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Memory loss can be a warning sign

By Staff | Oct 5, 2010

Clay Jacobs from the Alzheimer's Association in Wilkes Barre spoke to a group of area seniors about memory loss at the Muncy Library

MUNCY – You find yourself forgetting a person’s name, or a place in time once visited, or the right word to describe something, and just like that the recollection is gone. But don’t worry – as long as you are trying to retrieve something and your mind knows you are trying to get that piece of information it is seeking somewhere in your brain – you most likely do not have Alzheimer’s disease. This was the message given to a group of seniors who attended a program at the Muncy Public Library on memory loss by Clay Jacobs, an education coordinator from the Alzheimer’s Association in Wilkes Barre. “My organization is the largest in the country for support and education,” he said. “There is always something new to learn and the research is constantly revealing something new to us about dementia.”

There is a difference between typical age related changes and that of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Often there is much confusion, disorientation, behavior concerns and the brain begins to have “missed bridged connections.” Our brains are given a thousand commands in short periods of time, a firing of constant charges. The brain has 100 billion nerve cells that connect to many other cells to form communication networks. Scientists believe Alzheimer’s disease prevents parts of a cell’s factory from running sufficiently and cells start to break down and the chemical production isn’t as strong. “It may be after the age of 30 when the connections aren’t as vibrant. There is less fluid in the aging process,” said Jacobs. “We can misplace something, but retrace our steps. That is regular aging. Memory changes as we get older, and that is minor for most of us.”

Dementia is not a disease in itself. It can be caused by other problems such as medications, thyroid problems, vitamin B deficiency, malnutrition, dehydration, infections such as pneumonia or fluid on the brain. There can be some underlying issues that could be treatable. These could be sudden memory changes and often not a cause for Alzheimer’s. Look for gradual memory changes cautions Jacobs.

5.3 million Americans are diagnosed after the age of 85, one in three. It is progressive and degenerative. Thought patterns are broken. Chemicals in the brain start breaking down and cells keep from communicating with each other. Cells become useless and memory becomes weaker breaking connections throughout the brain. It is a burgeoning process. “There are many changes occurring and symptoms become more severe over time. We can see these symptoms,” Jacobs described.

Diagnosis is a multi-step process. Look at the symptoms first and take note of of a build up of deteriorating cells.

Warning Signs

Memory loss is recurrent in daily living and the ability to adapt is lost. Steps can’t be retraced.

Names are forgotten or there is no idea of the context of what someone is saying. Or something is called by a different word and one can’t put sensible sentences together. Phrases and sentences will be flipped. Language skills start to break apart.

People will withdraw or repeat a lot. Check ability to recall. Is it every day or just a mild impairment? Regular aging takes place at varying degrees. What is the discrepancy or gap to tune and focus and process things? Is the brain struggling to focus?

Personality and behavior issues start to take place. There is a deviation from natural tendencies. Do they forget to bathe, brush teeth?

Does heredity and family history play a part? Look for genetic markers and early onstage of symptoms. There is a 50% rate of passing on these genes.

Brain Health

Technology and the the ability to look at the brain is improving always. PET scans and MRI’s can see the brain and observe changes. Diagnosis is more accurate now and detection can be made in the early stages.

Brains are living organisms that can get stronger over time. Physical activity provides symbiotic connections to the the heart and the brain. Physical fitness increases blood flow to the brain and helps form “new connections.” Obesity and diabetes can lead to Alzheimer’s. Social activity also reduces the risk drastically. “Having a positive conversation with family and friends will increase the chemicals to help us form memories,” Jacobs added.

Mental activity, higher education, training, raising children, reading, learning new languages, anything new and challenging will keep the brain healthier and stronger.

For more information, contact the Pennsylvania Northeast Chapter Hotline for the Alzheimer’s Association at 1-800-272-3900.