Having gone through the experience with my mother, I’ve had great empathy for Tyler, the son of Pat Summitt, as he supported his mother while she underwent tests that led to the dismal diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and then met with the university and friends to share that information.
As head coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of Tennessee, Pat Summitt’s history is legendary, and few have been able to stand toe-to-toe with her, her girls and their records.
Even while experiencing memory lapses, “drawing blanks” and physical problems last year, Summitt still led Tennessee to a 34-3 record and reached the NCAA tournament region finals. She is expected to continue her role as the head coach until time and the Alzheimer’s disease process make that no longer possible.
Dementia is a collective name for progressive degenerative brain syndromes that affect memory, thinking, behavior and emotion.
Dementia is not a specific disorder or disease. It’s a group of symptoms that are associated with a progressive loss of memory and other intellectual functions that are serious enough to interfere with performing the routine tasks of daily life.
Dementia is not a normal part of aging, nor is it selective in who it affects. Dementia is caused by nearly 40 diseases and conditions, ranging from dietary deficiencies and metabolic disorders to head injuries and inherited diseases.
Although it may occur at any age, dementia most commonly is associated with aging and is the leading cause of institutionalizing older adults.
An individual’s personality, general health and social situation are important factors in determining the impact dementia will have on them.
People often are afraid to seek professional help when they suspect dementia. But it’s important to know that there are treatable conditions called reversible dementias, which can be caused by vitamin deficiencies, depression, infections or inflammation.
There is no specific test for Alzheimer’s disease, but a reasonably accurate diagnosis of dementia can be made by taking a careful history of the person’s problems from a close relative or friend, combined with an examination of the person’s physical and mental status.
While there currently is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or for most other causes of dementia, many of the problems associated with dementia, such as restlessness and depression, can be treated.
A new study suggests that dementia can be delayed among patients who exercise moderately three times per week.
It also may be possible, especially in the early stages of dementia, to improve someone’s memory with specific medications.
Even if you’re afraid of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible because the drugs currently available appear to preserve, even temporarily, the brain’s function when the drugs are started.
10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s
1. Memory loss
2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks
3. Problems with language
4. Disorientation to time and place
5. Poor or decreased judgment
6. Problems with abstract thinking
7. Misplacing things
8. Changes in mood or behavior
9. Changes in personality
10. Loss of initiative
Sept. 21 is World Alzheimer’s Day, and the theme this year is “Faces of Dementia.” Recent research indicates that staying mentally and physically active may help stave off dementia longer, so plan your days around this information.
Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.