When 59-year-old Sushila (name changed) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, her children and grandchildren started to worry about their 65-year-old dad (and granddad) too. Every little forgetful episode was seen with horror and speculation. “He couldn’t see the keys that were lying right in front of him.” “He left the car window open.” “He sat in front of the TV and forgot what he wanted to watch.” This brings us to question – how much memory loss is normal with aging and how to notice the early signs?
Dr. Amit Batra, Principal Consultant – Neurology, Max Hospital, Patparganj shares, “To some extent, some memory loss is an expected part of the aging process. Forgetting names, recent conversations, objects kept by oneself, is within the normal range—but if memory issues start to impair function or ability to manage daily life, it’s time to take it seriously and see your doctor.”
According to Dr Narendiran S, Consultant, Department of Neurology, Meenakshi Mission Hospital and Research Centre, Madurai, “Dementia is considered only if the patient has problems with 2 of the following higher mental functions i.e Attention, Memory, execution, language, visuospatial and social cognition. And it has to affect the patient’s day to day activities. In normal aging mild attentional problems, memory loss not affecting daily life is seen.” People with dementia may start with mild mood changes, loss of interest in human interaction, increased anger, anxiety etc. Parkinson’s patients have sleep disturbances due to restless legs, sleep behavioural disorders like night terrors, dream enacting etc, he adds.
Are neurodegenerative disorders on rise?
All the doctors we spoke to shared that they are noticing an uptrend in the occurrence of such disorders. They regularly see patients with dementia- Alzheimer’s, Fronto temporal variant, Vascular, Parkinson’s disease, Motor neuron disease, degenerative ataxias and small numbers with muscle disease. But there is an explanation. Dr Vinay Goyal, Director, Neurology, Institute of Neurosciences, Medanta, Gurugram sees about 40-60 patients per week with neurodegenerative disorders. “The numbers have gone up due to better diagnosis, health awareness and increased life expectancy.” He tells his patients that any memory loss which affects one’s daily activities should be investigated.
Dr. Virajrao Kore, Geriatric Physician, Geriatrics, Amrita Hospital, Kochi adds, “At our practice in the Department of Geriatrics you can say, out of every 10 patients we see, 3-4 patients have some or the other form of Neuro Degenerative Disorders.”
The common signs which people tend to miss are slowness in body movements, very subtle memory loss, change in behavior/ personality, problems with walking or ability to perform dexterous tasks. In case of early dementia, forgetfulness is often considered to be age related and changes in mood or behavior are also considered related to some life stressors. In patients with Parkinson’s disease, the slowness, tremors of hand and walking problems are attributed to aging or to weak muscles/ nerves, warns Dr Batra.
Docs recommend brain exercises
Everything depends upon the cognitive reserve. More the patient is involved in mentally challenging activities the better the cognitive reserve, which in turn makes the person highly capable. The brain exercises can be anything that is stimulating and interesting for the person, suggests Dr Narendiran S.
Dr Batra recommends games like Sudoku, crosswords, puzzles, chess etc. He also suggests people to socializing more, plan events at home, learn new skills, practice new vocabulary, engage in daily aerobic exercises and also meditation.
Dr Goyal concludes, “Mental arithmetic, reasoning exercises, debate, playing cards, regular conversations with family, friends are some ways to keep the brain active.”