Cognitive Decline

One of the questions I get from people when they find out I have Alzheimer’s is how I got to the point that I wanted to investigate my symptoms. The conversation quickly goes to my diagnosis of cognitive decline. Technically, the term is Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). The Alzheimer’s Association defines MCI as “changes that are serious enough to be noticed by the individuals experiencing them or to other people, but the changes are not severe enough to interfere with daily life or independent function.”

In my case, it is known as “Amnestic MCI“. I may forget important information that I would previously have recalled easily such as appointments, conversations or events. It is hit and miss on what I can remember. I know NCIS is on Tuesdays, Blue Bloods in on Fridays. I have to trim our tree in the front yard a little so I can put up our flag for Veterans Day. I will forget this if not reminded or if I do not put it on my to do list.

Non-amnestic MCI affects thinking skills including the ability to make sound decisions, judge the time or sequence of steps needed to complete a complex task, or visual perception.  My decision making skills are slowed, but intact.

When I explain that I have issues with memory, people are quick to tell me that they do also, it is part of aging, which isn’t a false statement, but it needs further definition. When is it time to seek medical guidance if you are having memory or cognitive issues? In my case, I was very aware that is was getting worse. I knew I was forgetting things at work. I knew something wasn’t right so I started investigating options.

Cognitive Decline is a lot more serious and prevalent than people realize. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) compiles data through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). It is the nation’s premier system of health-related telephone surveys that collect state data in all 50 states. Utilizing this data, the Alzheimer’s Association developed a fact sheet on cognitive decline in Nebraska. I will summarize some of the high points about Nebraska.

  1. 9.4% of those 45 and over report that they are experiencing confusion or memory loss that is happening more often or getting worse.
  2. More than 60% of those reporting confusion or memory loss have NOT talked to a health care professional about it.
  3. Those with memory problems, nearly half say it has created functional difficulties for them. They had to give up day-to-day activities or it interfered with work or social activities.
  4. 63.9% of those with memory problems have NOT talked to a health care professional.
  5. 27.9% of those with memory problems live alone.

So what does all of this data mean? It means we need to realize that when memory and cognitive issues are noticeable, they need to be discussed with your health care professional. We can no longer make the assumption that it is just part of the aging process. As I look back, I was having issues years before I was diagnosed. Sometimes it’s what seems like little things.

  1. Walking to another room to get something and forget what I am going after.
  2. Leaving my cellphone somewhere in the house or in the car.
  3. Being late or forgetting an appointment.
  4. Being forced to create a list of some kind to remember what I need to do.
  5. Telling my wife that I started the crock pot (for the 3rd time today).
  6. Losing the ability to concentrate on multiple things at a time.

These are only a few things that I noticed. One of these things could be easily dismissed, but with all of these things working together, something was obviously wrong. Several years before my diagnosis, I was having to create spreadsheets to organize my workflow and even to organize my day. I had to stop putting my wallet and car keys in my desk. I would get to the parking garage to go home without my wallet or keys. I was really self conscious about it, there was the fear that someone at work would notice that my memory was getting worse.

The Alzheimer’s Association has a wealth of information available on their website at Alz.org. More information about the BRFSS is available on the CDC website at cdc.gov/brfss.

Thanks Kevin for the new look on the blog, I appreciate it!