Dr Bret Wilson

Where Did I Park the Car?

Where Did I Park The Car?
Simple Temporary Forgetfulness Or Am I Losing My Mind?
By Dr. Bret Wilson


Photo By Jodie Wilson

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive decline that begins with small memory lapses, forgetfulness, as the disease develops there are greater changes noticeable to family and co-workers, and eventually significant impairment of behavior, daily activities and interaction with others. The condition progresses differently and displays varied symptoms in individuals. There are ten warning signs that range from forgetting recently learned information, loss of ability to organize tasks, withdraw from social interaction. We all have made the joke about “old timer’s” disease because we cannot remember a name or find our keys, but if there is an increase in frequency of these events, disrupting daily activity, then consultation with a physician is a good idea. There is growing evidence that early detection and intervention may be helpful. As with all disease, early detection and diligent pursuit of proper health measures can slow the progression and help the patient and their family better prepare for changing needs.

Perhaps you have had a relative, friend or spouse who has been affected by the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease.

Current statistics indicate that people diagnosed with the changes of memory, thinking and behavior now has grown to one in eight for people aged 65 and older.   It is more prevalent in women than men.  The number will likely escalate as the baby boomers age.  Four percent of case are considered early onset, occurring in individuals under 65.  The figure of cases increases to 43% of persons over 85 years old. 

The recent disclosure by basketball coach Pat Summit, is an example of a case in which, episodes gave her indications of a problem.  Now that she has identified the disease, she hopes to slow down its progression with medication and various mental exercises.  There is no proven cure or treatment.  The exact mechanism and how quickly it progresses in some and not others is still under investigation.  It not only affects the patient, but those around them, family, friends, co-workers.  Often, people will deny signs and symptoms, for fear of losing a job, or relationships with loved ones.  This part of the story is one of the courageous parts of Coach Summit’s admission, and the result has been an outpouring of support, and a modification of her home and work activities to allow her to function within her abilities and hope fully slow down the advance of the disease.

The primary risk factor for Alzheimer’s is aging.  There is also increased risk if there is a close family member who has been diagnosed with dementia.  These two factors are not ones you can control, but the awareness of the factors can motivate you to control other risks that are more related to life choices.  A history of head trauma also increases risk. Abuse of alcohol and drugs can cause decline of mental function.  Diseases that include heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes will increase the risk of many other diseases, but are related to health choices.

What about prevention?  There is ongoing research, but no absolute known prevention.  Good sense would indicate that keys to general good health will reduce concurrent risk factors for dementia. Lifestyle choices are well within our control.  Exercise renders a host of benefits including improved mental function.   Eat a diet that emphasizes whole foods, lean protein, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables.  Diet and exercise should maintain a healthy body weight, improve fitness and reduce stress.   A diet supplemented with anti-oxidants vitamins C, E and omega-3 fatty acids. There also appears to be benefit to mental activity and social connections to lower risk.  Mental activities that require creativity, organization, relating various factors to draw a conclusion stimulate the brain and help keep it sharp.  Writing a journal, volunteer activities, art, crosswords, building projects can all fit the bill.  Participation in these mental activities with others adds the social interaction component.

The other component is the effect of being the caretaker for a friend or loved one that has been disabled by the disease.  Estimates are that 80% of the caregivers to Alzheimer’s patients are family members in the home.   Tasks range from basic housekeeping, personal care, dispensing medication, transportation to medical care, and supervision of activities to maintain safety.   This creates a huge burden emotionally, physically and financially.  The person you love is slipping away, but their need for your love is more than ever.   There is a profound effect on the spouse, children, friends and co-workers.  I found a children’s book, Grandma’s Cobwebs, by Ann Franatti, Ed. D, A Story for Children About Alzheimer’s Disease.  I must still be a kid at heart because I found it to be a wonderful journal through a grand daughter’s eyes, of a women’s progression of Alzheimer’s and how her family lovingly handled the challenges.   Development of support services, adult care day, care-giver support programs are all important resources being developed to aid this growing concern.

Chances are that we all will be close to someone that is affected by Alzheimer’s.  There are things we can do for ourselves and our families that can improve our health and decrease our risks.  We can support organizations and research that try to find more information about the prevention and treatment of dementia.  Provide compassionate support of the care takers and those that need the care both as individuals and a community.  Remember that social interaction and mental activity help reduce your risk and promote a better world.  Making the right choices for your health can help in prevention of disease and maintaining health.

Yours In Health,

Bret Wilson, DC


Alzheimer’s Association:  http://www.alz.org/index.asp

National Institute on Aging:  http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers

Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation:  http://www.alzheimersprevention.org/