The Importance Of Education And Compassion For Those With Neurodegenerative Illness | Dr. Daniel...

DR. DANIEL C. ANDREAE

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Dr. Daniel Andreae, PhD

Dr. Dan Andreae is a pioneer who has made a mark in several different fields locally and globally.  He is an award winning educator having taught 45 courses during his teaching career at colleges and universities, CEO, advocate, volunteer, citizen and philanthropist.  In looking to connect threads throughout his successful career, it is the focus on education, lifelong learning, health and medicine and giving back whenever possible to others.

Dan always knew he wanted to make a difference in people’s lives which has been a hallmark in each of his activities and initiatives. These have included as a co-founder of the National Eating Disorder Center (NEDIC) at Toronto General Hospital and as the first Executive Director of the Alzheimer Society of Toronto, the first society formed anywhere in the world. He has been the longest serving President of the Ontario Association of Social Workers where he led a ten year to achieve legislated recognition of the profession bringing Ontario in line with the rest of North America.  He has been an advisor to several organizations related to health programs and strategic planning.

But sit down with Dan to discuss the prevalence of stress in our lives and it’s growing impact on our physical and mental health and he is entirely in his element. 

He says “we are living in unprecedented times because of the Covid pandemic and also the transitions it has fostered and accelerated how we live life on a daily basis.  We are working at home much more which may become increasingly permanent, we are buying more on line and we are being entertained in different ways through a variety of new technologies.  Some of these changes will continue as we continue to adjust.  We have not in our lifetimes been through such a health crisis which in itself has been traumatic and full of uncertainties that has been very stressful for so many.  The toll of lost lives, economic hardship, loss of businesses and social isolation have meant increased mental and physical challenges from exacerbating chronic conditions to opioid addictions and deaths to increased anxiety and depression as well as domestic violence and feelings of malaise and helplessness”.

“There are many techniques available to help deal with stress and encourage calmness and resiliency and no one technique is right for everyone.  It may be necessary to experiment with a few to see what works for you.”

Stress has always been with us and how our bodies deal with stress today is exactly the same as it did millions of years ago. It ensured our survival and allowed humans to make major strides forward.  But the main triggers of stress are different today. They are not worrying about attacks from wild animals or concern about where a next meal is coming from or how to protect against horrible weather conditions but more aggravating mundane life events such as deadlines to meet, traffic congestion, financial challenges, workplace conflicts or relationship issues.

Our bodies are magnificently designed to react and cope with acute stresses such as jumping out of the way of an oncoming car, which when they are resolved, allows our bodies to return to a calmer state ready for the next challenge. It is all about adapting to a new situation which we have to do many times a day. But more serious problems can arise when these daily stresses build up and have no outlet much like a steam kettle having no way to release the steam. 

Each person will react to and perceive a stress stimulus differently given past experiences and conditioning, genetic predisposition and overall health and what may trigger one person may have no or minimal effect on another.  When one’s ability to process and deal with stresses is compromised symptoms may develop including physical ones such as headaches, digestive issues, psoriasis, high blood pressure and/or cholesterol, weight loss or gain or fatigue; psychological/emotional ones like anxiety, depression, trouble concentrating or irritability; behavioral symptoms such as social withdrawal, addictions, aggressiveness  toward others and taking unhealthy risks.

Everyone will experience some of these simply by being human and this is natural but when they interfere in one’s ability to function this could be a red flag that something needs to be done.

There are many techniques available to help deal with stress and encourage calmness and resiliency and no one technique is right for everyone.  It may be necessary to experiment with a few to see what works for you. Popular ones include meditation, yoga, Qui Jong, deep breathing, walks in nature, talking with a trusted friend, exercise which can be moderate such as walking, ensuring a good sleep, talking to a therapist, biofeedback or relaxation tapes to name a few.  Any of these techniques need to be incorporated in to your schedule to maximize results. Your body and mind will thank you.

Dr. Daniel Andreae, PhD

In his career Dr. Andreae has seen the effect of stress on patients, families and caregivers with eating disorders, Alzheimer Disease, brain injuries and developmental challenges as well as students in higher education.  Andreae says “what almost everyone hopes and needs is to have an empathic ear that listens to them, hears them and accepts them.” 

Dr. Daniel Andreae, PhD

Over his remarkable career Dr. Andreae has refined his perspectives on stress and the crucial importance of recognizing its existence and taking steps to nip it in the bud when stressors build up. Both men and women experience stress but in our culture it is easy and unfortunately encouraged to deny or minimize the impact of stress so as to appear “in control” or “strong”.  Yet this unfortunately only makes the situation worse. The body’s immune, hormone and nervous systems only react to what is really happening in your life and if you deny your reality in the face of stress your body responds anyway.  Much better to acknowledge and accept your stressors and take preventive measures to ensure health and energy.

In his career Dr. Andreae has seen the effect of stress on patients, families and caregivers with eating disorders, Alzheimer Disease, brain injuries and developmental challenges as well as students in higher education.  Andreae says “what almost everyone hopes and needs is to have an empathic ear that listens to them, hears them and accepts them.”  

This he learned from his university supervisor and mentor, Dr. Eva Philipp, a talented psychotherapist in Toronto.  Knowing that someone cares and that the person under stress is not alone can go a long way to alleviating anxiety and other associated symptoms.  Stress may not cause a particular condition or disease but it can be a co-factor along with others and has been known to intensify and exacerbate symptoms or flare ups in autoimmune diseases such as Multiple sclerosis, Rheumatoid arthritis and Hashimotos and Graves disease, thyroid conditions.  Dr. Andreae and his associate Leona Chase are currently investigating the effect of stress on thyroid disease and best techniques for alleviating stress induced symptoms.

Dr. Andreae has had a neuroscience laboratory named in his honor at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, one of the world’s leading educational and research institutes.  The scientist in charge of it, Dr. Ivo Spiegel studying many things including the interactions of the brain and the environment. 

Dr. Andreae believes strongly in the connection of the brain and mind which can open doors to better understand the mechanisms of stress on the body.  Much work needs to be done to untangle the mysteries of the brain, more complex and faster than the most advanced human computer. 

There is no one answer to understanding stress but the brain plays a central role.  The quest will need to involve many disciplines from biology, anatomy and neuroscience to psychology, sociology, cultural and gender studies, anthropology and even philosophy. 

According to Andreae, we are still in the infancy of truly understanding stress in all its forms and complexity.  Dr. Andreae says “the most exciting chapters on this subject have yet to be written.  It is very exciting”.

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others” – PERICLES  (Greek Statesman – died 429 BC)