By: Anita Kamiel, RN, MPS
They are quips we hear often enough—when you forget a well-known name or where you left your keys: “I’m having a senior moment,” or, “My Alzheimer’s is setting in!” As we age, the body changes, including the composition of the brain making the elderly more prone to mild forgetfulness. Sometimes these memory slips are nothing to worry about, but sometimes they may signal something more serious, like mild cognitive impairment or even Alzheimer’s disease. Fortunately, scientists keep fine tuning their understanding of normal memory loss and the alarm bells regarding which type of dementia may be present.
Memory problems may be related to treatable health issues such as chronic cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, alcoholism, tumors, infections, blood clots in the brain or thyroid, kidney, or liver disorders which may all cause memory loss or dementia. Side effects from medications can be a cause, as can certain vitamin deficiencies. Research has shown that anemia, common in the elderly, could increase the risk of dementia. Additionally, emotional problems like stress, anxiety or depression, can leave a person feeling distracted, making them appear more forgetful. Once these issues are addressed, the dementia may be halted or even reversed.
While almost all seniors experience memory lapses, some experience mild cognitive impairment (MCI). If we view dementia as a 7 stage process with stage 1 having no cognitive problems and 7 having severe, this would be considered stage 3 (www.dementiacarecentral.com). It is typically the initial stage of forgetfulness, by and large noticeable only to loved ones. Those diagnosed with MCI could still live independently with their mild cognition issues. Symptoms include misplacing items, having trouble remembering the names of recently met individuals and difficulty with the flow of conversations. Diagnosis is tough since no definitive test is available, but an experienced geriatrician can recognize MCI with short mental tests, family input and by ruling out other mitigating factors. Unfortunately, the FDA hasn’t approved treatment for MCI, but doctors sometimes go “off label” and prescribe drugs used for treating Alzheimer’s.
When memory slips get more intense, it could indicate Alzheimer’s disease. MCI is one of the stages toward Alzheimer’s, but MCI doesn’t always result in Alzheimer’s. However, MCI does increase the risk of getting the disease. The Alzheimer’s Association is a great resource and has a list of the 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
- Challenges in planning or solving problems.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work or leisure
- Confusion with time or place.
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
- New problems with words in speaking or writing.
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
- Decreased or poor judgment.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities.
- Changes in mood and personality.
The Alzheimer’s Association also lays out a comparison between Alzheimer’s and normal aging. For example, an Alzheimer’s patient loses track of the date and time of year as opposed to forgetting the day and remembering it later. Someone with Alzheimer’s cannot handle monthly bills while a normal senior might miss a monthly payment. Alzheimer’s results in trouble with whole conversations versus forgetting which word to use; misplacing things regularly versus once in awhile. MCI symptoms would fall between these extremes and is viewed as the third stage toward the seven stages of Alzheimer’s.
As soon as you notice cognitive problems in your loved one, it’s important to consult a doctor and a geriatrician would be a good choice. Conducting a thorough health evaluation—including review of medical history, prescription and over-the-counter medicines, diet, past medical problems and general health—is necessary to getting to the root of the problem.
The earlier the diagnosis, the better enabling the elderly to take advantage of all current and cutting edge treatments available. There are many therapies that can be implemented early on, some even non-pharmacologic, to try to slow the progress of the condition. Early diagnosis affords family members plenty of time for planning and ensuring a safe living arrangement is set in place. This stressful process can be greatly eased by consulting with organizations and professionals who work with the elderly and their diseases on a regular basis.
Anita Kamiel, R.N, M.P.S. is the founder and owner of David York Home Healthcare Agency and is fully acquainted with all factors related to eldercare services and the latest guidelines for seniors. Thirty years ago, she realized the need for affordable, quality home health aide services provided and supervised by caring individuals. You can contact her at 718.376.7755 or at www.davidyorkagency.com. David York Agency is also on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.