There was a big conference of the Alzheimer's Association in Boston last week and the news being reported is that you and I are now responsible for diagnosing our own dementia. From The New York Times:
"...in a significant shift highlighted at the conference, leading Alzheimer’s researchers are identifying a new category called 'subjective cognitive decline,' which is people’s own sense that their memory and thinking skills are slipping even before others have noticed.
“The whole field now is moving to this area, and saying ‘Hey, maybe there is something to this, and maybe we should pay attention to these people,’ said Dr. Ronald C. Petersen, chairman of the advisory panel to the federal government’s new National Alzheimer’s Project who is also director of the Mayo Clinic’s Alzheimer’s center...
“'Lo and behold, those who had a concern about their memory in fact had more likelihood' of later developing mild cognitive impairment, an early phase of dementia, he said.
"He said study participants with memory concerns were 56 percent more likely to be given a diagnosis of such impairment, even when results were adjusted for factors like education, genetic risk and psychiatric issues like anxiety and depression."
Dr. Rebecca Amariglio, a neuropsychologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, quoted in The Times says
“'[A patient] insisted that things were changing, but he aced all of our tests.” But about seven years later, he began showing symptoms of dementia. Dr. Amariglio now believes he had recognized a cognitive change so subtle 'he was the only one who could identify it.'”
I'm pretty sure there is hardly one among us at this blog who, when having forgotten why he or she entered a room or arriving home from the market without the most important item on the list, hasn't felt a frisson of fear about incipient dementia.
For years, the experts have told us that senior moments are a normal part of aging. Now they are saying, hold it – not so fast: those irritating lapses may be “a potential precursor to a precursor” according to The Los Angeles Times which also reported on the Boston conference:
”There are still some serious hurdles to these connections, among them the recognition that some people with measurable cognitive declines don’t develop Alzheimer’s, and sometimes recover.
“Senior moments could also be related to stress, depression and cardiovascular disease. A consortium of researchers has been trying to come up with a framework that would negotiate those pitfalls and come up with workable data.”
In other words, they still don't know if a senior moment means anything serious or not.
Nevertheless, the direction the research is taking - even if it is preliminary in the extreme – gives me heartburn because I regularly notice small-bore changes in my thinking capabilities.
Such things as taking a tick longer than in the past to find a word I need or slight trouble organizing the order of chores for the day or losing the thread in the middle of what I'm saying.
Nothing big (yet). Let's call them mental hiccups - pinholes or small delays in the continuity of my thinking that I notice even if other people do not.
Dr. Amariglio gave The New York Times one of those lists of what is normal aging and what is not – pretty much like the ones you've read elsewhere:
• Walking into a room and forgetting why you entered
• Having trouble retrieving the names of unfamiliar people
• A change in memory compared with young adulthood
• Memory changes similar to others of the same age
• Getting lost in familiar surroundings
• Having difficulty remembering important details of recent events
• Having difficulty following the plot of a television program or book because of memory
• Memory changes that are worse than others of the same age
But how do we know we can trust these lists when the researchers have only now admitted that they haven't taken patients' complaints of senior moments seriously. Oy. We're on our own, my friends.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joanne Zimmermann: Ruffled Fenders