January 29, 2007
Everybody has moments when they forget things. Whether they
are trying to remember where they last had the car keys,
what the math homework was supposed to be, what exactly it
was they went into the kitchen to get, or that word that is
right on the tip of the tongue... everyone has forgetful
Often the stereotype is that memory fades as people age,
and young people are able to remember everything. If you
are one of those young people, then you probably know that
this is not the case. As for memory fading as people age,
that is not necessarily the case, either.
"Everybody's memory fades as they get older, right? Not so,
according to recent research funded by the National
Institute on Aging (NIA), a component of the National
Institutes of Health. These studies suggest that memory
loss is not a normal part of aging, and that keeping your
mind active is the key to maintaining brain function." http://www.nih.gov/news/WordonHealth/oct99/story02.htm
If "memory loss is not a normal part of aging," then what
is really going on?
"Dementia is a brain disorder that seriously affects a
person's ability to carry out daily activities. Alzheimer's
disease is the most common form of dementia among older
people. It involves the parts of the brain that control
thought, memory, and language." http://nihseniorhealth.gov/alzheimersdisease/defined/01.html
While "the most common form of dementia," it can still
sneak up on people with signs and symptoms that can be
"Alzheimer's disease begins slowly. At first, the only
symptom may be mild forgetfulness. People with Alzheimer's
disease may have trouble remembering recent events,
activities, or the names of familiar people or things.
Simple math problems may become hard to solve. Such
difficulties may be a bother, but usually they are not
serious enough to cause alarm." http://nihseniorhealth.gov/alzheimersdisease/symptoms/01.html
As people age, they may fear the worst if any of the signs
associated with Alzheimer's disease start to appear in
their life, or in the life of a loved one. Before settling
on a diagnosis, it is important to know:
"[T]here are many health conditions which mimic the
symptoms of Alzheimer's disease but are treatable. ...
Ask Your Doctor About:
* Possible Medication Interactions - If you take even two
medications, you may be experiencing dizziness, memory
loss, or other symptoms due to medication interactions.
Make a list ... including: Prescription Medications,
Vitamins, Herbal supplements, Over the counter products
(such as aspirin and cold medicine), Smoking cessation
products, Water and weight loss products, Topical Items
(such as arthritis ointment, athlete's foot treatment,
etc.), Other Items. ...
* Effect of Weight Loss/Gain & Medications - If you have
recently gained or lost even 10 pounds, you should ask your
doctor to check your medication levels. Some medications
are prescribed according to our weight ...
* Symptoms from Dehydration - If you are dehydrated or
malnourished, your body may not be processing your
medications correctly. ...
* Falls & Concussions - If you have fallen or hit your head
recently, you could have a concussion which can result in
sudden memory loss, dizziness, etc. Although you may not
realize it, a recent fall or serious bump on the head may
be the cause of your memory problems. ...
* Depression - Depression is a common problem among older
adults and affects as many as one in five older people. The
symptoms of depression are remarkably similar to those of
dementia. Physicians often mistake depression for dementia
... Remember that depression is treatable...
* Alcohol Use - Consuming too much alcohol, or drinking
alcohol while taking certain medications may result in
symptoms of memory loss."
First eliminating these other possible causes is key to a
proper diagnosis. Once other causes for the symptoms have
been ruled out, then the doctors and nurses assessing the
patient will ask further questions and run further tests
with the hope of confirming a diagnosis.
"It has been shown that word learning and recall and some
maze tests are impaired even in early Alzheimer's. Hence,
based on experience with many people, the assessor will
probably have some idea from the results obtained as to
whether the symptoms are merely normal aging or something
more serious. They will often want to repeat the tests
after a few weeks or months to see if there has been any
change. The doctor or nurse will also want detailed
information on other members of the family who have had
dementia, and also details of how the symptoms have
developed in the person being examined. Armed with all this
information, an experienced practitioner will be able to
diagnose Alzheimer's with 80 to 90 per cent certainty.
Brain scans such as Computed Tomography (CT), Magnetic
Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Positron Emission Tomography
(PET) can be used to confirm diagnosis, but in the very
early stages they often fail to show very much change.
Later on, there will be a significant and clear loss of
brain tissue and an enlargement of the fluid-filled spaces
(ventricles) in the brain, but by then the diagnosis is
probably fairly certain. Scans are most likely to be
performed in early-onset cases or to eliminate other
causes, for example, if a brain tumour is suspected." http://www.abpi.org.uk/publications/publication_details/targetAlzheimers/detection.asp
With the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, it is often
difficult to get a diagnosis with 100% certainty. It is key
to have an assessor with experience, but even then it is
difficult to know for certain until the disease has
progressed into its later stages. Once Alzheimer's is
suspected, it is important for the family to get together
and discuss the needs of the patient, and how the diagnosis
will affect the family as a whole.
"Challenging decisions and important choices arise, along
with uncertainty and often confusion, anxiety or fear. Some
decisions might need to be made right away. Others lie
ahead. The best future for you and your family depends on
understanding what is most important to each of you.
Recognizing and communicating your personal values about
everyday care enables you and your family to make the right
choices, one by one, as the situation changes. Today, in
many communities, resources exist to assist you and your
family now and in the future. For example, support groups,
counseling services and volunteer programs can help with
the emotional impact of the disease or disorder and enable
you to stay involved and active." http://www.caregiver.org/caregiver/jsp/content_node.jsp?nodeid=406
Adults who are dealing with the severe health problem of a
parent or loved one may not realize the affect that the
disease is having on the children, teens, and young adults
in the family. Even if they do, there are some things that
it can be difficult to prepare for.
"Eventually, the person may have trouble remembering the
names and faces of family members - or even who he or she
is. This can be very sad for the person and their families.
It's important to know that Alzheimer disease does not
affect kids." Kids Health
While Alzheimer's disease does not affect kids in the sense
that people do not get the disease as a child or teen,
Alzheimer's does affect the children and teens who know
someone with the disease.
"You might feel sad or angry - or both - if someone you
love has Alzheimer disease. You might feel nervous around
the person, especially if he or she is having trouble
remembering important things or can no longer take care of
himself or herself. ... If you visit a loved one who has
Alzheimer disease, try to be patient. He or she may have
good days and bad days. It can be sad if you no longer are
able to have fun in the same ways together. Maybe you and
your grandmother liked to go to concerts. If that's no
longer possible, maybe bring her some wonderful music on a
CD and listen together. It's a way to show her that you
care - and showing that love is important even if her
memory is failing." Kids Health
For more ideas of things to do with a friend or relative
who has Alzheimer's disease, you can visit:
"101 ways to spend time with a person with Alzheimer's
Questions of the Week:
What do children, teens, and young adults need to know
about Alzheimer's disease? Why do people who are to young
to have symptoms of the disease need to know about it? What
do people of different generations need to know about
Alzheimer's? How is this information similar to (and
different from) the information that younger people need?
How can you help someone you know who has Alzheimer's? What
can you do to help yourself -- or someone else -- best
manage with a diagnosis of Alzheimer's in the family?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions. Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum