When you work in the world that I do, there’s rarely a day that goes by that I don’t hear someone refer to one of their “senior moments.” Just to be clear, these experiences are not only very real, they are also very common. As I often do, I will remind you once again that it isn’t forgetting where the car keys are, it’s forgetting what the car keys are for. As we age, many of us become victims of what are known as “Mild Cognitive Impairments” (MCI’s) and in some cases, not all, this can be an introduction to Alzheimer’s disease.
Depending upon whom you ask, most statistics will vary but in this case, they don’t vary much. Currently it’s believed that at age 65 about 10% of the population suffers from MCI’s, at 75 that figure jumps to 15% but at age 85 nearly 50% of the population will suffer from Mild Cognitive Impairments. Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, MCI’s don’t have any serious impact on your normal day. They don’t affect your ability to work, to live independently, to maintain normal activities or to lead a normal social life. As far as your memory is concerned, MCI’s result in minimal to mild memory issues and as we just mentioned, you’re still able to perform your usual daily activities without much difficulty. Researchers at The Mayo Clinic describe MCI’s as that place between normal everyday forgetfulness like misplacing the car keys or forgetting someones name and remembering it later and dementia. When these episodes of forgetfulness begin to impact the individuals everyday functions they may be graduating to dementia.
Remember that dementia is a symptom, not a diagnosis and some of those familiar symptoms are memory loss, language problems like difficulty with word retrieval, the inability to absorb new information, the inability to reason, paranoia and a loss of interest in socialization. Should you make the decision to bring your loved one to a specialist for an evaluation because you do suspect dementia, you can expect the first thing that they will do is check them for reversible dementias. These can be brought on by everything from an under active thyroid gland, a vitamin deficiency and especially a very common culprit like a urinary tract infection (UTI) or pneumonia. Should the specialist rule out reversible dementias as a cause for some of the behaviors I’ve mentioned, you can safely assume you are now in the dementia zone.
As we age, it’s only reasonable to expect that we’re not going to be as sharp as we once were and that’s perfectly normal. Even if your loved one does develop MCI’s you should find consolation in the fact that their ability to function very well can last years in spite of the impairments. With Alzheimer’s disease, there is a slow progression of the illness that steals a little of them almost every day.
I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not but as of today, there are no statistics regarding what percentage of individuals with MCI’s that go on to develop full blown Alzheimer’s disease. What is particularly telling though is the fact that although not everyone diagnosed with MCI’s developed Alzheimer’s (or another dementia), there isn’t one person with Alzheimer’s that didn’t start with MCI’s.
If you’re that at home caregiver, I’ll remind you once again, take notes or keep a journal of their behaviors. Be proactive and get to the Specialist early so they can do their tests and establish a Base line for your loved one. Finally, also be proactive and learn as much about dementia and dementia care as you can. Learn about managing and dealing with the illness as well as where there are resources you can use and how to use them. I think you might agree that although it’s nice to hope for the best, when it comes to dealing with challenges of caring for one with dementia, you’re better off preparing for the worst.
Questions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, Join the Journey.