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The Villages
Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Dementia took a toll on actor Sean Connery

Dr. Gabe Mirkin

Sean Connery was a Scottish movie star who was the original James Bond in seven Bond films between 1962 and 1983. He was voted by People magazine to be the “Sexiest Man Alive” in 1989 and the “Sexiest Man of the Century” in 1999. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2000, and was honored for services in film drama with an Academy Award, two BAFTA Awards, and three Golden Globes. He was brought up in extreme poverty, became a body builder to raise his self-image and used his big muscles to land his first acting roles that eventually led to movie stardom. In addition to being the first James Bond, he starred in many other movies that made him very rich and very famous. In his later years he became demented, and he died at age 90 on October 31, 2020.

Sean Connery

Early Life and Career
Thomas Sean Connery was born in 1930 during the depression, to a father who was a taxi driver and factory worker and a mother who was a cleaning lady. He described his crib as “the bottom drawer of a dresser in a cold-water flat next door to a brewery,” with two toilets in the hall that were shared with three other families. Starting at age nine, he delivered milk from a horse cart for four hours before he went to school. His only baths were when he walked to the public baths once a week to swim, “just to get clean.”

At age 16, he joined the Royal Navy, but was discharged three years later because of a duodenal ulcer. He then worked driving a taxi, being a lifeguard as a swimming pool, doing common labor and polishing coffins. At that time he was an accomplished athlete and to improve his self-image, he lifted weights and competed in bodybuilding contests. He was now 6′ 2″ and his large muscles got him a job as an artist’s model for the Edinburgh College of Art. He didn’t make much money, so at age 21, he took a second job as a stage hand at the King’s Theater. When he was 23, one of his bodybuilding competitors told him about auditions for South Pacific, and his big muscles alone got him an insignificant part in the Seabees boys’ chorus. Eventually he worked himself up to a featured role as Lieutenant Buzz Adams. He was now hobnobbing with successful actors and learned that he had to improve on his uneducated background — he had never read a book. One of his acting friends gave him a reading list that included books written by Proust, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Bernard Shaw, Joyce, and Shakespeare. He recalled, “I went to every library in Britain, Ireland, Scotland and Wales and read every book I could.” He even took elocution lessons to try to get rid of his heavy Scottish accent.

By age 26, he was able to get acting jobs in the theater and television, and his big muscles got him the part of a boxer in a TV series. At age 27, he got his first movie role as a gangster with a speech impediment. That same year he got his first chance in a leading role in the BBC Television production of Requiem for a Heavyweight. Age 32, he starred as British secret agent James Bond in Dr. No. The movie was so successful that he made five more James Bond films from 1962–1971. He reprised the role in Never Say Never Again in 1983, and that year James Bond was chosen by the American Film Institute as the third-greatest hero ever in movie history.

Connery left his James Bond role to other actors — including Roger Moore, David Niven, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig.  He went on to star in a wide range of films, including Murder on the Orient Express, The Man Who Would Be King, A Bridge Too Far, The Name of the Rose, The Untouchables, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and The Hunt for Red October. He received the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006, and at age 76, he retired from acting.

Personal Life and Death
He married actress Diane Cilento in 1962, and they had a son, actor Jason Connery. They separated in 1971 and divorced in 1973. In 1970, at age 40, Connery had met Micheline Roquebrune, a French artist, at a golf tournament in Morocco where they both won medals. After their marriage in 1975, they played golf avidly as often as they could. They remained married until his death at age 90, at their home in Nassau in the Bahamas. After he died, Micheline told the press that, “He had dementia and it took its toll on him. He was not able to express himself. At least he died in his sleep and it was just so peaceful. I was with him all the time and he got his final wish to slip away without any fuss. It was what he wanted.”

Causes of Death in Dementia
Dementia affects 14 percent of North Americans over 70, and 37 percent of those over 90 (Neuroepidemiology, Nov, 2007). Autopsy reports show that the two most common causes of death in dementia patients are bronchopneumonia (38.4 percent) and heart disease (23.1 percent), while cancer is associated with only 3.8 percent of the deaths (Eur J Neurol, Apr, 2009;16(4):488-92; J Alzheimer’s Dis, 2005 Sep;8(1):57-62). Dementia eventually causes most patients to do nothing more than sit around or lie in bed all day and night, which:
• weakens the heart to cause heart failure
• causes blood clots that lead to heart attacks and strokes.
• causes high blood pressure and diabetes to increase risk for heart attacks
• suppresses appetite and thirst so they become dehydrated and have nutritional deficiencies
• interferes with coordination so they aspirate food into their lungs, which can cause pneumonia

“Natural Causes” Often Means Heart Failure
If they live long enough, virtually all dementia patients will stop moving and lie in bed all the time, which will eventually cause them to die from heart failure. When you become inactive, you lose your skeletal muscles at an alarming rate, and losing skeletal muscle causes loss of heart muscle until your heart can become too weak to pump blood to your brain and you die.

In 1914, Dr. Ernest Starling described what is today known as “Starling’s Law,” that strengthening skeletal muscles strengthens your heart muscle and not the other way around (Circulation, 2002;106(23):2986-2992). When you contract your skeletal muscles, they squeeze the veins near them to pump extra blood back to your heart. The extra blood flowing back to your heart fills up your heart, which stretches your heart muscle, causing the heart muscle to contract with greater force and pump more blood back your body. This explains why your heart beats faster and harder to pump more blood when you exercise. The harder your heart muscle has to contract, the greater the gain in heart muscle strength.
• The larger your skeletal muscles, the stronger your heart and the lower your chance of suffering heart attacks and heart disease (J Epidem & Comm Health, Nov 11, 2019).
• The less you exercise, the weaker your heart and the more likely you are to become diabetic (Diabetes Care, 2002; 25:1612–1618).
• The larger your muscles, the less likely you are to die of heart diseases (Am J of Cardiology, Apr 15, 2016;117(8):1355-1360).
• A study of almost a million adults with no history of heart disease followed for 10 years found that those who did not exercise were at 65 percent increased risk for strokes and heart attacks, the same rate as that found for smoking (Euro J of Prev Cardiology, Feb 10, 2020).
• A study of 51,451 participants, followed for 12.5 years, found a strong association between exercise and decreased risk for heart failure (J Amer Col of Cardiol, Mar 2017;69(9)).
• A study of 378 older adults showed that the smaller the muscles in their arms, legs and trunk, the smaller and weaker the upper and lower chambers of their hearts (J Am Geriatr Soc, Dec 2019;67:2568-2573).
• Low skeletal muscle size predicted death in people who had chronic heart failure (Cardiology, March 25, 2019).

Lessons from Connery’s Long and Mostly Healthful Life
A key to prolonging your life and preventing disease is to keep on moving. Lying in bed for many hours each day is a certain way eventually to kill yourself. Each day that you spend not moving your muscles weakens your heart until eventually you can die of heart failure. Exercise will prolong your life, but you do not have to have a specific exercise program. You just need to keep on moving for a large part of each day. It is harmful just to sit or lie down all day long. It is healthful to mow your lawn, wash your dishes, make your bed, vacuum your house, go for a walk, and participate with your friends in activities in which you are moving your arms and legs — dancing, cycling, swimming, running, nature walks and so forth.

To gain maximum health benefits from your skeletal muscles, you should include some sort of resistance exercise. See Resistance Exercise You Can Do at Home.  Since lifting heavier weights is far more likely to injure you than lifting lighter weights, I recommend that you lift lighter weights with far more repetitions. Older people, in particular, can lift and lower a lighter weight up to 100 times in a row. Stop that exercise when the muscles start to feel tight or hurt.

Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com

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