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Doctors' Notes

Dementia: Is Your Memory At Risk?

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Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our newest contribution from Urban Health correspondents and husband and wife physicians Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson.  The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health, as it relates to African Americans.  Please feel free to send them questions via digitalpitches@ebony.com.  We promise to keep it anonymous. 

DrsRobinsonJET

Question:  My 65-year-old dad has been becoming more forgetful lately.  In addition to repeatedly calling my husband by the wrong name, he got lost coming home from the neighborhood grocery store.  Should I be concerned or is this just a normal part of getting older?  

Dr. Karla says:

What a great question! Your concern is right on point.  The scenarios you describe could be consistent with symptoms of dementia and should not be considered normal aging.  Although most commonly known by Alzheimer’s- the form often seen in those over the age of 60- dementia can come in many forms and may be the result of various underlying medical conditions.  It’s important that you take your dad to his doctor as soon as possible to determine the cause of his memory changes and what treatment might be needed.

Dementia is characterized by a loss of brain function affecting memory, thinking, language, judgment and behavior.  Common signs and symptoms include:

* Language problems or difficulty naming familiar objects or people

* Frequently misplacing items

* Getting lost on familiar routes

* Behavioral/personality changes

* Losing interest in things that you previously enjoyed

* Difficulty performing tasks that take some thought (i.e. balancing a checkbook, playing card games, etc.)

As the dementia worsens, the symptoms may become more obvious and interfere with the ability of the individual to care for themselves. That’s what makes dementia so dangerous and even life-threatening in some cases.  In severe cases of dementia, one may begin to experience difficulty with some of the more basic activities of daily living including bathing and eating.  It is not uncommon that they would forget to eat, leading to malnourishment.  Those suffering from dementia can also forget how to eat, developing swallowing difficulties that can lead to breathing problems and pneumonia.

Dr. Rob says:

You raise a great question about the difference between normal aging and something more serious to be concerned about.  It’s a common misconception that everyone develops dementia if they live long enough.  While it is normal to experience some memory changes with aging, it does not typically interfere with the individual’s daily activities, and the patient is often aware of their forgetfulness. They may attempt to make more lists or have other means to assist their memory.  However, the memory loss seen with dementia is progressive and they are usually unaware that they are experiencing problems with their memory at all.

While many forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia related to brain injury from trauma, strokes or vascular disease are progressive, there are some forms of dementia that are reversible.  These include those cases related to brain tumors, vitamin deficiency, thyroid dysfunction, infection, and medication/drug induced dementia.  Regardless of the cause, swift diagnosis and treatment is essential as even in cases of irreversible dementia, medication can be used to delay progression of the disease and prevent worsening of the symptoms.

While some forms of dementia are believed to have a genetic (inherited) component, this is not true of all forms of dementia.  Certain forms of dementia have more to do with lifestyle and other medical conditions.  Excessive alcohol use, drug use, uncontrolled high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease are all potential risk factors that may lead to vascular dementia.

Here are a few quick tips to decrease your risk for developing dementia:

Train your brain.  Research shows that keeping your brain stimulated through activities such as crossword puzzles and word games, and memory training may delay the onset of dementia in those at risk.

Stay in the mix. Quality social interactions are thought to delay the onset of dementia and reduce its symptoms. Now is the time to cultivate friendships and relationships.

Ingest the best. Eating a healthy diet is important for many reasons, but a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fruits, vegetables, and fiber may promote overall health and lower your risk of developing dementia.

Don’t let the pressure get to you. High blood pressure is a huge risk factor for certain types of dementia, especially vascular dementia.  Keeping your blood pressure normal will help protect against vascular injury to the brain.

It’s a health thing…we’ve got to understand!

About the Doctors:

Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall Magazine and host the Urban Housecall Radio Show.  For more from the doctors, visit their website at www.urbanhousecallmagazine.com, like them on Facebook UrbanHousecallMagazine, and follow them on Twitter @urbanhousecall!