Q. Sometimes I forget names or what I did with my keys. We joke that these are “senior moments.” Is forgetfulness normal?
Some minor forgetfulness is a normal part of aging. When it starts to impact your daily life, it’s not longer minor. If you lost your keys, that’s normal. If you lost them for the 3rd time in 3 days, that may be a problem. It doesn’t mean that it is Alzheimer’s though. Many things cause serious memory issues. It does mean you should be checked by your doctor or nurse practitioner.
Q. My grandmother had dementia, but it wasn’t Alzheimer’s. I heard they are the same thing – is that true?
You’ve heard that squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares? To follow this analogy, dementia is the rectangle; Alzheimer’s is the square. Or another analogy, dementia is similar to furniture, and Alzheimer’s a chair. They are related, but not exactly the same. There are other causes of progressive memory problems – such as Vascular Dementia (from stroke/mini-strokes) or Lewy-Body dementia. There are similar features, but they aren’t exactly the same (like a table is similar to a chair, but not exactly the same). Just like there are more chairs than any other furniture in most rooms, there is more Alzheimer’s than any other kind of dementia. And in a room you can have more than one kind of furniture; you can have more than one kind of dementia in your brain as well (mixed dementia).
Q. My neighbor has memory problems that were cured by a vitamin. How is it that more people don’t know about this?
Some memory problems may be caused by a vitamin deficiency (such as B12). Alzheimer’s is a different kind of memory problem though. Researchers are investigating how anti-oxidants combat free radicals and how these may link to development or progression of Alzheimer’s, but vitamins don’t cure Alzheimer’s. Memory problems may also be related to depression or sleep difficulties.
Q. There are so many horrible diseases out there. But it’s not like you’re going to die from Alzheimer’s, right?
Actually, Alzheimer’s is a fatal disease. If enough of your brain cells die, your body stops functioning properly. For many people with Alzheimer’s, the cell death works in the reverse order of human development; just as an infant has trouble with foods and must only have liquids, or s/he will choke, people with end stage Alzheimer’s often have problems with food and may get an “aspiration pneumonia.” People can die from other things as well, including heart disease or stroke at any stage of Alzheimer’s, but if nothing else ends life, the Alzheimer’s eventually will.
Q. I read in the newspaper that it is caused by aluminum pots, mercury dental fillings or artificial sweeteners. Which is it?
There is NO conclusive evidence that any of these substances cause Alzheimer’s. For research statements, check the experts at the Alzheimer’s Association or the National Institutes on Aging. There is no known cause (genes may play a role, but that role is still unclear), and there is no known cure or effective treatments.
Q. I hear about Alzheimer’s all the time it seems. Is it more common than it used to be?
Somewhat – but that’s because our country is rapidly aging with 8,000 Baby-Boomers turning 65 EVERY DAY (a trend that will continue for another 15+ years). Another American gets Alzheimer’s every 68 seconds! Some of them are under age 65 even. This is a global problem though, and currently our 5.4 million Americans are among 15 million people with Alzheimer’s throughout the world. If we don’t find a cure soon, experts expect those numbers to TRIPLE by 2050. That said, this is not a new disease. Dr. Alzheimer discovered it back in 1906, but the symptoms have been described in medical journals for centuries. In the olden days we used to call it “senility” or “hardening of the arteries.” We are getting better at recognizing it, and diagnosing it. Stigma is still high however – we need to keep working on that. Remember when people used to whisper the word “cancer” and used to consider IF they should tell the patient? Can you imagine? That’s kind of where we are with Alzheimer’s. And now people in our country fear an Alzheimer’s diagnosis more than cancer or even death. But we can (and MUST) change that. There are many positive memories to make still, and people with the disease are learning to live with it, and engaging in activities which bring them joy in the moment, every day.