Friday, December 07, 2007
Losing my keys or losing my mind?
My car keys were nowhere to be found. I checked the usual places and I retraced my steps from the night before. Nothing. My pup, Buddy, has stolen socks and shoes, but he looked innocent. I asked my housemate, Tom, whether he had seen them. He said he hadn't. I got to work using a spare set, but I spent the day wondering whether losing my keys was the first step to losing my mind.

I consulted memory expert Dr. James Lah, an Emory University neurologist. I related the key incident, and he asked me if I usually put them in the same place (I do). He asked if I tend to park my car in the same spot (I do). He said that those habits are how we remember things, and he bet that Tom was the guilty party.

Dr. Lah says some memory lapses are a normal part of aging. If our attention is affected, memories won't be stored efficiently. Fatigue, hormone imbalances, stress, depression, certain prescriptions and distractions can all prevent us from remembering.

We can also have problems retrieving memories. If the storage areas of the brain are damaged by Alzheimer's disease, or a stroke, the brain won't be able to properly recall the information stored in the damaged area.

Lah says it's not unusual to forget names or misplace items occasionally. But forgetting something that you recently did, or forgetting a responsibility that affects your well being - such as not paying bills, may merit a doctor's scrutiny. As our population ages, screening for memory problems will be a critical.

While there are several drugs available for treating Alzheimer's disease memory and thinking problems, Dr. Lah says, excitement is building for neuroprotective treatments that are in the development pipeline, including a vaccine. The hope is that the drugs will prevent and eliminate the brain-clogging deposits that are part of Alzheimer's disease.

Turns out Dr. Lah was right about my keys. Tom had used them to take out the trash and left them in the box where the trash bags were, under the kitchen counter. It's good to know that my mind wasn't the issue... in this case.

Do you worry about your memory? What do you do to keep your memory sharp?
This is Way too close to home! Having a mother with Alzheimer's has made me more than a little anxious about developing the disease myself.
I remember being in our company lunchroom about 10 years ago and hearing women in their late 50’s laughing about how they were losing their minds. One woman even told how she had been driving and could not remember at all where she was going. These women thought it was pretty funny. I was confused: they were professional women with good jobs laughing at themselves and acting as if this forgetful behavior was “normal.” I could see my mom decompensating and it sounded scary to me.
Today, myself in my late 50’s, I am relieved to note that I still know my destination when driving in the car. That has somehow become my measure of memory--- do I still know where I am going? I lose my keys and find them. I leave eye-glasses everywhere and now have a pair in each room to insure I can read wherever I am. I forget to buy light bulbs at the store. But, I still have an idea of my direction and path and endpoint.
It is exciting to hear and read about the Alzheimer’s and memory research. Whether as a victim or relative or neighbor or caretaker of someone with this disease, Alzheimer’s is a heartbreaking experience. Any news of progress towards understanding and treating this illness is a blessing for all of us.
I can relate to that! I am still looking for a set of car keys that I lost, but haven't found them yet. I agree that developing habits for placement of small items like keys is important. We are all so busy that we are not focusing on those small tasks and the 'habits' help.

My memory is definately failing due to too much information.

Hey, maybe you should check out the 360 blog? I think Anderson Cooper forgot his keys and wallet yesterday and had to bum money from people. Funny when you think about it!

I think he did a show a month or so ago (sorry, can't remember the date) when they did a brain scan on Anderson. Maybe Dr. Gupta can figure out our memory losses using Anderson's brain scan.

I am sure not volunteering for it!
Exercising your brain is a good thing. I once read that we should actually do things *out of habit* on occasion in order to strengthen our brain. Take a different way to or home from work once in a while, don't always do our routine tasks at the same time every day, change them up once in a while. Do crosswords, learn a new language, read Shakespeare, etc. Memory games are great. If we continue to do the same things over and over I think the brain, like our muscles, become atrophied. I try to challenge my brain by continuing to learn new things. I think by doing mental exercises I can improve, or at least maintain my brain function for as long as possible. Use it or lose it they say.

Not to get off the subject but...

I just finished a book by Sue Miller called "My Father's Story" and I think the book perfectly describes what a person with Alzheimer's goes through as each stage progresses. The book gives us readers some interesting brain information as well. Sue Miller stated that researchers think Alzheimer's may actually start earlier than previously thought, maybe in our 20s or 30s. In my mother in law's case I can look back 18 years ago and remember how she was always losing her keys (not saying this resembles you:) and locking herself out of the house all the time. Just these small, subtle changes, and probably not enough at the time to warrant any doctor visits. It wasn't until just this year, at age 78 that she was finally diagnosed (well they can't really diagnose Alzheimer's, but they're 99% sure). She went from functioning okay to getting lost while driving, having to wear diapers, and living in a skilled nursing facility in a matter of just 5 months. My mother in law's reading and writing skill level were never very good, and she never learned anything new or opened a book. It might have all been a sign of what was to come - as explained in Sue Miller's book.
I was partially awake during surgery for a bone tumor way back in 1980. What I remember is them cutting my leg and it hurt so bad, and then somebody saying something, so they put me back under. I guess it wasn't enough, becasue I came too as they rolled me out. When I tried to tell a nurse, she gave another nurse a funny look and told me I was dreaming. Until today, I thought I just has a weird dream, well, that's what I tried to tell myself anyway. I've not gotten good medical care since then since I'm too afraid of being out under.

I've never told anybody this. Thank you for making me feel not alone.
It seems to be that time of year when there are so many details on your mind that the important things sometimes loom in the distance. I recently found a book that's helping me immensely in my early 50s, and I'm recommending it to everyone I know. It's called The Brain Trust Program by Dr. Larry McCleary. There are some great mental exercises, sort of like gym workouts, included that help you get started improving your brain. There are also chapters about people who've overcome brain problems, how to care and feed your brain through nutrition and exercise and which nutritional supplements actually can help improve your memory. This book made a surprising difference in my life. I think it can also make a difference in the lives of our children, parents and grandparents. And best of all, it's a compelling and easy read. It might also just make a great holiday gift for yourself or someone you know.
I have read studies about the benefits of blueberries on people with Altzhiemers disease. I would like to know if there are any scientific studies being done to see if blueberries can prevent the onset of altzheimers completely? I would like to see legitimate scientific testing on the powers of eating or juicing blueberries. They are said to have the most antioxidants of almost all food groups. Worth a study don't ya think?
There is a major difference between normal memory decline associated with aging or stress, versus the disease of Alzheimer's. If your are concerned, see your physician or have them refer you to a neurologist. I see this in our practice at least 1x per day. For those that do not have any medical problems, I recomend the fantastic brain enhancing tool - Nintendo Ds Lite with BrainAge 2, if you can find it. It's fantastic.

Those that want to stave off Alzheimer's for as long as possible, you should make sure to do 20 minutes of light exercise a day for most days of the week, AND eat a Mediterranean diet. Also avoid foods with too much copper.
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