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Is it Forgetfulness or is it Alzheimer’s?

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I have not taken a real opinion poll, but from feedback I get as a geriatric care manager from my clients what scares them most is not the prospect of dying.  It is the prospect of losing their mental abilities.  Alzheimer’s disease is high on the list of “feared medical conditions” even though it is down at number seven on the list of overall causes of death among Americans.  With “National Memory Screening Day” coming up on 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 or function.  Alzheimer’s has a lot of “name recognition,” but there also is vascular dementia.  Vascular dementia is a result of the arteries that bring blood to the brain hardening.  Just like the kind of hardening of arteries that starves the heart over time, 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 dementia.  Substance abuse – common among 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 onset of Alzheimer’s disease you can look for include when the individual:

  • Tells the same stories
  • Asks the same questions
  • Has difficulty with numbers
  • No longer does the things they commonly 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 notable events from that day.  The next morning they should review what they wrote the night before to determine if they can remember them.  It gives them peace of mind, because we tend to forget that everyone forgets some things along the way.

There is a lot more ground to cover on this, and I will get to more in later postings.  For more answers or resources, go to the web site of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.  I also would like to address your concerns or questions in future postings, so please e-mail me at Charlotte Bishop.

Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families throughout metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to Charlotte Bishop.,geriatric care manager Chicago,geriatric care Chicago.

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