Can’t find your keys?
Well it’s probably NOT a sign of Alzheimer’s disease. We tend to worry about such things as we get older. As we age, it’s common place to start wondering if those little memory slips, word finding difficulties and “lapses” in our loved ones, if not ourselves, aren’t a sign of dementia.
Whether it’s knowing that there are 5.2 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease, or reflecting on your own experience with “critical missing” older adults, people have woken up to the reality that your brain slows down with age just like other parts of your body. With Alzheimer’s disease, abnormal proteins develop in your brain forming “plaques and tangles.” Eventually the connectivity between the cells is lost and the cells die. Alzheimer’s disease tends to progress for a considerable time before the first symptoms are observed. The time from diagnosis to death varies, from as little as 3 or 4 years if the person is older than 80 when diagnosed to as long as 10 or more years if the person is younger. Alzheimer’s is the most prevalent type of dementia, but there are others as well.
Dementia refers to a group of symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to think clearly, to reason and to establish memories. There are many conditions that can cause dementia including head trauma, vascular disease, and strokes. Even high alcohol consumption, which can lead to an increased risk of transient ischemic attacks (TIA’s) or mini-strokes, can result in a form of dementia.
There are also a number of temporary or reversible conditions that can mimic the symptoms of dementia. Some common examples include medication side effects (medications can act differently in older adults), interactions among medications, psychological conditions such as depression, changes in hearing and vision, infections, blood clots, dehydration and nutritional deficiencies. Each of these, to varying extents, can appear to others as signs of dementia involving thinking and memory. A thorough examination and workup is necessary to determine if this is dementia or another issue.
Feeling Suspicious? Here’s What To Do
Although Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias are not yet curable, there are often ways of slowing, if not improving, day-to-day cognitive functioning, reducing stress and improving quality of life. One of the first and best things you can do is to visit a specialist in neurology. Among older adults, you may want to seek out physicians whose practices specialize in elder care, since medication dosages and other issues become more nuanced in older adults. Caring for someone who has any form of dementia can, in and of itself, be a very stressful experience. Here are some simple suggestions for caregivers:
- Start the conversation early, “What happens if…”
- Learn as much as you can about the illness
- Don’t try to do it all yourself, get help
- Take care of your own health (exercise, proper nutrition, adequate rest)
- Locate (in person or on-line) caregiver support groups for emotional support and practical advice
For more detailed information on Alzheimer’s and help for caregivers, please visit-
– Jay Nagdimon