Diana Walters: A Boomer's Ruminations - Are You Worried You Have Dementia?

  • Wednesday, May 22, 2024
  • Diana Walters
I have worked with older adults for many years—with people who have dementia and with those who have no cognitive impairment. I also helped care for my father who had vascular dementia. I’ve learned about dementia through education and personal experience.

Having occasional “senior moments”—misplacing keys, forgetting someone’s name or why we went into a room, etc., are normal occurrences as we age. Even younger people can experience forgetfulness when they are depressed or under stress.
Memory glitches can also be caused by poor sleeping habits and lack of proper nutrition and hydration.

Being forgetful is inconvenient, but it doesn’t mean you have dementia. However, when forgetfulness increases and becomes a common occurrence or interferes with daily functioning, it may be time to consult your physician. For example, if you become lost driving to places you’ve been going for years or if you find you’ve placed items in unusual places—like your keys in the microwave—you should talk to your doctor.

Some cognitive problems are caused by infection, reaction to medication, vitamin deficiency, dehydration, and depression. They can be treated. If you have had been given general anesthesia (put to sleep) for surgery, your cognitive functioning may also be affected for days, up to several months. That happened to me after knee replacement surgery. My brain was foggy for weeks, and I did some strange things, including forgetting a date with my daughter, which I would normally never do. It was a weird experience, but it thankfully improved in time.

As we age, there are things we can do to minimize the “senior moments.” Being physically active will help. Dancing, gardening, swimming, and walking are just a few activities that help protect us from both physical and cognitive decline. Movement serves the dual purpose of being good for body and mind. If you can’t manage a half-hour block of time for exercise, do it in small segments throughout the day; five minutes five times a day, for example, can still make a difference.

We also need activities that engage and stimulate our minds, such as reading, crossword puzzles, socialization, and learning something new. Eating healthy foods aids alertness too (we all know what those foods are, we just don’t always want them.)

Dementia isn’t a specific disease, it’s a group of symptoms that affect memory and thinking enough to interfere with daily life. As stated above, many causes of dementia symptoms can be reversed, so it’s important to see a doctor if you’re worried about your cognition.

What if you find out you have dementia?

If a doctor confirmed that I had a form of dementia that would progress, I would want to take some steps to ensure I had the best quality of life possible in my remaining years.
1. I would consult with a specialist about a course of action and weigh the benefits of medication against negative side effects.
2. I’d continue protecting my health as much as possible by eating nutritious foods and exercising body and mind.
3. I’d contact the local Alzheimer’s association for guidance and join a dementia support group (for additional information look at the Alzheimer’s Association website.)
4. I’d decide who should make financial and medical decisions when I’m unable to do so. And I’d tell my doctor and two other people my wishes about end-of-life care—things like feeding tubes and resuscitation orders. (It’s a good idea to decide these things long before they’re needed.)
5. I would put in writing and share with spouse, friends and family the kind of life I want to live if I’m unable to explain my preferences in the future; favorite foods, music, magazines and special requests. For example, a friend asked me to make sure her chin hair was plucked out if she couldn’t do it herself.
6. I’d ask friends and family to remind me of God’s love by taking me to church as long as possible, reciting familiar Scriptures, and singing favorite hymns with me.

Currently about 7 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, which is only one of the forms of dementia. Although those of us who are over 65 are at greater risk, over 200,000 younger people are diagnosed with the disease each year.

No one wants to think about having dementia, but when you have symptoms, ignoring them doesn’t help. Like the Boy Scout motto says, “Be prepared.”

* * *

Diana Walters has enjoyed a long career working with senior adults as social worker, activity director, and volunteer coordinator. She recently retired (at age 76) from paid employment and is now able to devote more time to her writing and her husband (in that order?) She has written devotionals for The Quiet Hour and Upper Room and been published in six Chicken Soup for the Soul books, but she is excited to be writing for and about her fellow Baby Boomers. She can be reached at dianalwalters@comcast.net.
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