A few weeks ago, I posted about the link between sugar and Alzheimer’s. Dementia, or memory loss by any name, is NOT a normal part of aging. And our genetic predisposition is NOT the driving force behind cognitive decline in more than 95% of cases. But memory decline does start decades before serious problems surface. As of 2021, there is not a cure. The good news: fundamental lifestyle changes can prevent general cognitive decline. Today, I’d like to share my personal experience with the early signs of Alzheimer’s. Believe me, you don’t want to venture down this path if you can help it.
The Earliest Signs of Alzheimer’s
Full disclosure. On September 1, 2020, my mom was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It was a devastating diagnosis, but not a surprise.
The warning light had been blinking for some time. Three years earlier, mom had suddenly lost her sense of smell. Come to find out, this is cited as an early predictor of cognitive decline.
Life continued in normal mode until my sister and I noticed that mom had difficulty packing for an out-of-town trip in late 2018. It was an extended 10-day visit that included my nephew’s wedding. Mom needed casual and formal attire. This appeared to be an overwhelming task. Mom ended up throwing a bunch of clothes into an unnecessarily large box, and shipping it to my sister’s home. Totally out of character.
Three months later, my mom needed help with financial matters, such as taking her required minimum distribution. This marked the beginning of a pattern; namely, being unable able to process more complex information.
By mid 2019, I reached out to mom’s primary care physician because of the continued, but subtle, signs of cognitive decline. I asked mom’s doctor to include the MoCA Test , a cognitive screening test, in her annual physical.
Surprisingly, my mom passed the MoCA test, and the doctor determined that mom’s memory was fine.
What I’ve learned in talking with others is that sometimes family members are able to detect changes in memory before they surface on the MoCA. Other times, family members miss the signs of cognitive decline in their loved ones. Dr. Oz is one such example. He says he’s filled with guilt about missing the warning signs before his mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
My sister and I grew more concerned about mom’s memory even though her doctor declared she was cognitively fit. We convinced mom to update her health care proxy, her power of attorney, and other legal paperwork.
Little did I know how important these documents would be in the coming months. By the end of 2019, mom ended up in the Emergency Room. Her doctor thought mom might have suffered a stroke because she couldn’t walk properly, and her head felt muddled.
She did not have a stroke, but afterwards needed help cooking, cleaning, and running errands. This setback lasted for six weeks until she resumed normal activities. Her walk became more like a shuffle, and her memory continued to decline.
In March of 2020, I convinced mom to switch to a geriatrician, a physician who specializes in the care of older patients. Admittedly, I needed to pull some strings to make this switch. Many geriatricians are not accepting new patients, and if they are, they assign new patients to Fellows who are inexperienced. Good geriatricians are critical as our population ages. The problem we face in the United States, however, is that demand for geriatric doctors outweighs supply.
More Early Signs of Alzheimer’s
In August of 2020, I assumed responsibility for mom’s finances. Prior to this, bills weren’t paid on time, and it took mom hours to balance her checkbook. This is where having the Power of Attorney came in handy, especially for the utility and insurance companies.
In September of 2020, my sister and I sold mom’s two-story home where she had lived for 35 years. Mom could no longer maintain her home; it had become overwhelming. In addition, walking up and down the stairs became dangerous, especially when mom needed to carry a heavy laundry basket down to the concrete basement every week.
By early 2021, mom required full-time care during the day in her one-story apartment. And driving her own car, a significant sign of independence for Mom’s generation, became unsafe. Having mom on the road meant risking her own life and that of others.
Today, Mom is like a deciduous tree that loses its leaves and remains barren. Stripped of a vibrant life. Stripped of the ability to rejuvenate, to regain her memory. I’m in the audience watching a slow slithering descent into frailty.
As a long-distance caretaker, I oversee caregivers, finances, taxes, meal planning, exercise, and doctor appointments. Daily, I mange her life from afar. When we talk, I answer the same questions, over and over, with patience and a heavy heart.
Mom is unaware of her memory loss, a condition called anosognosia. On the other hand, I am painfully aware of her accelerating physical and mental losses, not to mention the financial costs. I worry that mom’s retirement savings will disappear too quickly, given the high cost of at-home caregiving. I wonder: will there be any money left when Mom enters the next stage of 24/7 care?
I have a deep, personal stake in giving Mom the best quality of life possible. And it’s not just my mom. After delving deep into the cutting-edge research surrounding brain health and memory decline, I have optimized my own lifestyle, too. My goal is to help you do the same.
The Goal: Prevent Cognitive Decline
I am passionate about helping others avoid my mom’s fate. No one wants to be trapped inside a body that’s functioning, but with a mind that’s deteriorating.
In the next few weeks, I will introduce a practical roadmap for optimal brain health. It’s doable, highly actionable, and will produce meaningful results.