penalty in a softened brain? Who dares to say that actual Mind [God] can be overworked? When we reach our limits of mental endurance, we conclude that intellectual labor has been carried sufficiently far; but when we realize that immortal Mind is ever active, and that spiritual energies can neither wear out nor can so-called material law trespass upon God-given powers and resources, we are able to rest in Truth, refreshed by the assurances of immortality, opposed to mortality.”
Those ideas helped reverse an Alzheimer’s diagnosis for Joan Grier. In the 1980’s, Joan started forgetting things and was eventually diagnosed with early senile dementia. Up to this point she had tried everything to combat the memory loss and host of other physical problems that had surfaced. “My life turned into rounds of pill popping and visits to specialists,” Joan said. “As a medical treatment reduced the symptoms of one disease, others sprang up.” In desperation, she also tried some alternative forms of treatment, such as, homeopathy, Ayurvedic medicine, nutrition, yoga, diet, and exercise. There was some improvement, but the memory problems came back worse than before.
She was again diagnosed, this time with Alzheimer’s disease, something that was a part of her family history. Again she was given meds and told if she stopped taking them it would result in a “precipitous irretrievable decline into dementia.” The side effects of the new medications, however, became unbearable and Joan lost all hope of surviving.
When she received another diagnosis — of blood infection– she was relieved. “At last, I could make a plan,” she said. “I would use up the medications I had, and then just hope that my combined maladies would rapidly put an end to my life.”
Thinking she had nothing to lose, she began to read Science and Health, which one of her Alzheimer group mates had suggested. Through its ideas, she began to learn about her spiritual nature and inseparable relationship to God. She started to lean on God and trust Him. Joan said, “I sensed that God is everything we could want Him to be, and much more, so much more. I saw that God truly is Love. I saw the stars and planets, the universe, in vast and peaceful order, moving in Love. I knew I was part of it. I knew that everyone who has ever lived is, and always will be, living in this Love. And because He gives such pure love, and never sends evil but holds His creation forever safe, I was able to love God fully, ardently, for the first time in my life.”
By this time, she had used up all her medication and discovered that the forecasted mental decline had not occurred. In fact, the leaders of her Alzheimer’s support group suggested she be reevaluated when they noticed that she was aware of which members were missing and filled in the right words the ones present were searching for.
On March 30, 1998, Joan met with a doctor at the New York Presbyterian Hospital. The tests she took were similar to the ones she had found so difficult before. This time she breezed through them and scored better than the average 27-year old. She was totally recovered. The doctor said that he’d never before reversed a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Joan was able to resume her normal activities, not only free from Alzheimer’s but from the many maladies she had suffered from.
Dr. Ingeborg Syllum-Rapoport’s case proves mental decline is not inevitable, and Joan Grier’s case proves it can be reversed. A spiritual viewpoint can help us claim our mental freedom not only to remember but to continue to develop and sharpen our mental faculties. And as Dr. Uwe Koch-Gromus said, to be “brilliant”!
Valerie writes regularly on the connection between consciousness, spirituality, and health. She is a Christian Science practitioner and the spokesperson for Christian Science in New Jersey. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or @valerieminard.