Dementia, Depression and Diagnoses

Over the past few years, more money has been spent on breast implants and Viagra than has been spent on Alzheimer’s research.  It is believed that by the year 2030, there will be a large number of people wandering around with huge breasts and erections — who can’t remember what to do with them. — Andy Rooney

Something tells me that even in twenty years, people will be able to figure it out … memory loss or no memory loss.  There are some things we can depend on in this life.  Women with large breasts will always get more attention (and back pain) and men with erections will always know what to do with them.  I am more concerned with remembering the name of my plastic surgeon and my husband’s urologist when we hit our golden years.  Getting older is scary and after not being able to make it to the bathroom, I think senility is everyone’s biggest fear.  So, if you are becoming more forgetful and you relate to any of the signs of abnormal memory loss from yesterday’s entry, what can it be?

1.  Depression causes loss of focus and memory loss.  If you are experiencing loss of energy, lack of desire to partake in activities you used to find enjoyable and memory loss, depression – not dementia – should top your list of diagnoses.  To many, depression seems to be a luxury for the young and middle aged.  Older people may discount it as a possibility for them.  But, your odds of becoming depressed go up as you age and if you are fearful that your frequent “senior moments” are a result of impending senility, you should be thrilled to find out that you are depressed.

2.  Drugs and alcohol can cause memory loss not only while you are enjoying them (what?) but even years after the fact, especially if you used them excessively.  This is why people who grew up in the 60s can look back so fondly on that decade.  They’ve forgotten about the social unrest, Vietnam and bell bottoms.  Many prescription drugs can have memory loss as a side effect which is one more reason to remember to make an appointment with your doctor.

3.  Head injury can cause long term memory loss.  Multiple concussions or even small blows to the head like those taken on a soccer field or in Catholic school, can result in difficulty remembering.  While you can’t undo what is done, it is something to think about for our children on and off the field.

4.  Dementia is not the name of a specific disease.  It means “deprived of mind” and is the term used to describe any loss of cognitive functioning in a previously unimpaired person beyond what can be expected from normal aging.  Memory loss is the hallmark sign but other signs include language and comprehension problems and difficulty doing day to day activities such as dressing oneself and bathing.

5.  Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia.  The risk of getting Alzheimer’s increases with age and the majority of patients are over 65.  Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease makes up five percent of the affected populations and is seen in people in their 40s and 50s.  It is a progressive disease.  While most memory loss does not worsen dramatically with time (with the exception of the countdown to Christmas), people with Alzheimer’s disease experience a steady and often rapid decline.  It is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. with an average life expectancy of eight years after noticeable symptoms.  Click here for the warning signs and a good comparison of normal memory loss vs. Alzheimer’s disease.  While it is not curable, there are drugs and therapies that can slow the progression and increase the quality of life for someone with this disease.

Tomorrow, risk factors and prevention.
Two of my grandparents are still living.  My grandfather is 98 and my grandmother is 93.  They live independently and while they are sick and tired of being sick and tired, their minds are as sharp as tacks.  They credit this with drinking eight ounces of V8 everyday and smoking only in moderation.  I credit it with their competitive drive to outlive each other.  May the best nonagenarian win.

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