Early Stage Dementia (The silent thief)
As we move through the life cycle, inevitable changes occur in both our physical and mental capacities. Both functions will become slower and less efficient. Physicians lower the starting doses of our medications in the later years because of slower liver and kidney functions. That is why CPA firms and hospitals have mandatory retirement ages for partners and staff physicians; those mandates take into account our dulling mental sharpness and slower recall.
As a young man, I thought life would get simpler as I got older. As a mature man (heading towards an O.G.), I now know that is not true.
In our discussion of memory loss that occurs during the second half of the lifecycle, there are three conditions we need to consider; age related changes, complications of depression, and dementia.
The first is Age-Related Memory Loss. Memory loss related to aging usually starts in the 50’s and 60’s. Aging is associated with diminished and/or delayed ability to recall familiar names, places; and to my dismay, sometimes faces. Imagine an encounter where someone greets you with familiarity, calls you by name, but you have no clue as to who they are or where you know them from. This is a prime example of age related memory loss. The key is no loss of baseline functioning. It is not a progressive condition nor considered a disease.
The second condition is memory loss associated with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), or what is formally known as Pseudo-dementia. Major Depression is a mental health disorder that is particularly severe in the elderly population; meaning late 60’s, 70’s and beyond. The typical symptoms of MDD include; low mood & energy, poor appetite, poor concentration, loss of interest, and hopeless feelings or thoughts about dying.
In the elderly, MDD may also be associated with severe memory problem, and difficulties processing information and making decisions. Pseudo-dementia is a reversible condition with the proper treatment. That treatment typically includes antidepressant medication and talk-therapy (psychotherapy).
The third condition is Dementia Alzheimer’s Type; it goes by the common name “Alzheimer’s Disease” (AD). AD is a neurological disease that causes the premature death of brain cells (neurons) and replacement with helical shaped proteins (tangles) and plaques (senile plaques).
Alzhemizer’s Dementia diagnoses are made when there are noticeable changes in memory that interferes with day-to-day functioning and at least one problem with thought processing. People lose the ability to develop and carry out a plan, for example; buying food to cook a meal, or getting lost in the neighborhood on the way home.
The early stages of AD starts with subtle changes (a silent thief) that are usually first noticed at work, where there are measurable productivity standards. People began to have trouble completing work assignments or getting them done on time. The likelihood of developing the condition increases every 10 years beyond age 65. Living with a person struggling with memory and cognitive (thinking) losses has impact on the entire family, especially the main caregiver. Imagine having to care for someone who used to care for you.
I spoke with Mrs. Patricia Mullins, the president and CEO of Isabelle Ridgeway; an extended care faculty on the near eastside that cares for people with advanced stages of AD. We discussed the legal and financial impact of AD on the family, and the need for estate planning before we enter the second half of the lifecycle. We should all have our house in order by our 40’s, meaning we should have a living will, a power of attorney for our finances, healthcare, and long-term care insurance.