Those Nerdy Girls on aging
February 17, 2024 7:28 PM   Subscribe

I lost my keys again! Do I have dementia?
Normal Aging: Having the feeling that a word is on the tip of your tongue but remembering it later.
Signs of Dementia: Mispronouncing words frequently or not understanding words that people are saying.

See also:
Are Alzheimer’s disease and dementia the same thing?
When is it time to stop driving?
posted by spamandkimchi (22 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
When changes begin to impact how you or your loved one functions in your daily life, you should speak with a clinician.

I feel like that's probably the key here? The reality check. This article highlights a great point. Problems are when you start to experience an impact. Not forgetting a phone number. Not incorrectly recalling someone's name. Things young people do everyday are absolutely normal.

Preying upon the stereotype of getting old and forgetting things is a bad sign. I am of a generation that has aging boomer parents who are constantly afraid that any sign of forgetting is a signal that Alzheimer's is setting in. I'm constantly reminding an aging mother that forgetting where you put a thing doesn't mean that people are going to come take you away... It's just forgetting where you put a thing, I do that all the time. So do kids.

Maybe we should strive to normalize everyday forgetting of simple things in favor of making people paranoid of losing their minds by noticing every little address or phone number they can't recall. That seems unhealthy.

I don't want to minimize elderly dementia. It's a real and very scary thing to see. But making people paranoid about it is not the way to move forward.
posted by Avelwood at 8:44 PM on February 17 [21 favorites]

Well, if it isn't my most feared topic ever!

As far as I can tell I ain'tnt dementia'd yet, I'm still in the lower end of the "normal aging" bracket. I often forget some famous person's name, but I did that when I was in my 20s so I'm not too concerned about that (plus, they keep getting younger and more interchangeable, what's that all about).

But I have started deliberately cultivating habits such as always double-checking I've got my keys and locked my apartment door even if I'm just taking the recycling out, even though that's not strictly necessary; the consistency is the vital thing. By the same token I pat my pockets to make sure I have wallet and phone as well as keys if I'm going further afield. I figure if I deeply ingrain those habits now while I'm still compos mentis they'll become automatic checks that will serve me well as I get more absent-minded over the years. I'd rather obsessively double-check than deal with locking myself out.

Driving I'm also ok; I've always tried to develop my skills, avoid distractions, and practice a keen awareness of what's going on around me. Last time I was in an accident I was 17 years old (and I've never been 100% convinced that was my fault, but that's for another thread.) I hope I'll be able to tell when it's time to sell the car and surrender my license, but I also dread that day... When I first moved to Portland I lived without a car for something like 4 years, and while it's possible to live that way it's a huge PITA even in a city with a widely-lauded public transportation system.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:20 PM on February 17 [8 favorites]

I got this in my email recently and why yes, it is relevant to my interests. (Also what Avelwood said.) Alzheimer's/dementia run rampant in my gene pool on both sides along with neurological disease, and given my "I can't remember how to do things at work any more" problems continually coming up during the very few days I've worked over the last few months, I was wanting to get that issue checked out.

During my neurology appointment, he asked if I could remember three words, which he tested me on off and on throughout the half hour, if I could spell world backwards, can I do math in my head (no, I said, he said that's fine), can I identify the glass things on his face, very short stuff like that. He said if you were really having issues, it'd be VERY noticeable, like you just keep saying the same things or forgetting over and over again or screwing up a recipe you've been doing for years at home. So that was good to know, and this Nerdy Girls email verified that.

My mom's boyfriend is a retired nuclear physicist and he's concerned about his memory. So far trust me, HE REMEMBERS TONS OF STUFF, and will tell you in great detail short of security breaches, but he says it takes him longer to retrieve it than it used to, and sometimes it takes him awhile to get the right word. He's nearing 80. But I'm grateful that so far he and my mother *knocks wood* have the marbles so far.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:35 PM on February 17 [8 favorites]

I've got the middle-aged pocket patting down, too, Greg_Ace. Wallet, keys/phone, small bills and change, but even though I'm doing it as I leave the house, having locked the door said keys, I still end up checking at least once before getting on my bike.

I'm middle-aged, and aware that it's not Alzheimer's, or early onset dementia, but I do feel, and have for several years now, much less sharp than I used to be. My memory is lousy where it used to be one of the things I prided myself on. I've tried, and continue to stick to routines and patterns, but I simply can't do the things I used to be able to do, which is frustrating. As a teacher, having students remind me that we've already covered something is pretty embarrassing, and I need to constantly keep track of things (notes, reminders, etc) that I never needed to before. I'm not even fifty yet, and I'm dreading where things will go from here.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:31 PM on February 17 [6 favorites]

I'm middle-aged, and aware that it's not Alzheimer's, or early onset dementia, but I do feel, and have for several years now, much less sharp than I used to be.

Same, and I feel like the pandemic had something to do with it. Maybe it just happened to coincide with me hitting my middle 40s, but I feel like in some way social distancing and isolation changed something in my brain.

I live in a keyless society, everything is just electronic number locks, and my cars are keyless. I haven't carried cash in probably a decade, either. But if I left home without my phone I would be screwed. Leaving without my phone would be akin to forgetting my left leg or something though, so I'm not worried about that (screen addiction on the other hand...).

What I've found, though, is that if I think too hard about the number code for the various doors in my life (two offices, apartment front gate, apartment front door, various other rooms around work, pin numbers for bank cards and etc, it's a lot of numbers to remember), I totally can't open the door. If I walk away, though, and sneak up on it, muscle memory takes over and it is no problem. Weird how that works.
posted by Literaryhero at 12:17 AM on February 18 [14 favorites]

Hi! Old here. As some of you know, I watched my mom succumb to Alzheimer’s/dementia. That experience has caused me to panic/worry/freak-out at every tiny wtf-am-i-doing? moment I have now. The word-on-the-tip-of-your-tongue thing is especially unnerving, but apparently it’s okay. *whew!*

Taking the keys away from your parent is a difficult, emotional, and likely angry-making, thing to have to do. In a car-dependent society, losing that freedom (both realistically and symbolically) is very upsetting. There are tricks you can use to help soften the emotional blow to your elder. Please be kind.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:22 AM on February 18 [15 favorites]

I lost my keys again! Do I have dementia?

The line i was taught:

"Can't remember where your keys are? Normal, busy person.

Can't remember what your keys are for*? Time to see a neurologist"

* and I don't mean 'for which individual lock'
posted by lalochezia at 5:30 AM on February 18 [13 favorites]

Taking the keys away from your parent is a difficult, emotional, and likely angry-making, thing to have to do. In a car-dependent society, losing that freedom (both realistically and symbolically) is very upsetting. There are tricks you can use to help soften the emotional blow to your elder. Please be kind.

My mom has Alzheimer's as well and she was cognizant enough to realize she needed to give up her keys after the day she attempted to drive herself to her doctor's office--a drive she has made many times--and then got lost and ended up in a parking lot, scared.

(At the time, my sister and I suspected something was amiss but chalked it up to her increasing deafness. We got the official diagnosis a month later. Mom knew she couldn't drive anymore after that incident.)
posted by Kitteh at 7:02 AM on February 18 [6 favorites]

Taking the keys away from your parent is a difficult, emotional, and likely angry-making, thing to have to do. In a car-dependent society, losing that freedom (both realistically and symbolically) is very upsetting.

We're dealing with this right now with my MIL, she is showing the early stages of Alzheimer's. She stopped driving a few months ago at her doctor's insistence and it was...not good. She lives in a smaller college town that's better than much of the US, but she still has basically zero transit or mobility options other than relying on my BIL who lives nearby. She's a divorcee and cancer survivor who has prided herself on being independent for years now, can't blame her for being upset with the situation.

As a not-so-young-anymore 40-something myself, it's been both depressing and a bit terrifying, and has also made me double down on prioritizing transit and walkability when looking for places to live and finally settle down in our own retirement. Assuming such a thing is even possible in the US.
posted by photo guy at 7:39 AM on February 18 [4 favorites]

Last year, I went to the doctor after experiencing some increasingly disturbing memory lapses, like suddenly forgetting how to navigate from one room of my own house to another. I thought maybe I’d had a stroke. But I easily passed a standard neurological exam, and the doctor brushed off my concerns, saying my symptoms would be much worse if I’d actually had a stroke.

A few weeks later, I was taken to the ER after being found unconscious, and an MRI revealed a large, inoperable brain tumor, which I’m still being treated for.

If you or your loved one is experiencing any strange new symptoms that seem neurological, I would strongly advise seeing a neurologist ASAP. Hopefully long before the “forgetting what keys are even for” stage.
posted by mubba at 8:18 AM on February 18 [33 favorites]

Also my most feared topic ever! My dad died in an accident before I could know where genetics would take him, but his two sisters both got Alzheimers, so I have reason to fear. In analyzing this fear, I realize that although I'm somewhat afraid of the actual process of losing my mind, what I'm really afraid of is being unloved, of being in the care of people who are indifferent to my suffering. And it seems like there's very little that can spare you from that. Even if you have people who love you, which by then I likely won't, they can't handle caring for you. I honestly pray for an earlier death from cancer or something where you die in a hospital or hospice. That doesn't seem nearly as bad.
posted by HotToddy at 8:53 AM on February 18 [14 favorites]

Yeah, I'm also terrified of this. I've got a lot of forgetting going on, but key for me are two very important things; I did A LOT of drugs and booze when I was younger, AND I have ADHD. All of my current forgetting still fits safely under these two cognition issues. I'm not so concerned about my keys being taken away, I'm a terrible driver. I'm concerned I'm going to become a serious problem to family and friends and ending up wharehoused. Yes it 's lovely to think I could be sent to a nice safe home for Dementia folks, but I'm poor, so I suspect not. What a wonderful country to grow old in.
posted by evilDoug at 9:16 AM on February 18

Oh, *so* many thing to say.

I'm dealing with this again, with my wife (70s) showing early stages, after we cared for her mom through the full arc of Alzheimer's and wrote a memoir about that a dozen years ago. That's available for free download the first of each month, and I hope if anyone gets it, it's a useful guide. Neuro exam says marginal MCI, but given my wife's previous level of mental agility, it's a huge change from where she was.

I was the primary care giver for my MIL, specifically on the basis that I was less emotionally attached than her daughter was, so it was easier for me to roll with the changes and challenges. This time around with my wife of 35+ years, it's a different matter.

I know the drill, and all the best coping strategies. It's still heartbreaking.
posted by Shadan7 at 9:19 AM on February 18 [18 favorites]

The articles were reassuring in a weird way. I am a highly distractable, forgetful person with poor impulse control and poor executive function who has quit driving recently. but I don't have Alzheimer's, I'm just old and have ADHD.

I guess I'll have to hope my adult kid will notice if I start having serious issues, though they're ADHD too so who knows.

I would add a couple of other causes of confusion in the elderly - hospital delirium (hospital stays can cause serious mental issues) and drug interactions. Those should also be ruled out before you start moving a parent or grandparent into assisted living.
posted by Peach at 9:42 AM on February 18 [6 favorites]

Again, one of my biggest fears. My grandma passed from AD. My mom died youngish from cancer. So I don't really know if genetics will be a factor.
posted by kathrynm at 10:23 AM on February 18

I've mentioned this in previous Alzheimer's threads...Be sure to contact your local Alzeimer's Assoc. office, and see if there are support groups in your area. I had one when we were going through the stuff with my mom, and it was a huge benefit.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:43 AM on February 18 [6 favorites]

Brains aren't perfect to begin with and can decline for all kinds of reasons. Age-related decline has at least the advantage that it offers you time to prepare.

I've been a dumb ass for some time now so I keep track of little tricks and habits to spare me cognition or effortful recall filed under #braincrutch hither and yon, also in specific spots. I'm not sure over time whether it will be easier for me to remember a tag or a path or what, it's a cheap hedge.

If anyone can suggest a better tag I'd be interested to check it out
posted by Rev. Irreverent Revenant at 10:54 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]

I wish I'd talked to the Alzheimer's folks about my mom, who died of Alzheimer's in 2018. I'm an only child, and while the upside is not having anyone to argue with, the downside is it all falls on you.

My mother-in-law died last year of Parkinson's, and the first sign I caught was that she bought sugared soda instead of diet for Mr Epigrams, who got his diabetes diagnosis 25+ years ago. It wasn't that she didn't remember the right kind of soda, which is how the rest of the family saw it, it was that she forgot her son whom she loves very much has a serious chronic illness that sugary sodas exacerbate. It was very unlike her. Parkinson's has a lot of other effects, and was not my first guess, but that was the first time I knew something was amiss.
posted by gentlyepigrams at 10:55 AM on February 18 [4 favorites]

Somehow my families - both on my side and myth wife's side - have so far avoided a round with Alzheimers or dementia, though early strokes and heart disease may have just taken some out before that could happen, but on top of that ever present concern I must m also fear madness. My grandfather developed schizophrenia in his late 50's - of an order we were told typically skips a generation - and indeed none of my mother's siblings experienced a similar fate. But my older brother, who was fortunate enough to retire in his mid 50's, went similarly mad in a matter of months at 57, refusing any/all attempts to seek treatment before killing himself a year later. Having now made it to my mid-60s my fears have alleviated a tad, but only to be combined with the advanced age concerns.
posted by thecincinnatikid at 12:05 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]

Yeah gentlyepigrams, my mom had Parkinsons dementia and boy was that confusing, and she lost some very odd cognitive skills. They often don’t tell you about that possibility with Parkinsons.
posted by Peach at 5:21 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]

Exactly, Peach. My dad had Parkinson's and died early (70) of a heart attack, so he never manifested any of the dementia signs. I had no idea about Parkinson's dementia even though there was a family history of Parkinson's disease!
posted by gentlyepigrams at 6:01 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]

Normal Aging: Difficulty with driving at night.

Those new high-intensity beams in some cars are blinding. And kooky driving patterns post-Covid in general as well.
posted by ovvl at 6:33 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]

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