Are you one of millions experiencing those pesky senior moments, which seem to occur more frequently with each advancing year? We whisper to our friends with a gallows laugh about the silly thing we have done now, secretly worrying we may be starting to get Alzheimer's or something. Then there's that anxious moment waiting for our friends to validate our experience by sharing their own senior moment, which makes us feel so much better that we are not alone.
Senior moments are most often benign symptoms of a busy aging brain, but unfortunately they may also be a sign of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), a subtle precursor to Alzheimer's Disease. MCI can last 5-10 years and then not everyone, but a large percentage, will progress to Stage One Alzheimer's, where symptoms get worse for 2-4 years.
Everyone ignores MCI and Stage One because the short-term memory loss and intermittent and slightly odd behaviors aren't that bad and are chalked up to just getting older. The problem is, by the time the symptoms progress and are more noticeable, Stage Two (2-10 years) has begun and full time supervision is required. The disease progresses until the final Stage 3 (1-3 years), which is usually spent in a nursing home.
Since 1 out of every 8 persons by the age of 65 gets some form of dementia (Alzheimer's is one type making up 65% of all dementias), and nearly 1 out of 2 by the age of 85 is afflicted, advancing age is the biggest risk factor. There are over 5.1 million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and many millions more in MCI and Stage One who are in denial and think it just can't happen to them.
By keeping track of your senior moments in a log, you will be able to recognize a change in severity or frequency--and recognize when it is time to be evaluated by a dementia specialist. The log will also be helpful for the doctor. With early diagnosis and treatment, the progression of the dementia can be slowed down, keeping you in MCI or Stage One--and mostly importantly, keeping you independent longer.
I know the terror of memory loss myself, as I experienced it during six months of dense-dose chemotherapy for breast cancer a few years ago. One day I was boiling water for my tea when the phone rang. I went into my office and shut the door and forgot all about my tea. Eventually the smoke detector went off, but shockingly I still didn't remember my tea. My apartment complex tested the fire alarms so often that I just thought it was another test. By the time I finally smelled smoke coming in under my door, I COULD NOT BELIEVE that I had completely forgotten all about my water and tea!
After a few more terrifying incidents with the stove, I covered it and used the microwave-and even threw out all my candles so I wouldn't be tempted to light one. I developed checklists for my checklists and put little signs around-especially on the front door so I'd check everything before leaving. I was terrified my memory was becoming permanently damaged by the chemo and cried as I told my oncologist, but he assured me that "chemo brain" is common and that it would gradually go away after treatment.