MANY years ago, when I was in the midst of taking care of both my parents while they were in the most critical stages of their lives, I found that I had problems with my memory. I was always tired and hungry too.
As I recently recollected those years with my siblings, they also reminded me how grumpy and short-tempered I was with them.
My close friends told me I didn’t suffer fools lightly. I was so serious that I was quite scary. Everything had to be on point. And then I had problems remembering stuff, which further frustrated me and made me even more impatient. I was caught in some frightening vicious cycle that I didn’t know how to get out of.
So as I took my late parents to their doctors’ appointments, reporting the usual health status to them to see the progression of their illness, I started to read up more on memory loss.
When the doctor told us that mum was depressed and displayed signs of early dementia when she regained consciousness after being in a coma for six weeks, I too felt that I might be suffering from some mental illness like dementia or even Alzheimer’s disease.
Those days, not much was known about Alzheimer’s and the Internet era was just starting, but there was sufficient information in books, magazines and through talking to doctor friends. It was enough to scare me into believing that there was something wrong with me.
My short-term memory was bad. I couldn’t remember who I’d met a few days earlier; I was forever misplacing things at home; I called my children by different names and sometimes couldn’t even remember their names on the spot. I also couldn’t remember what I had for breakfast; I missed appointments and walked around the house rather lost because I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to do when I got to that room.
CAREGIVERS NEED TO TAKE CARE TOO
Writing everything down helped a lot. It was a good thing that I’d kept a daily journal for my parents. As my life revolved around their goings-on, it was easier for me to fill in the blanks of how my day went. That’s when I decided to keep a more detailed journal that included my day too.
Looking back at what I’d written then, and what the doctors had told me, these were things that were quite normal for someone who’s stressed and overwhelmed by their situation.
Many caregivers and busy people fall under this category. I was so relieved to be told that there was nothing seriously wrong with me or my mind. I just needed to take better care of myself — get enough sleep, eat more nutritious food (instead of fast food that’s high in sugar and empty calories), exercise, and have more “me time”.
I remember balefully glaring at my doctor, thinking, “Ya la. Easier said than done when you’re on call 24/7 for what seemed like forever.”
But I made an effort and I’m happy to report that while it wasn’t easy to claim back my life and sanity, the advice given really worked.
First and foremost, while there aren’t any single tests that can diagnose dementia or Alzheimer’s, there are certain patterns that indicate it, like tests to assess memory impairment, thinking and living skills, functional abilities and significant behavioural changes.
A brain imaging test like the X-ray, MRI or CT scan may be done to see if there are any abnormalities in the brain that is associated with cognitive impairment. Apparently, an MRI scan of the brain may look normal in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Blood tests can’t diagnose the disease but it may help rule out other causes of dementia-like symptoms. Does dementia or Alzheimer’s run in the family? Literature on this suggest that someone who has a parent or sibling with it is more likely to develop the disease. There may be some common gene that predisposes a person to it.
Conversely, you may not have that gene but still develop the disease. In short, research is still being done to find out more.
Meantime, rest assured that while having a bad memory is irritating and sometimes downright scary, you may improve it by making certain lifestyle changes.
Memory loss is an inevitable part of ageing but it doesn’t have to get the better of you.
Your memory is good enough when you recognise that you’re forgetful. Or when you find that your forgetfulness is more annoying than worrying, and you can laugh about it. When you’re able to learn new things when you want to or need to, you’re still good to go. If you still know how to use appliances around the house and electrical gadgets, you’re still in good shape.
If you don’t always remember what you’ve read, it may not really be a memory problem but just a concentration problem. In short, if they’re small stuff, don’t sweat it. It’s the larger and lasting changes that may require a closer look and a visit to the doctor.