Where are my keys?

Poor memory can be caused by many things, both physical and psychological. Yet, in an aging population, what immediately springs to mind with each misplaced key ring is the specter of dementia.


Dementia is the term used for a general loss of cognitive abilities, including memory, learning, behavior and communication. A few dementias, for example, the dementias caused by untreated thyroid deficiency or diabetes, can be reversed. However, many dementias are progressive, cause the death of brain cells and cannot be reversed.  Probable Alzheimer’s disease accounts for about 60 percent of all diagnosed dementias. It is the leading cause of irreversible dementia in people over 65.  


Diagnosis of probable Alzheimer’s disease is made after laboratory and radiological tests have excluded other, reversible, causes. However, Alzheimer’s disease can only be conclusively diagnosed after death, when an autopsy reveals the characteristic changes in the brain. That is why “probable” precedes Alzheimer’s disease as a diagnosis.


There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The goal of treatment is to slow progression of the disease and improve quality of life for both the individual and the family.


However, reversible dementia is treatable. That is the main reason to screen for memory loss. If there really are signs of memory impairment, it is important to find out why. Screening is just that – screening. It is designed to either put the worry to rest or to indicate that there is a basis for concern and the concern should be pursued with a health care professional. It then becomes the professional’s job to find out the “why” behind the results of the screening.


So, if you are worried about memory loss (or, for that matter, any health or mental health issue) make use of the opportunity for a screening test. As Sir Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power”.


For more about memory screening, see the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America website http://www.alzfdn.org/.


Mary Lou Bernardo, PhD, MSN


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