Old Age or Something More? Symptoms of Alzheimer's
Many of my patients come to me concerned about their memory. They can’t remember names; they are forgetful in their day-to-day tasks; or some combination of the two. This often begins a cascade of worry culminating in the question, “Do I have Alzheimer’s Disease?” With little variation, my answer to them is a reassuring “No.”
An Insidious Issue
First and foremost, I do not want to belittle the problem of dementia in our society. In 2010, it was estimated that 5.3 million Americans had Alzheimer’s. That number is expected to increase to 7.7 million by 2030! Americans over the age of 65 have a 1-in-8 chance of having Alzheimer’s. And, as one gets older, the risk increases.
Dementia is insidious. It often happens beyond the awareness of the victim.
In my medical training years ago, I asked a dementia expert how I should handle people coming in worried about dementia. He answered flatly, “Tell them that they do not have dementia.” Indeed, the ability to show a rational concern and worry about a problem with memory seems to exclude the possibility of dementia.
All You Can Eat Is Too Much
To me, our memory is like a plate. For the most part, we all carry a plate about the same size. We stand at the buffet and fill it with various day-to-day things. When our executive function is overwhelmed, or in other words, our plate is full, stuff gets pushed off the the sides of the plate. Situational stress piled up takes a toll on our memory. Our minds work overtime organizing thoughts and situations. Anxiety and worry for our minds is like running on a treadmill - it requires a lot of energy but gets us nowhere. These scenarios consume our memory, heaping up the plate; they put us in situations where the “little things” suffer - little things like knowing where our car keys are or what you call "that one thing" that you use every day.
Sound familiar? You're not alone. It's natural to overwhelm ourselves and fill our plate with the stressful things of life. Work to find balance in your life, clearing your plate of those things that expend energy but accomplish nothing. If you are unable to do this on your own, seek help. Consider joining the anxiety support group on this website. Try talking to a friend to see your issues through. See a therapist or talk to your doctor if needed.
Success in managing what fills your plate will allow you to put on it the more useful things of the day - organization, recollection, and an ability to savor minor details. Live, and live well.