by Scott Halstead, Ph.D.
Everyone knows that we become forgetful as we grow older, right? Wrong. Memory problems are not a normal part of aging, but it isn’t always easy to know the difference between normal changes that affect us as we grow older and more serious symptoms that might be the sign of real memory problems that we normally associate with dementia.
Dementia is the descriptive term for any medical condition that causes memory problems and problems with at least one other brain function, such as speech, concentration, or more complex thinking involving problem solving, planning, and organization. Two of the most widespread forms of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for 60 percent of those with dementia, and vascular dementia which accounts for 20 percent.
Alzheimer’s disease is present in as much as 50 percent of the population over age 85. Because the number of adults over age 65 is expected to nearly triple by 2050, there is a strong need to identify these symptoms and treat them as best we can.
Although there are many exciting treatment possibilities being studied, there is not currently any way to stop or reverse the symptoms in most types of dementia. But because some dementias can be the result of reversible medical conditions, the first phone call should always be to one’s primary care physician to discuss the symptoms.
Though there is no cure, there is current treatment with a medication that helps injured brain cells work more efficiently, and there is a second kind of medication generally administered later in the process that can keep some healthy brain cells from dying. Because treatments are most effective when started early, it’s critical to get an early diagnosis.
- Repeating questions or statements
- Forgetting to pay bills or paying them twice
- Missing scheduled appointments
- Uncharacteristically misplacing items around the house
- Changes in mood and personality
- Decreased motivation
- Uncharacteristically making rude or inappropriate comments
- Having difficulty with problem-solving
- Having problems with complex activities (Example: driving)
- Becoming more easily confused
The key to reducing the risk of dementia is to develop a healthy lifestyle when one is young. It’s all about balanced living.
- Keep mentally active by reading, learning a new language, attending community lectures, etc.
- Keep physically active
- Watch what you eat
- Get enough sleep
- Develop new hobbies
- Avoid excessive alcohol use
Seek help when:
- The situation at home becomes dangerous. For example, if adults are unable to prepare meals and do not get enough food.
- They are forgetting to take important medications.
- They are unable to keep themselves or their homes clean.
It bears repeating, because there are many causes of dementia, anyone concerned about themselves or a loved one should discuss the symptoms with their family doctor.
Scott Halstead, PhD, is clinical neuropsychologist and corporate director of Pine Rest’s outpatient services.