dementia

Dan Margolies / KCUR 89.3

In 2001, Terrie Huntington’s younger sister began showing symptoms of dementia. She was 48 years old and was a funeral director in Clearwater, Kansas. She started having trouble figuring out the numbers on her computer keyboard.

“She also had other diseases, fibromyalgia and arthritis, and was taking medication and she thought, ‘Perhaps I’m not taking the right medication, it's making me forgetful,’” Huntington says.

Huntington says her sister eventually lost the ability to dial a phone or use the dials on a washing machine.

Dan Margolies / Heartland Health Monitor

Dementia is an impairment of brain functions marked by memory loss and personality changes. It affects an estimated 4 million to 5 million adults in the United States annually and, as the elder population increases, is likely to have a growing impact in the future.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting as many as 5 million Americans in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number is projected to rise to 14 million by 2050.

Before becoming one of today's most popular mystery writers, Canadian Louise Penny was a CBC journalist and radio host. She struggled while pursuing her childhood goal of writing a book, but finally found her stride, and fame,  in a series of novels around the central character of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.

An Alzheimer's diagnosis impacts not just the person who has the disease but their family and friends who take on a caretaking role, as well. Too often, the health and happiness of the supporters is overlooked, to the detriment of everyone involved.

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Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

Almost every day, Jay Mellies leaves his home in Clay Center and drives about 20 miles north to visit his wife at a nursing home in neighboring Washington County.

Some days when he comes in she tells staff, “I don’t know that guy.” Then she smiles. It’s a joke, but Mellies knows someday it may not be. His wife has Alzheimer’s disease.

If at some point she no longer remembers him, he will continue to come, nearly every day, to read to her and listen to her favorite music. They’ve been married 55 years, after all, and he believes others would do the same for their spouses.

Susie Fagan / KHI News Service

 

Experts say powerful antipsychotic drugs — sometimes given in combination — are used too much and often inappropriately as “chemical restraints” or sedatives to control the behavior of Kansas nursing home residents suffering from Alzheimer’s or other dementias, and that efforts to curb the practice so far are showing weak results compared with other states.

The brains of people who grow up speaking two languages are wired differently, and those differences protect them from dementia as they age.

That's the news from two studies out this month from a scientist in Canada who has spent decades trying to figure out whether being bilingual is bad or good. "I've been doing this for 25 years," Ellen Bialystok, a distinguished research professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, tells Shots. "Suddenly people are interested. I figure it's because everybody's scared about dementia."