On Monday, I ran into a woman I’ve met several times — but I couldn’t remember her name. On Tuesday, I twice walked away from my kitchen wondering why I’d gone there in the first place. On Thursday, I misplaced my cellphone for the umpteenth time that week.
“I must be losing my mind,” I finally said out loud to no one in particular, then paused and thought: I really hope I’m not.
It is scary to think that my flaky memory could be a sign of something more serious. For the most part, I am reassured by the knowledge that my recall skills have never been all that good. However, it’s hard to ignore that my memory is failing me on things beyond a forgotten password or pin number. (Who in their right mind could remember every upper/lowercase, letter/number combination that our electronic lives demand?) I once asked a friend whose family member suffered from dementia whether I should be concerned. Her response was both interesting and enlightening. She said, “If you’ve forgotten where you put your keys, you probably shouldn’t worry. If you find your keys and you don’t know what to do with them, then there’s reason for alarm.”
I was comforted by this rationalization and acknowledged the inordinate demands commonly placed on our brains. On any given day, we work through an endless mental checklist of issues dealing with work, family, schedule management, personal finances, school, errands, household chores and more. It’s no wonder we forget things now and then.
My fears were temporarily allayed until I stumbled upon an Alzheimer’s awareness TV commercial while flipping through the channels. The spot aroused my concerns when I realized that a few of the warning signs noted in the ad reminded me of situations that I had experienced.
I immediately began looking for patterns in my life when I noticed my fuzzy thinking to be at its worst, and then referred the Alzheimer’s Association’s website, ALZ.org. The site clarifies the often confused definitions of dementia and Alzheimer’s, which, by the way, should not be used interchangeably. According to the website, dementia is a broad term used to describe a large set of symptoms that contribute to a noticeable decline in mental ability. It is not a disease in itself, and the symptoms could be caused by conditions other than Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, is a specific disease that falls under the dementia umbrella. In either case, the conditions become apparent when the loss of brain function interferes with daily life.
The site also provides red flags for early detection along with the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s. Each sign is accompanied by typical age-related changes that should not elicit grave concerns.
For example, sign number one is “memory loss that disrupts daily life” — especially forgetting recently learned information. However, if you sometimes forget names and appointments but remember them later, this is considered a typical age-related change. I do this often. Sign number four is “confusion with time or place.” The typical age-related change is “getting confused about the day of week but figuring it out later.”
After reading through each of the 10 signs, I was happy to conclude that my memory loss was typical and more likely a by-product of a busy life and an overactive mind. Other contributing factors might include lack of sleep, hormonal changes, stress, low blood sugar and poor eating habits.
Memory loss can be annoying for sure, but for people dealing with extreme cases it is sure to feel downright frightening. If you have concerns about a problem that seems to go beyond “normal,” consult your doctor or visit ALZ.org or ALZFDN.org for more information.
Beth Daigle is the editor of Merrimack Valley Home magazine and is currently working on her first book. Visit her new blog at 3OlivesandaTwist.com.