Memory Loss is Normal for Older Adults (FALSE) … so WHY get tested?

First, Memory Loss is not normal as we age and is something you should discuss with your primary care physician if you notice it in yourself. There are several reasons why someone may have memory loss and many of them can be reversed. If you don’t pursue testing you will never know if your (or a loved ones) issue can be treated, slowed, reversed.

What is normal is slower processing speed. Our brain processing speed slows down generally at 50, but we should still be able to retrieve the information. If you believe you have short-term memory issues, speak with your primary care physician and request a visit to a neurologist for an evaluation if you don’t find a cause.

Understanding if you have a form of dementia can help you know if there are trials or treatments, as well as better plan for the future. It is also valuable to family members to know if and what form of dementia a relative may be diagnosed with.

I’m writing this as I am waiting for a client who is going through neuropyschological testing right now. Halfway through we shared lunch and she asked why she is bothering with this test since “memory loss is normal in someone my age.” We had a lively conversation around her believe that memory loss was a normal consequence of aging.

When she was losing her checkbook and couldn’t find it, ordering new checks and not recalling that she did it, and sending off money over and over to a friend, I asked her if she recognized she was having some issues with her memory. She said yes and she actually mentioned it to her primary care physician. He recommended she get a blood test, MRI, and neuro-psychological testing.

So here we are.

What I do know is that the testing was invaluable to me as the primary family caregiver for my parents. It helped me better understand the gaps in thinking for their different types of dementia (vascular and Alzheimer’s). I was able to attend the reporting session and what I learned help me realize that I was going to have to change because in all reality, my parent’s thinking was very different than it was previously. How they processed, and even recalled information had changed.

It also helped us understand how long they might live, and the type of care they were going to need.

For me, knowing was better than not knowing. I know everyone is different. Shared.

What I Wished I Knew When Dementia Was Diagnosed: Anosognosia(#1)

I was recently asked this question at a Caregiver Advisory Panel and there are 3 things I wish I had known when dementia was FINALLLLLYYYY diagnosed.  The reality is that many things can cause memory issues and it’s important to seek out a doctor to help determine if there is something that could easily resolve cognitive issues. There are many times when a medication conflict or a vitamin deficiency can be a root factor.

I had two parents who were simultaneously diagnosed with different types of dementia (Mom was Vascular/then Multi-Infarct; Dad was Alzheimer’s). While my Dad seemed to understand something was wrong, and a few times over the course of being his adult family caregiver he asked me about Alzheimer’s, my Mom patently denied having a stroke which led to her initial vascular dementia diagnosis.

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I thought she was just being stubborn which made things pretty difficult for all of us. When I learned about anosognosia, a word of Greek origin that roughly translates to “without knowledge of disease,” things made a lot more sense to me. I had learned to adapt because my Mom would not, but then once I learned of this, I understood that she really COULD NOT adapt.  In general, the person is unaware of their condition and unable to accept it.

My Mom was not simply in denial or being stubborn, her brain could not process the fact that her thoughts didn’t reflect reality. I did recognize that she would often confabulate information. Sometimes it was hilarious and other times it was tragically sad.

Knowing this can provide some insight into how you can best help someone diagnosed with dementia. I hope it can help make your journey with your loved one a little easier. Reflected. 

Learn How to Advocate for your Medical Needs – Healthy Habit #20

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The days of the family doctor are gone. Most doctors are crushed for time as they try to address your needs in what feels like a shrinking time window. The average time physicians are spending with patients is less than 24 minutes. According to The Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2017. Thirty percent of physicians spend 17 – 24 minutes with their patients. That is followed by 29 percent of physicians who are spending between 13 – 16 minutes with patients.

Here is a quick primer on 6 Ways to Be Your Own Health Advocate by Elizabeth Renter. In short, you need to arrive prepared and refuse to leave until you have a diagnosis or next step toward one. You may need to repeat this cycle if your condition persists. 

You have probably noticed that no one seems to do more than glance at the 4 (plus) pages you diligently completed before your appointment. After caring for my parents and navigating a host of doctors with them, I learned to come prepared for each appointment. I could quickly cite their health issues, medicines, and stated the reason for our visit. I learned that if the doctor in front of me could not resolve the issue, I would find a secondary resource to help.

It is now the requirement of every adult to be their own advocate. The healthcare system is unable to do that for you.

When it comes to short-term memory issues (remember this is not a normal consequence of aging) it is important to push to get diagnosed. It could be a side-effect from a medicine — and it can happen with medicines you have taken for years. If you notice a change, bring it up with your primary care physician. Some will do a screening for it, but I recommend you request a referral to a neurologist. Memory issues are not really a primary care physician’s expertise. The earlier you know you have an issue, the earlier YOU can decide how you want to live should it be permanent and should you decline.

This ideal applies to any medical issue that is impacting your quality of life. Push to find a reason and understand how it may impact the rest of your life.

If you know this is not your skillset, or are overwhelmed by other matters, consider a consultation with an Aging Life Care Manager. In minutes they would resolve issues that I failed to unravel in days when it came to caring for my parents. Visit this website to find one located near you.

Can you eventually figure it out? Most likely. I know because before I knew about Aging Life Care Managers, I was working to handle a lot of the issues as the primary family caregiver for my parents. However, I would do anything to have a mulligan and spend that time enjoying my parents’ company instead of fretting over the next medical hurdle to traverse. Wished.

Follow the Science on How Brains Age – Healthy Habit #2

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I wanted to understand how I could perhaps better recognize, prepare, and hopefully avoid the fate of my parent’s who both were diagnosed with different forms of dementia. One of the best things I did was to go through the Total Brain Health Certification. I met the founder Dr. Cynthia Green when we both appeared on The Dr. Oz Show.  Her book Total Memory Workout is a great primer on simple ways to maintain brain health and boost your memory.

The reality is that the common belief that “forgetfulness” is a normal sign of aging is false. Our brain processing slows down usually starting in our 50’s but the inability to recall information or short-term memory loss are signs of disease, not a typical reality of aging. But A LOT of people believe it and tell themselves it is normal.

If you understand how your brain ages, as well as how some of the changes in our brains actually make us MORE trusting (and why older adults are easier targets for fraud), you will be better able to plan and put systems in place to safely live well.

If you start to notice changes, you can then talk with your doctor. There are many things you can do if you catch issues early and some of them are entirely reversible.

If you have a loved one who is showing signs of memory loss, I hope you will raise the issue with them. I certainly tried with my parents. My Dad was open to pursue testing and investigate while my Mom shut down the idea that something was amiss. It took several years and many doctors before we found someone who would help us understand what was happening to our parents. Unfortunately, it was too late to do anything … and maybe there was nothing to be done. However, it would have helped if we could have talked through their wishes knowing a diagnosis of memory loss was made.

In the case of your brain health, knowing will afford you a lot more options. Recommended.

Here are a few articles to get you started:

Age-Associated Financial Vulnerability: An Emerging Public Health Issue Annals of Internal Medicine Annals of Internal Medicine – December 1, 2015

Supplements for Brain Health Show No Benefit – a Neurologist Explains a New Study The National Interest – June 28, 2019

Why It’s Easier to Scam the Elderly NPR – December 6, 2012

Knowing the type of Dementia Helps Everyone

I didn’t handle the diagnosis of my parents well. I thought that hearing a doctor tell them they had dementia would suddenly make helping them easier for me. I finally realized that it was equally devastating to my Mom every time she was told.

For a large majority of individuals with vascular dementia – the type that comes after a stroke – they are unable to recognize their loss. My Mom had no physical changes, and for the first few months thought I was making up the fact that she had a stroke. The medical term is Anosognosia and I wish I knew and understood this when my Mom was diagnosed. She was medically unable to perceive that she had difficulty with her thinking and memory.

In the years since I lived through caring for two parents with dementia, I have found many individuals that don’t understand why a diagnosis mattered at all.

A recent story on NPR Is It Alzheimer’s Or Another Dementia? The Right Answer Matters reinforces the need to get a diagnosis. Apparently, most people default to the belief it is Alzheimer’s, and having some insight can also help the care partners manage better.

I have had a long-standing discomfort with the share of voice Alzheimer’s has taken. First and foremost is because most people don’t even know it is the most common form of dementia. I didn’t realize it until my Mom was diagnosed with Vascular Dementia, while my Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

What I have learned is that the primary types of dementia all come with varied behaviors, risks, possible treatments and care plans. One form of dementia comes with symptoms that present more as a personality change than symptoms of dementia. In general, changes in behavior, mood, and memory should all be discussed with your primary care physician. Knowing more can help everyone and I hope you will help learn more should you be concerned about your own health changes or those in a loved one. Encouraged.