Shuvendu Sen, MD, is director, medical education and associate program director, Internal Medicine Residency Program at Raritan Bay Medical Center, Meridian Hackensack University. Dr. Sen has been named to America’s Best Physicians and has received the Oscar E. Edwards Award from the American College of Physicians, as well as many national and regional awards for research, teaching and community contribution. Thrice nominated for the Pushcart Prize Award for fiction and nonfiction works, Dr. Sen is the author of the critically acclaimed book for lay audiences A Doctor’s Diary that was selected at the 2016 World Book Fair. He serves and had been involved in advisory capacities in many leadership committees, including the American College of Physicians, the Alzheimer’s Association and Rotary International.
Q: What inspired you to write Why Buddha Never Had Alzheimer’s?
A: The concern for the disease was with me for many years since my grandmother, an erudite scholar, and a writer of many books, fell into deep dementia and suffered from the same till she breathed her last. I had wondered then, how could a woman with such scholarly and cerebral aptitude become a functional vegetable. Thirty years down the road we still nurse the same question, the same enigma of a disease whose spectrum and repertoire spread to limitless possibilities. Not surprisingly, we are still scratching the surface with no decisive cure in sight. The inspiration to write this book came from my understanding of the tremendous potential and power of holistic measures, including meditation, yoga and music. We presently belong to a wonderful crossroad where science finally meets up with spirituality. Where the incredible advances of science and technology can finally grapple with the immeasurable benefits of these holistic measures.
Q: What is mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and how does it relate to dementia?
A: In a way MCI can be seen as a prelude to dementia. Dementia is not a single disease, rather it’s an open-ended term for various cognitive disorders, of which memory loss is one aspect. MCI is an early stage of dementia where the functional status is still preserved despite the deficiency of certain cognitive disorder.
Q: How is meditation beneficial for the aging mind?
A: The benefits of meditation are manifold. The process induces neuroplasticity, the ability of our brains to grow new neurons. It reduces stress, widely considered to be the point of entry of dementia. Very importantly meditation has been shown through advanced imaging studies to have increased the flow of blood (and hence nourishment) to vital areas of the brain responsible for memory, orientation and speech.
Q: In the book, you explain how yoga and meditation can be utilized together as preventative measures. Are there any examples of routines you can recommend?
A: There are two types of meditations that are popular and widely practiced. Mindfulness Meditation is the act of relaxed breathing with a certain regularity. The Harvard Breathing technique offers a breathing process of 4-6-8, where we inhale on a count of four, hold our breath on a count of six, and exhale on a count of eight.
Transcendental Meditation, made popular by the Beatles, especially John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney, is a relatively simpler method where certain words (called Mantra) are repeated to bring in focus and concentration.
Q: What are some other holistic approaches that can be adopted as preventative measures for Alzheimer’s?
A: Music, as our primordial language, has always been our closest friend. The centers of music and art are relatively spared in dementia, which is why individuals with dementia can still bring back their emotions when singling or drawing. Thus, strong affiliations with music and art are considered to be strong preventive measures.
Q: The book has been made into a documentary by the Government of India. How has the documentary expanded the book’s reach?
A: The Government of India produced a documentary based on my book Why Buddha Never had Alzheimer’s opens the window for a global outreach. Explained in simple words with strong, emotional images and live recordings, the documentary highlights the profundity and the power of meditation and music in healing our minds.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: The documentary has been selected to be screened at the United Nations (UN) through an UN approved AFI World Peace Initiative NGO under the auspices of Her Majesty Angelique Monet, Nigeria.
The documentary is also scheduled to be shown at the Marche Du Film Theatre at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2024.