Ask the Doctor: Jealousy & Social Media; Early Signs of Dementia; Positive Outlook

Q: I sometimes find myself getting jealous and resentful looking at photos and reading about the fabulous vacations and other wonderful news people post on social media. How can I get over this?

A: Your response is perfectly normal, and it seems to be increasingly common. Facebook, Instagram and other forms of social media tend to present a flawless and unrealistic version of the lives lived by others. You’re more likely to see pictures and glowing accounts of a fabulous getaway to Europe as opposed to photos of snow shoveling or rinsing dirty dishes. But most people spend far more time cleaning and doing other non-glamorous jobs than they do cruising through France or Italy.

In addition to reminding yourself that those happy vacationers have their share of stress and real-world struggles, too, take time to be grateful for the positive things in your lifeÑfamily, friends, a nice home, your health, and any other joys you encounter throughout the day. As part of this process, try to avoid comparing your income, looks, lifestyle, etc., to others in your life. The more you can catch yourself making comparisons, the more you may be able to change your thoughts and spend less of your time and energy in this frustrating exercise. Other strategies for coping include limiting your time spent on Facebook or other social media platforms. It’s easy to lose hours a day looking at a screen. Set a social media time limit each day, or consider removing social media applications on your phone, which make it a little too easy to frequently check in.

Q: I know everyone’s situation is different, but are there some very early signs of dementia that are somewhat universal?

A: You’re right that no two people develop dementia in exactly the same ways or on the same timetable. If you want to be on the lookout for early symptoms, look no further than recent events in your life. If you are starting to have memory lapses about things that happened quite recently, take note. If it is happening regularly, or your spouse or a loved one points out these kinds of memory lapses, don’t get defensive. It’s better to be aware of memory changes earlier than later.

Some early dementia signs have nothing to do with memory, per se. A change in mood can signal dementia Ñ if you become more irritable, for example. Having more trouble concentrating or becoming confused more easily are two other common early signs of dementia. Of course, these things may be unrelated to brain health. They could be medication side effects, for example. The important thing is to be aware of what can signal dementia. Don’t be too quick to chalk up changes as the effects of aging only.

Q: I never paid much attention to the expression, “You’re as young as you feel.” But now that I’m in my 70s, I get it. I still feel youthful and I’m in good health. Can a positive outlook really affect your health?

A:  Well, it actually goes both ways. Your health can affect your outlook, too. People who have a chronic illness may demonstrate traits associated with people older than their physical age. Likewise, being fit and healthy into your later years tends to provide people more energy and a bounce in their step. And, as you suggest, keeping a positive, even childlike, outlook on life appears to have real impacts on your health. Though not the case with everyone, research has shown that, generally, positive people tend to be healthier.

Of course, some research suggests that people who think more positively or more healthfully may simply engage in behaviors that promote good health: frequent exercise, a balanced diet, and regular social interaction. Whether your good health or your optimistic disposition came first probably doesn’t matter. What’s important for your future is that you can keep smiling and keep moving for as long as you can.

Editor-in-Chief Maurizio Fava, MD

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