When is it time to talk to a doctor about memory loss? - SanTanValley.com

When is it time to talk to a doctor about memory loss?

Program Aide Marla Salinas assists Sherry Conn with a word search at Sirrine Adult Day Health Services in east Mesa. Keeping one’s mind active helps improve an adult’s memory.
When is it time to talk to a doctor about memory loss?

Tom Shanley calls himself a political junkie. Or at least that’s what he used to be.

For the past year, he has been having dif­ficulty remembering things, like names and dates, even words.

“I find myself more and more lacking in conversation because I can’t think of a word that’s as simple as my name,” the 79­year- old San Tan Valley man told the Inde­pendent during a phone interview. “I’m a political junkie and now I can’t remember what I want to tell the guy I’m arguing with over certain points. It’s frustrating.”

That’s why he participated in a memo­ry screening presented Feb. 19 by Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, 901 E. Willetta St. in Phoenix. While the introductory session was too basic to answer all his questions — for example, does he have dementia? — he now wants to find out more about memory and how he can improve his.

“ What a relief that would be. Any time I see an article about it, I read it. I would be wiling to take medications if they would help,” he said.

Mr. Shanley is not alone in his concerns. Many older adults have problems remem­bering things.

By 2050, about 16 million people in the United States are expected to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, said Jan Dough-e­rty, director of family and community ser­vices for Banner Alzheimer’s Institute.

Between 100,000 and 150,000 Arizo­nans have been diagnosed; of them, about 60,000 reside in Maricopa County, she said, adding one in 10 people at age 65 will have Alzheimer’s disease and one in two at age 85.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, ir­reversible disorder. Symptoms include grad­ual memory loss, impairment of judgment, disorientation, personality change, difficulty in learning and loss of language skills. It is a form of dementia, of which there are two types: reversible and irreversible, Ms. Dougherty said.

Many of the people who participated in the memory screening drove in from the far East Valley, Ms. Dougherty said. Many knew they had some type of memory im­pairment.

As people age, they experience physi­ological changes that can cause glitches in brain functions that most people take for granted, according to the website www. helpguide.org. They may not be as quick as they used to be.

But often, they mistake this slowing of their mental processes for true memory loss, but in most cases, the website noted, the information will come to mind if people give themselves enough time.

“It’s OK if you misplace your keys. It’s a matter of once you find them, knowing what they do,” said Peg Reed, director of the Red Mountain Active Adult Center, 7550 E. Adobe St. in Mesa.

The center offers a Vital Signs program with information on a variety of health top­ics. Researching topics such as dementia is important. But even more important is dis­cussing them with friends, family members and physicians.

“ We have some folks who’ll tell you they have Alzheimer’s (a form of dementia) but they are taking medications that could be af­fecting their memory. Others folks are very private. It’s almost like they’re ashamed and they shouldn’t be,” Ms. Reed said.

Ms. Dougherty agrees.

“A person may not be taken seriously by the people around them. They’ll be told, ‘ You’re getting old, What did you expect?’ They should not minimize the concern,” she said.

Memory loss is not an inevitable part of the aging process, according to www. helpguide.org. So why are people forget­ting things? They are plenty of reasons, Ms. Dougherty said.

“ We push ourselves to the max these days and sometimes our bodies can’t keep up with the demands we’re putting on it,” she explained. “It could be stress. Pregnan­cy or a thyroid imbalance could cause re­versible dementia. It could even be caused by dehydration. You should let your physi­cian know if it’s happening with increased frequency,” she said.

BAI has been focusing on prevention.

“ We’re striking the disease too late,” Ms. Dougherty said. “By the time it shows up, it’s too late. We want to strike preemptively, at worse slow its progression by a couple years, or stop it altogether.”

People interested in helping with that research can enroll online at www.en­dalznow. org to participate in studies being conducted by BAI.

“Our goal is to have 100,000 by this sum­mer,” Ms. Dougherty said.

“ There are some exciting things happen­ing in that arena,” she continued. “ We’re finding prevention in your younger years play a role in your memory activity as you grow older. Things as simple as diet, sup­plements, exercise, stress-management and exercise all play a role. It also helps to have positive relationships and joy in your life.”

Reversible causes of memory loss in­clude side effects of medication, depression, vitamin B12 deficiency, thyroid problems, alcohol abuse and dehydration, according to www.helpguide.org. People should con­sult their physicians about dementia. They also can utilize programs offered at local ac­tive adult centers to help counter or stave off some of those causes by providing them with those positive social relationships and physical activity to improve their health and productivity.

“ They find a place where they belong and contribute and have purpose,” said Sherri Friend, executive director of Sirrine Adult Day Services, 247 N. McDonald in Mesa. “ We do exercise on a daily basis, of­fer laughter yoga, pet therapy and offer a lot of volunteer work in the community. It keeps them active and engaged through the disease process. We’ve seen some pretty dramatic improvements thanks to the pro­grams offered.”

The Apache Junction Active Adult Cen­ter, 1035 N. Idaho Road, offers programs 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday. Among them is a one-hour memory loss session held at 10 a.m. every second Thursday of the month. The next class is April 11.

It helps attendees determine the differ­ence between normal memory loss and memory impairment. The center calls the class a place “where you can learn rather than worry ... a good place to take the world off your shoulders.”

For more information on the classes, call the AJAAC at 480-474-5260 or visit www.ev­adultresources. org.

by Wendy Miller