Notes on Aging: Dodging the Dementia Bullet

Larry 'n NassauBack in my grandfather’s day old people didn’t get Alzheimer’s, they just got old, crotchety, and at worse, a little senile. In today’s world, however, there are few aging Americans who don’t harbor a great fear of totally losing their being to the ravages of this new evil called Alzheimer’s or dementia. (Speaking of dementia, there was a time when that word meant but one thing to me. That radio DJ, Doctor Demento, who played strange and off-beat records.)

Last evening NBC Nightly News reported a story about early symptoms of Alzheimer’s compared to symptoms of normal aging. My wife and I got to comparing and sharing notes on ourselves and each other. I did a quick Google and found a recent list of ten signs, also compared to normal aging. Taking inventory the good news is, so far we seem to be aging okay.

If you’re interested in taking your own personal inventory, here’s the list as reported at Yahoo News:

—Challenges in planning or solving problems. Changes in ability to work with numbers, follow a recipe, track bills. Normal aging: Occasional mistakes when balancing a checkbook.

—Difficulty completing familiar tasks. Trouble driving somewhere familiar, managing a budget at work, remembering rules of a game. Normal aging: Occasionally needing help with settings on a microwave or to record a TV show.

—Confusion with time or place. Losing track of dates or seasons; forgetting where they are or how they got there. Normal aging: Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.

—Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. Difficulty reading, judging distance, determining color. Normal aging: Vision changes from cataracts.

—New problems with words in speaking or writing. Trouble following or joining a conversation, repeating themselves. Normal aging: Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.

—Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. Putting things in unusual places, losing things, accusing others of stealing. Normal aging: Occasionally misplacing things and retracing steps to find them.

—Decreased or poor judgment. Bad moves with money, less attention to grooming. Normal aging: Making a bad decision once in a while.

—Withdrawal from work or social activities. Normal aging: Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations.

—Changes in mood and personality. Becoming confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. Normal aging: Developing specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.

In my own quest to stave off the effects of aging I’ve tried to keep my brain active. During the NBC piece I heard once more that the brain is a muscle and keeping is active is how to avoid atrophy. The reporter also said it helps to hang around younger people. Well, I’m putting a lot of stock in that I spent most of my adult life in a class room with young people and that my profession required me to constantly learn and keep my brain active.

I also take comfort that my hobbies and interests, such as technology and travel, have kept my brain active. One of my grandchildren asked me why I write and spend so much time messing around on Facebook. The main answer is simple, it’s fun. But just as important is the exercise it gives my gray matter and that Facebook keeps me in contact with dozens, if not hundreds, of former students and they are still younger than I.

None of this is to say I one day won’t become a victim of dementia. But, like most everything in life the individual has the option of trying to manipulate the odds in their favor. In 1982 I made the choice to quit smoking and I’m confident I’ve added years to my life. I made a deliberate attempt to gain control over my weight issues and certainly improved the quality of my life, if not its longevity. Sitting here attempting to piece together correct and meaningful sentences is yet another purposeful activity that hopefully will help make sure that whatever years I have left will be quality years.

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