Q: Dear Regina, I am 77 years of age and have never had any problems with my memory. Recently for about 6 months I have had trouble with words and how things look. I had my vision checked because it seemed like I was seeing things but my vision seems to be fine. I have also started having trouble sleeping and my husband says I have bad dreams. I don’t want to worry about the dementia but I want to be tested for it. Is there testing here on Island for it? Or what can I do to know if this is happening to me?
A: I understand your concern and do not want you to be frightened. However, do be aware and do not ignore your changes. I am glad you had your eyes checked for vision problems. As we age things do slow down for us but not stop. You are in the double risk factor based on your age. That does not guarantee you will develop a form of dementia. Most general doctors can diagnose dementia in the middle to late stages. Early stages however will take a doctor that is familiar with cognitive changes and keeps a good record of changes in their patients. If your doctor does not diagnose early dementia ask if they know of one that does. The St Lucia Alzheimer’s Association can give you a short cognitive screening test and help you keep track of your progress and this will let you know if more testing is needed. Because dementia is progressive and it varies with each person, sometimes it can be noticeable in six months to a year after you start with noticing your first symptoms. Recommendations will be given based on the results of the memory screening.
Many people may experience what we call Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). There are two types: One affecting memory and the other affecting your thinking abilities. People with MCI can develop a type of dementia but not everyone that has MCI will develop dementia. If you have MCI it is recommended to monitor the symptoms and follow health recommendations for healthy brain and memory training.
Knowing and recognizing the early symptoms and early screening will help with better diagnosing and reversing the dementias that are not degenerative. If you ignore the non-degenerative symptoms you put yourself at risk for developing a form of dementia in the future.
Encouraging brain health will help to prolong the onset of Alzheimer’s or other dementias. In other words if a person were to find out early that they have the plaques or tangles for Alzheimer’s and they are in their 40’s or 50’s, following brain health recommendations at that point has a higher probability of delaying the onset of the disease with better treatments that are available.. There are medication choices at that stage as well that are available and a lot of research on the holistic approach regarding brain health. If you were to ignore the symptoms at the early ages the progression is usually faster and a person can live a long time with the disease with debilitating symptoms. More research is still needed but at this time scientist is working on slowing the onset of it as more and more young people develop dementia. If I were to have the evidence that I have MCI or the abnormal proteins causing dementia, I would want to do what I can to prevent or prolong the actual onset of dementia. If I develop the onset in my 80’s or 90’s I will not experience all the levels and stages of the disease because I am living on borrowed time at that age as a friend once told me.
If further testing is needed after the screening the first steps would be to rule out all other cause of the symptoms. Once those are completed then more testing from a neurologist that looks at your neurological system and with brain imaging that can detect shrinkage, and protein deposits that should not be in the brain. This will help determine what type of dementia a person may have whether it is Alzheimer’s, Vascular, Lewybodys, or frontal temporal dementia along with the history and symptoms the person is experiencing. The purpose in knowing which type of dementia you have is for better treatment therapies as some work better for different types of dementias. This can take time as there is not a single test that can say a person has Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. If you are diagnosed with dementia it is encouraged to find out what type of dementia. I do not have a record of how many patients are diagnosed out here. This will be helpful to know what doctors specialize in this area. Most people I have assisted were diagnosed off the Island. I encourage connections with doctors who are familiar or specialize in this area to work together with the Alzheimer’s Association.
Brainy quote: The best things in life are not Things, It’s the people who make you Feel Loved and Care for
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