Through the graciousness of my local book store I was recently invited, along with one other author, to do a talk about my book at the local library. We were allowed to take questions and I was asked by one of the attendees if I thought she was on the “road to dementia.” Apparently she was having those occasional and frustrating experiences of forgetting where she left her glasses or remembering the name of someone she hadn’t seen in a while. Her Grandmother had died from Alzheimer’s and she was concerned that this was where she was headed.
It doesn’t matter if you’re on the clinical or behavioral side of this issue, none of us has a crystal ball, especially in the early stages of the illness. What I will share with you if you’re concerned about inheriting dementia is, ask yourself what type of dementia your loved one has/had? If it was caused by alcohol abuse, head trauma, a heart attack or stroke and you’ve never had any of those experiences, then you can relax. Taking care of yourself with a good diet and exercise (your body and mind), managing your blood pressure and diabetes if necessary, will go a long way to helping you avoid a cognitive decline.
There are three different phases that we may find ourselves in as we age. If you’re one that occasionally forgot where you left your book or where your glasses or the car keys are and those are your only issues then you may be dealing with what is known as N.A.R.M.L. or normal age related memory loss. Emphasis on normal. You may have heard it before, “it’s not forgetting where the car keys are, it’s forgetting what the car keys are for.”
The next phase is a little more serious and is known as suffering from MCI’s or mild cognitive impairments. It’s important to understand that although not everyone that suffers from MCI’s will develop Alzheimer’s, everyone that does develop Alzheimer’s first had MCI’s. The difference between MCI’s and NARML is that those with MCI’s also experience issues with language e.g word retrieval, judgment and problem solving. Also, their memory loss may be more chronic and not just occasional. In spite of the fact that MCI’s may be “the canary in the coal mine” or the harbinger of things to come, that is not always the case and there are many who suffer with MCI’s that never develop dementia.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease and the key thing that sets MCI’s apart from Alzheimer’s disease is that their memory loss is affecting their “ADL’s or activities of daily living. These include eating, bathing dressing, toileting/personal hygiene functions and continence. If your loved one is having issues like these then they have graduated into the “dementia zone.”
With all of this said, it’s important for you to remember that there are reversible dementias. If you have ever known a senior with a UTI or urinary tract infection, they will display many of the traditional symptoms of dementia. Like wise, the cause could be a thyroid disorder, a vitamin deficiency or even normal pressure hydrocephalus or water on the brain; all of which are treatable.
I remind people all the time that I am not a physician nor a diagnostician. If you’re concerned for yourself or your loved one then I encourage you to make an appointment with the appropriate physician and share everything with them. Keep a journal of the challenges that you or your loved one may be experiencing and bring it to your doctor as that will go a long way in helping them with their diagnosis.
There are tests you can take yourself like the SAGE exam but as I remind everyone, don’t try and play “Dr. Google” and try to interpret the results your self; leave that to the appropriate professionals.
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