Senior Moment or Alzheimer’s?

As the adult children of aging parents most of us are used to hearing friends and colleagues make the “senior moment” comment. Often when a person over 45 or so has difficulty remembering something, he or she will comment, “…oops, I’m having a senior moment.” I began noticing this in my late 40′s and now, a few years later, it happens at least once a day. I make the comment, too, though I am trying to stop saying it.

Part of this is joking about the normal changes occurring in our brains as we grow older, according to a February 9, 2010 Washington Post article, Memory Lapses Are Common and Increase with Age; When Do They Signal Alzheimer’s? As we get older, our brains become less efficient and we store information less effectively.

My husband's mother would throw her toothbrush into the wastebasket or put it in her sewing box.

My husband’s mother would throw her toothbrush into the wastebasket or put it in her sewing box.

However, now that I have watched the steady decline and eventual death of a family member with dementia I feel my forgetfulness more intensely. As my mother-in-law’s continued experience  more severe dementia symptoms, we found dozens of friends and acquaintances who were experiencing or had experienced the same disease in their families. Just about every person occasionally worried about the potential for dementia in the future. When my husband and I had a moment to think about ourselves during that time, and it was not that often, we wondered how we might prevent dementia from occurring in our lives. It doesn’t feel like a joke that the senior moment comment implies.          

I’ve concluded that I use the senior moment comment and utilize its concomitant humor to defend myself. Each time I forget something or acknowledge an “out of sync” memory the comment serves as a protective shield. Unconsciously or consciously, by acknowledging my forgetfulness I can, in some strange way, not worry and maybe protect myself from the range of insidious diseases that comprise dementia or at least insulate myself from the fear of it. Check out this recent news report by Dr. Jonathan LaPook, from CBS news, Senior Moment or Alzheimer’s.

The February 9th Washington Post article compares and contrasts behaviors — what the normal brain does and what a declining brain might do. The article labels this “normal vs. problematic behavior.” I’ll list a few behaviors here, but it is well worth going to the Post web site and reading it for yourself.

Adam Encyclopedia

National Library of Medicine Adam Encyclopedia

The article points out that misplacing keys is normal and not particularly worrisome. However it is not normal to constantly do strange things with keys on a regular basis (put them in the fridge, or the wastebasket for instance). I remember one situation that we observed with my husband’s mother — she would brush her teeth and then drop the toothbrush in the trash.

Parking is another issue that people frequently worry about. Once or twice a year I park the car at the Mall, go inside and shop, and then wonder where on earth I left my car. The key is that I know what to do. I may know what store I entered or remember a landmark. Most importantly, I will go about looking for my car in some systematic way. The reason I forget to check where I park my car is because my brain is tired and distracted just then.

The Mayo Clinic has dementia prevention ideas on its web site. An article at the WebMD web site focuses on behaviors that may help to prevent dementia.  I say “may” because at this point no one really knows whether prevention ideas work or not.

You  might also enjoy reading Aging and Middle Age Brain: What to Do About?

2 thoughts on “Senior Moment or Alzheimer’s?

  1. Thank you for this article, Marti. As the middle-aged daughter of a woman who passed away with advanced dementia, I worry, too, when I experience “normal” memory lapses. The example you give about misplacing keys vs. putting them somewhere weird is helpful, as are all of the links.
    –author, “Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter’s Memoir”

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Martha. I so enjoyed reading your book! At this time readers can see Martha’s book over on the right and later it will be in the Best Reads list.

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