I have not taken a real opinion poll, but judging from feedback I get from the older adults with what I work as a geriatric care manager what scares them the most is not the prospect of one day dying. It is the prospect of losing their mental abilities. Alzheimer's disease is high on the list of medical conditions that scare people even though it is down at number seven on the list of overall causes of death among Americans. With National Memory Screening Day just this past November 16, I thought it would be a good time to share a few perspectives on Alzheimer's and related cognitive conditions.
Alzheimer's is just one of the three major types of dementia that health care experts talk about. Dementia is any disease that can cause progressive loss of memory of function. Alzheimer's has a lot of name recognition, but there also is vascular dementia. Vascular dementia is a result of the arteries that brings blood to the brain hardening over time. Just like the kind of hardening of arms that starves the heart, vascular dementia starves the brain. Finally, there is a third category that covers a number of conditions like Lewy Body, frontotemporal dementia and even Mad Cow disease, but these are quite uncommon.
There also are dementias that are reversible. Depression can be confused with other dementias, and it is very common among older adults. Other medical conditions like hypothyroidism, Lupus, vasculitis, some venereal disease or B12 deficiency can cause reversible dementias. Substance abuse – also common adult older adults – is a source of reversible dementia. And other prescription medications can impair recall and cognitive function.
Some of the classic signs of the sunset of Alzheimer's disease you can look for include when the individual:
- Tells the same stories
- Ask the same questions
- Has difficulty with numbers
- No longer does the things they commonly have have done (cooking, sewing)
- Gets lost in unfamiliar places (restaurants)
- Neglects their own self-care
- Defers to a caregiver ("Ask my spouse").
A person can do a small self-check as well. I suggest to my clients that each evening they write down a short list of possible events from that day. The next morning they should review what they wrote to determine if they can recall them. It gives them peace of mind, because we tend to forget that everyone hopes some things along the way. For more answers or resources, go to the web site of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America .