You’ve probably already heard the saying that “normal” is just a setting on the washing machine. I’ve learned there really is no normal with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Sure, some things are similar between one person or another with the disease, but what’s normal for one individual may not be normal for another. The process can be gradual over a period of years or more aggressive over a series of weeks or months where you notice a change in yourself or a loved one. Changes in memory, mood, or behaviors that don’t improve can be a sign of health changes.
Self awareness of your body and mind allows you to monitor changes. A change in your own memory or that of someone else you are close with can be scary. Taking an honest look at any new patterns or behaviors might shed some light on what is happening. Have you been more forgetful lately? Did you lose track of where you were going or forget what you went into the bedroom for this week? How many times did it happen? What were you doing when it happened? Were you distracted by something else or did you simply forget?
Forgetfulness and cognitive decline can be a normal part of the aging process. We laugh at ourselves a little when we walk into a room and forget why we went in there, but usually quickly figure out why we are there. We may get frustrated by losing our car keys. I’ve learned that as we age, our cognitive function naturally declines and this really is normal. Forgetting where you put your keys or why you went into a room can just be part of our distraction or maybe we are tired. This begs the question as to when does this become concerning? Learning what is considered normal memory loss and what may be worthy of investigating further is important. An early diagnosis allows us to make lifestyle changes that can slow the onset of dementia, but only if we are aware and willing to seek help.
Can you retrace your steps to find the keys or remember why you went into a room? The very act of retracing your steps and logically thinking about your situation to find your keys may in fact mean this is normal aging. The inability to reason and think logically to retrace steps could be a sign of early symptoms. There are many causes for forgetfulness or what some might call “brain fog.” They key is ruling out the obvious causes.
Your physician can rule put other treatable conditions that may cause forgetfulness or dementia like symptoms and it is important to rule those out first. “Treatable” is a key word choice since there currently is no treatment or cure for dementia. Scientists have determined the largest risk factor for developing dementia is age. Certain physical changes in the brain like the development of plaques and tangles known as amyloid and tau are can be identified in specific tests performed by a neurologist. Research in this area is advancing what is known about the disease, but a cure or even a treatment is not available at this time. The current medications treat the symptoms, but do not cure dementia. We’ll explore the research in a future blog. Your doctor can also explain the pharmacological interventions to help manage symptoms.
Certainly visit a doctor if you or someone you know experience recurring episodes of memory loss or other behavior that concerns you such as changes in temperament, mood, or loss of interest in things that used to bring joy. Your physician can use a variety of tools to help diagnose dementia. Getting an annual checkup even without symptoms of health concerns is an important part of taking charge of your health and wellness. Intervening early can help lower the risk factors for dementia not related to age like blood pressure and diabetes. Discussing the other risk factors for developing dementia with your physician is important to help you and your loved ones create a care plan. Taking charge of your health is empowering.
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