Can Arahants Have Alzeihmer?

Or dementia? If not, why?

I can’t recall any Sutta which state that an Arahant was suffered from alzeihmer or dementia.
The way I understand Arahant pass away with mindfulness.

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Yes, they are subject to dukkha like everyone else.

I don’t know what those two medical conditions are beyond stereotype, but perhaps the question you’re looking for, @Vstakan, is whether the arahant is depicted in the early texts as having forgotten mindfulness?

A search on SC for “muṭṭha sati” yields as first result that the Theragatha at Thag 16.5 has the line “rūpaṃ disvā sati muṭṭhā”. That might be a good start to begin to frame the question.


We don’t know what the life expectancy of people then were. Alzheimer dementia is common now as it is an illness of old age and people are living much longer now (though the Buddha lived long).

This might be an example of an arahanth who fell sick, though it doesn’t say whether it affected his mindfulness:

with metta


i tried to touch upon a similar topic in

i believe they can, which doesn’t affect their attainment

it’s possible however that in a kamma of an arahant in all cases aptitude for development of mental disability is necessarily excluded, but this is a baseless speculation

No, certainly they can not. The answer is neuroplasticity.

Mental illness is not the same as physical illness, that is why the official term is not “mental illness” but “mental disorder”. If the person attends in a bad way or develops bad habits, the brain chemistry will change according to this. It is not the other way around, like in physical illness. Even people with half of their brain blown by a bullet can recover sometimes perfectly and have all their functions moved in the other half of the brain thanks to neuroplasticity.

Alzheimer or dementia is caused by certain mental behaviors developed earlier in life. Because of bad mental behavior of the person, brain chemistry changes through neuroplasticity and culminates in Alzheimer or dementia in old age.

Brain chemistry of an arahant can not change in a bad way because he does not have bad mental tendencies. On the contrary, his brain chemistry is changed in a positive way.

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I can’t recall any Sutta where arahants died of cancer, doesn’t mean they can’t. Besides, I am not sure mindfulness is something affected by these conditions.

No, I literally mean dementia, Alzheimer or other similar medical conditions affecting the inetellectual abilties of an individual.

Not really sure about that. Dementia may be affected in certai ways by choices people make, but no-one really knows why Alzheimer happens.

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We actually do know a little about the cause but I can’t remember it well, maybe someone could help. If I remember well it is lack of mindfulness caused by constant engaging into too much thinking, addiction towards taking pleasures in thoughts.

What we do know for sure is about the existence of neuroplasticity. Mental disorders in an arahant would contradict neuroplasticity. That would contradict the laws about how the mental chemistry of the brain work. Therefore they can not happen.

Why? I don’t really see your point. There are people with half of their brain blown away, and heard about functioning normally after that, but how many people don’t? I mean, there are mental illnesses of unknown nature like schizophrenia which may have little or no physical causes so we can play the neuroplasticity card, but dementia and Alzheimer (yeah, there was some research, but no serious researcher would say it is because of too much thinking, he would be laughed out of his or her job) are with a very very high probability conditions that do have a physical cause. My girlfriend studied neuropsychology and had to work with dementia patients and study dementia a lot, and it is totally physically based.

My point is, sure, neuroplasticity is a thing, but saying arahants can never have dementia kind of amounts to saying they can never have cancer, i.e. the cells making up their bodies can never go rogue, which in its turn amounts to saying they are supernatural beings. If you are ready to commit to this point of view, the sure :slight_smile:

I don’t think you understand what neuroplasticity discoveries have proven. They had not proven that disorders ( do not use illness, use disorder) have no physical cause. What it has proven is that this physical cause was caused by mental activity, not the other way around as some used to think.

For example someone has depression. Because of attending in a bad way, he develops depression and the brain chemistry changes because of that. Before neuroplasticity, people believed this change in chemistry happens without a psychological cause and is actually the primordial cause. They taught this chemical imbalance is causing the psychological manifestations of the person. But neuroplasticity has shown that it’s the other way around. First the person starts developing bad mental tendencies and the chemistry changes because of that.

but saying arahants can never have dementia kind of amounts to saying they can never have cancer,

Neuroplasticity only extends to the brain, not to the rest of the physical body. That’s why it’s called “neuro”

is this supported scientifically?

mental disorders may develop as a result of shortage in blood supply to certain parts of the brain due to problems in blood passage through arteries connected to the brain, so causes of mental disorders can be very much physical

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As a psychiatrist I can say for certain that there is nothing which is completely psychological (mental) -there is always something happening in the body or the brain which corresponds to the ‘mental’ event. With the brain-body divide schizophrenia used to be considered a mental illness but now they find soft neurological signs and fMRI changes in the brain specific to schizophrenia- so there is nothing which is entirely mental. This is well in line with Buddhist teachings.

Aetiology of Alzheimer’s dementia: -rather technical…

with metta



Show me one single brain scientists who says dementia has no physical cause and neuroplasticity proves it, and I will totally agree. Until then, and based on everything my girlfriend told me about these things - and as someone knowledgeable in neuropsychology she sure heard about neuroplasticity - I can say neuroplasticity proves that the capacities of the brain are amazing and greater than we thought, we it in no way proves brain illnesses have no physical cause.

Sorry mate, but you have no right to issue commands to me, I will use the language I consider fit. :slight_smile:

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I’ve only seen one study long ago saying they had discovered a change in the chemical composition of the brain in the prefrontal cortex or somewhere that mean this was because of too much thinking.

From this I draw the Buddhist-worded conclusion that I posted. Addiction to taking pleasure out of thoughts causes lack of mindfulness. But as Vstakan has said, research has not been conclusive and this paper that I’ve read also had a title like “has Alzheimer cause finally been found ?”

Can you please be a bit more specific? Besides, what does it have to do with Alzheimer?

it would be interesting to know the criteria by which volume of thinking is measured

It is measured based on the amount of chemical changes in the prefrontal cortex or whatever the area that changes it’s composition due to too much thinking. (I am not an expert but I’m quite sure it’s the prefrontal cortex) But things are a little more subtle and the specific way in witch that area of the brain had changed needs to be closely investigated. By tracking the changes in the physical side of the brain, we can track the past mental behavior of the person. Neuroplasticity was not discovered yesterday, it was discovered more than a decade ago.

But as I’ve said, I’ve read this study long ago and it would be interesting if somebody could post such studies dealing with areas of brain that suffer changes due to Alzheimer. Surely there must have appeared even better studies in recent years.

Unfortunately I don’t know of any relevant suttas, but I have heard the beautiful stories of a friend who knew Maha Ghosananda and used to visit him in a nursing home when he had Alzheimers. My friend Greg says Maha Ghosananda would beam at him when he came to visit and be completely enchanted with some tiny gift like a single flower. He had no idea who Greg or any of his visitors were and couldn’t remember what they were talking about from one minute to the next, but he would still encourage them in dhamma, and fill the room with his joy and metta. When Greg would leave, Maha Ghosananda would look around for something to give him, and often end up giving him the same flower he had brought.