When someone says "Can I pick your brain for a minute," does it bother you that that may be as long as it takes?
Losing one's memory is a common subject of humor as we age. I'm just now realizing, however, that it's more serious and scary than we may like to admit (or, if I realized it earlier, I forgot about it). My dad, at 85 and one of the sharpest minds I know, has said in moments of not-totally-tongue-in-cheek, "If I ever lose my mind, shoot me." I like to obey my parents, but fortunately I can't remember where the gun is.
Senility, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, "forgetfulness"- unfortunately, by whatever name you give it, memory loss is no joke if you or a loved one is really worried about it and you're convinced it's more than just misplacing the keys. The conventional medical profession, great for treating acute problems, has a poor track record, in my opinion, for chronic situations. The progressive loss of memory certainly qualifies as one of the latter, because there's tons you can do, and a lot of both history and research to back it up.
Lange's Current Diagnosis & Treatment (1997) defines dementia as "an acquired persistent and progressive impairment of intellectual function with compromise in at least two of the following spheres of mental activity: language, memory, visuospatial skills, emotional behavior or personality, and cognition (calculation, abstraction, judgment, etc.)"
(Gee, since I have no idea what a visuospatial skill is and my athletes tell me I have a deadbeat personality, I may be in trouble.)
Anyway, forgetfulness usually comes first, and the fact that you are a bit forgetful doesn't necessarily mean you have Alzheimer's, as progression to true dementia is not an absolute. Also bear in mind that though full-blown dementia in the elderly is often of the Alzheimer type (60-70 percent), there are other causes of forgetfulness and confusion, problems that conventional medicine can be very helpful with. Vascular problems from blood clots, aneurysms (causing blood to leak out of blood vessels), arteriosclerosis (causing blocked blood vessels), some forms of anemia, and various combinations can all be involved. Depression can play a big factor, as can just plain inattention. Medication can cause memory problems, sometimes severe. Metabolic, biological and/or endocrine dysfunction, such as thyroid or liver disease, electrolyte imbalance, infection, tumors, and nutritional disorders, including malabsorption, can all be involved. (Oh, I forgot to add trauma.) Also, chemical exposures may be involved, such as aluminum, mercury, alcohol, lead, etc.
So, there's a lot to consider before just writing someone off to senile dementia, and that's a big reason why your doc should definitely be involved.
Unfortunately, however, medical therapy for Alzheimer's type of memory impairment (senile dementia) just a few years ago was limited to what's called the ergot alkaloids, specifically...