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Forgetfulness Not Necessarily Precursor to Alzheimer’s

By Kathy Hubbard
Someone the other day gave me a great topic for this week’s column. I forget what it was, though. I like to think my forgetfulness is because my brain is just too cluttered. You know, like that closet you keep cramming stuff into. Is anyone old enough to remember Fibber McGee? I know it’s in there somewhere, I just can’t find it!
Simple forgetfulness is common at all ages. We forget to take our soccer socks, we forget a name, and we forget what time we’re supposed to be somewhere. We all have these lapses. When we’re young we think much less of them than we do as we get older. Don’t we?
When your failing memory becomes a concern for you or your family it’s time to see a healthcare professional. There are over 50 conditions that can mimic dementia.
Reversible dementias are easier to diagnose because they are typically accompanied by other symptoms. Treatment can improve or often restore cognitive function. As always, I’ll tell you that the sooner you seek care the sooner you’ll get better.
Let’s look at some of the more common culprits of cognitive decline by starting with medications. Often, as we get older, we’re prescribed multiple medicines that can result in adverse reactions. On the list are drugs such as antihistamines, antidepressants, cardiovascular drugs, corticosteroids and sedatives.
“With aging, the liver becomes less efficient at metabolizing drugs, and the kidneys eliminate them from the body more slowly,” states a Harvard Medical School publication. “As a result, drugs tend to accumulate in the body. Elderly people in poor health and those taking several different medications are especially vulnerable.”
At any age, memory loss can occur with head trauma. Mayo Clinic says that “a head injury from a fall or accident, even an injury that doesn’t result in a loss of consciousness, may cause problems.” Anyone who shows symptoms of concussion should be checked out by their medico. A subdural hematoma (blood clot in the brain) can cause coma and/or death.
Stress. Depression. Anxiety. Menopause. Sleep disorders. All of these conditions can cause forgetfulness, confusion and difficulty concentrating that affects your day-to-day functioning. Often people who are depressed dwell on the past making it difficult to pay attention to the present.
People under chronic stress have an increase in the chemical cortisol (fight or flight hormone) which can result in the brain losing cells. This can adversely affect your ability to think and to retain new information.
Chronic alcoholism can seriously impair mental abilities. “In dementia due to alcoholism, memory, orientation, and attention deteriorate, although verbal skills are not always severely affected. In this type of dementia, abstinence may partly restore mental functioning,” Harvard says.
Less common, but nonetheless important enough to mention are vitamin B12 deficiency called pernicious anemia, hydrocephalus (water on the brain), tumors and thyroid disease.
“In people with pernicious anemia, the bone marrow produces red blood cells that are both larger and less numerous than normal,” Harvard says. “In older people, the first symptoms of pernicious anemia are often confusion, slowness, irritability, and apathy.”
People with hydrocephalus can lose bladder control and walk in a slow, hesitant manner as if their feet are stuck to the floor.
“Brain tumors can interfere with cognitive functioning and cause personality changes. Depending on their location, they can trigger other symptoms, such as headaches, seizures, or vomiting,” Harvard says. And, they say that both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can cause dementia-like symptoms.
It’s important to reiterate that these conditions can often be treated. It’s also important for me to repeat myself and say that temporary memory loss happens to all of us.
Oh my goodness! Now I remember what I was supposed to tell you weeks ago! Polly Mire who is the curator of the hospital’s Art for the Soul program wants you to know that she is looking for art donations. So you may not be able to clear out the clutter of your mind, but you can donate artwork for a good cause. Call the hospital 263-1441 to leave a message for her.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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