Dementia: Is My Behavior Normal or Should I See a Doctor?

  • News about dementia is everywhere - online, newspapers, TV and radio. Awareness is wonderful, as dementia has for too long been denied or covered up. For many, dementia in the family has been a source of shame.


    So, awareness is great. The more people can talk about dementia, understand that it is a disease that affects many families and that most of us at least know of someone with dementia, the less stigma is attached to the word.


    Each new step toward learning more about the disease is closely watched by millions of people worldwide. Why? Because the more we hear about dementia, the more we worry about every little glitch in our own thinking or memory. News stories keep dementia in front of us on a regular basis, and we can begin to obsess. Is this good for us? Well, yes and no.

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    When to Relax

    You've forgotten a dental cleaning and just got a card off to your parents' for their anniversary with a hair to spare. Then, you locked your car keys inside the car. Are you "losing it?" Should you run to the doctor for a checkup in case you are getting early on-set Alzheimer's?


    First consider your stress level. If you are juggling a job, home life with teenagers, aging parents and a marriage, unless you are very unusual, you are stressed to some degree. To what degree depends on your makeup and on how well you take care of yourself. We live in a world that fairly demands multiple roles for us all. Why wouldn't we be stressed?


    Simplify and delegate. Don't laugh or get mad because I'm stating the obvious - I know it's hard and often seems impossible to accomplish these changes. However, your stress level may be putting your health at risk. It also may be affecting the quality of your life. If your scattered brain is causing you to worry about your mental or physical health, that's a clue. It is affecting your quality of life.


    If you are sick, stay home and take care of yourself. If you have vacation days coming, take time off from work. That seems obvious, but statistics show many of us don't even use our paid vacation days. We are obsessed with "doing."


    Find ways to get rid of non-essentials. The house can be a bit messy. A few dust bunnies won't kill anyone. Make time for yourself a priority, not something for your "to do" list that you never get around to. Drop some of the volunteer things you are doing until you have your kids out of the nest or you get your parents some care so it all doesn't fall on you. Eat well and exercise.


    Then, see your doctor for a physical. Yes, you can mention that you are forgetting appointments and the other things that bother you. In fact, you should. But while you wait for that appointment date (don't forget it), experiment with lowering your stress level. You may find that your memory improves significantly all by itself.


    When to Wonder and Observe

    Back to forgotten appointments and the car keys. How often are you doing this? Do you consistently forget appointments? Do you mix up the dates of your kids' birthdays or forget to pick them up at school? Are you slipping at work?


    These could be signs of dementia. They could also be signs of an infection, a medication reaction or too many things to do. However, if memory slips amount to more than occasional glitches in your life, you should step back and consider how often they happen. Tracking these episodes in a notebook is a good idea, specifically writing down what the memory slip is and how often it occurs.


    Again, you should see a doctor, in case you have an infection, such as a UTI. You may want your pharmacist to run a check on your prescriptions to see if there are known interactions. You will want to include herbs and vitamins in this check. You'll want to ask your doctor about dosages of your medications and known side effects.

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    You and your doctor may even want to experiment. Some anti-depressants can cause memory problems, as can other drugs. Discuss it all with your doctor. If your blood pressure is high or you show other signs of cardiovascular problems, your doctor may want to consider silent strokes. So you do need a check up.


    You may not be ready to have full-on dementia testing done, though of course, your doctor will decide that. But you likely shouldn't panic until everything else has been looked at. Again, lower your stress level and you may find many symptoms will disappear.


    When You Definitely Need Dementia Tests

    So, you've lowered your stress level by getting some in-home care for your folks, more help from your husband around the house, dropping a couple of non-essential volunteer duties you didn't enjoy, improved your diet and taken vacation days from work. Nothing helps and your doctor finds no infections, drug side effects or other reasons for your memory and cognitive issues. It's time for dementia tests.


    One significant issue here is about your memory and confusion - do you just forget your keys or do you forget what your keys are for? Do you find yourself putting empty milk bottles in the clothes hamper - not just once when you are distracted, but continually? Do you turn on the stove and then go to bed? These are danger signs and warrant a complete dementia workup.


    The bottom line is do you occasionally forget names, mix up appointments or forget items you need at the store? Normal - you can relax.

    Do you consistently forget important things you should do and act kind of foggy? You should see a doctor about stress levels, infections and drug side effects. You should also describe your memory issues, preferably with a journal in tow, so your doctor has accurate information. This is a time to wonder and observe.

    Do you forget what familiar objects are for? Do you get lost driving to familiar places? Does your  family say your personality is changing? Get tested for dementia now.


    Early diagnosis is important, as there are medications that can help slow dementia for some people. Get thee to a specialist as soon as you can. Please don't let stigma, shame or fear stop you. The earlier you seek help the better.


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Published On: April 24, 2010