Our American culture pre-programs people to believe that cognitive function declines as we age. There are countless jokes, even television sitcoms that exploit Grandma leaving the car keys in the freezer or Grandpa getting lost on the way home from the grocery or groping for a word or name.
While we may chuckle at the foibles of the elderly, it’s not funny when it happens to us or those we love.
Perhaps we laugh because we are uncomfortably aware that we may share this fate.
Perhaps it is also because our culture tends to dismiss the wisdom of our elders, unlike Native American societies or indigenous cultures who live close to the Earth.
Perhaps it is also a self-fulfilling prophecy that the elderly start to become forgetful – or worse— and since we believe this will happen, it does.
We know that cells deteriorate with age. Over time, the body’s ability to reproduce and create new cells that are exact copies of the previous ones begins to decline. If new cells are not precisely the same as their parent cells, cells don’t function as well as cells did in earlier generations.
In simple terms, many bodily functions do decline with age and brain function is among them. Older people may be forgetful, lose their ability to maintain focus and have diminished ability to solve problems and multi-task, something that is frequently called executive function today. Studies suggest 10 to 20 percent of the population over the age of 65 has some level of mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
Probably many of my readers are wondering, “Do I have cognitive impairment?”
If you’re reading this article, my answer would be, “Probably not.”
Yet you may wonder if the problem is more serious. How do you know if it’s just mild cognitive impairment, sometimes called age-related cognitive decline, or dementia or Alzheimer’s (a form of dementia)?
What’s normal, what’s not
Here’s a good comparison of symptoms from the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org):
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s is memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; increasingly needing to rely on memory aids (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own.What’s a typical age-related change?
Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.What’s a typical age-related change?
Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game.What’s a typical age-related change?
Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show.
- Confusion with time or place
People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.What’s a typical age-related change?
Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast, which may cause problems with driving.What’s a typical age-related change?
Vision changes related to cataracts.
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a “watch” a “hand-clock”).What’s a typical age-related change?
Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to re-trace steps
A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time.What’s a typical age-related change?
Misplacing things from time to time and retracing steps to find them.
- Decreased or poor judgment
People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.What’s a typical age-related change?
Making a bad decision once in a while.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
A person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced.What’s a typical age-related change?
Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations.
- Changes in mood and personality
The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone.What’s a typical age-related change?
Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ALZHEIMER’S AND TYPICAL
|Signs of Alzheimer’s/dementia||Typical age-related changes|
|Poor judgment and decision-making||Making a bad decision once in a while|
|Inability to manage a budget||Missing a monthly payment|
|Losing track of the date or the season||Forgetting which day it is and remembering it later|
|Difficulty having a conversation||Sometimes forgetting which word to use|
|Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them||Losing things from time to time|
What to do if you notice these signs
If you notice any of the 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s in yourself or someone you know, don’t ignore them. Schedule an appointment with your doctor.
With early detection, you can: Get the maximum benefit from available treatments – You can explore treatments that may provide some relief of symptoms and help you maintain a level of independence longer. You may also increase your chances of participating in clinical drug trials that help advance research.
The following post originally appears on this website in July of 2013. We felt the content added value to this article.
My mother died of Alzheimer’s disease a year ago July 22, although I have to say the mom I knew died several years earlier when her cognitive function faltered, she was unable to perform the simplest tasks, her personality changed and the light went out in her eyes.
Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease. It is devastating to the person who suffers from it and equally devastating to family and loved ones.
I miss mom more than I imagined I would, even though her death was a mercy to her and to us.
And, like many Boomers who have experienced this kind of loss, I’m concerned about my own future and hopeful that I can make some choices that will protect my family from Alzheimer’s.
There are so many things we can do to keep our brains healthy and I always like to say or my mind, “Use it or lose it.” I do keep active, I still work full-time, I am active in many community activities, I read and I exercise. I know all of these are steps in the right directions to lifelong mental clarity.
Recently, I’ve come across information on three exciting nutritional approaches to Alzheimer’s prevention that I want to share with you:
Increasingly exciting research shows that curcumin made from the rhizome (the tuberous underground portion of the turmeric plant) is a powerful brain protector. University of Florida research h shows it can actually stimulate the brain to produce new cells, something that was once believed impossible.
UCLA research also shows that curcumin destroys the dangerous beta-amyloid protein that forms the plaques and tangles characteristic of Alzheimer’s.
Research underway in Australia may actually produce a simple means of early diagnosis through blood tests and by analyzing curcumin the retina of the eye.
Pother research suggests Alzheimer’s not only helps generate new neurons, this powerful antioxidant can improve memory in people already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
If you’re considering curcumin, take only the BCM-95 ™ formulation, which is easily absorbed. Here’s an excellent book http://www.amazon.com/Curcumin-21st-Century-Cure-ebook/dp/B005SITREY/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1374513772&sr=1-1&keywords=curcumin that gives you all the information on curcumin and Alzheimer’s and also documents curcumin’s benefits for a wide variety of other health conditions.
While extensive research hasn’t been conducted on coconut oil yet, I see no harm in taking two tablespoons a day when the potential benefits are so great.
A Florida doctor treated her husband, who had been diagnosed with progressing Alzheimer’s, on the theory that again brain cells become starved for glucose, their major “food.”
Dr. Mary Newport, who is a neonatalogist, began to search for alternative “foods” for the brain cells and came across information about medium chain triglycerides from coconut oil that might help those glucose-deprived brain cells survive and even thrive.
The results are documented in a video http://tv.greenmedinfo.com/coconut-oil-improves-alzheimers-patients-ithin-minutes/ that shows Mr. Newport’s progression back to normal brain function with 60 days. http://tv.greenmedinfo.com/coconut-oil-improves-alzheimers-patients-ithin-minutes/ and make your own choices.
The miracle of vitamin D is being documented daily. This vitamin is actually a hormone and our best source is through direct exposure of skin to sunlight. It’s also one of my favorites, since it is totally free.
New research published in the May issue of Neurology shows a clear connection between Alzheimer’s and vitamin D levels in the blood.
Two other important studies published in the past six months show links between vitamin D levels and cognitive function in older women and another shows demonstrated that Vitamin D helps clear beta amyloid plaques that develop in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. This may mean that vitamin D can help reverse Alzheimer’s, but that isn’t clear at this point, since the brain damage itself may not be reversible. It does, though, strongly indicate that vitamin D can prevent that damage.
Lose your sunscreen and get out in the sun!