Ask The Doctor

Memory Loss and Alzheimer’s Disease

Dear Dr. Garner,

I am very scared. My mother died of Alzheimer’s disease.  I am fine but I heard on television that people in their 40s are suffering memory loss and other brain problems.

I do find myself being forgetful. I can’t find the car keys and have trouble remembering certain names.

I am 45 years old. Do you think I am getting Alzheimer’s disease, and should I be doing anything about it?

Please let me know.
Forgetful in Flushing

Dear Forgetful,

Before answering your question I would like to recognize Tablet readers Gail Harvey, assistant principal of St. Saviour Elementary School, Park Slope, and her mother Eileen, a frequent caller to the Ask the Doctor show.

I am very sorry to hear about your mom.

The study to which you referred found that contrary to popular belief, there is a decline in brain function beginning as early as 45 years of age.  Previously, it was believed that brain loss did not occur until at least age 65.

This is important because if we can identify a patient with early Alzheimer’s disease then we might be able to treat him or her with medications. Medications work best when started early in the course of the disease.

In your case, it is highly unlikely that you have Alzheimer’s disease.

Most people experience forgetfulness, such as misplacing car keys or forgetting a close friend’s name. This is suggestive of normal aging and also a consequence of our very busy lives.

Alzheimer’s disease has a repeated pattern of forgetfulness which can interfere with daily functioning.

It is interesting to note that in Alzheimer’s disease, friends and family notice the forgetfulness, while the affected person usually does not.

Worrying about forgetfulness can actually exacerbate memory loss.

Here are some signs of early Alzheimer’s disease:
• Repeating statements and questions over and over.
• Forgetting conversations or appointments.
• Routinely misplacing possessions and often putting them in odd locations.
• Forgetting the name of family members and everyday objects.
• Losing sense of what day, time, or year it is.
• Having difficulty driving and veering to one side of the road, provoking horn blowing by other drivers.
• Typically withdrawing from social activities and becoming a loner.
• Depression often accompanies the disease making memory even worse.

There are things one can do to help stall the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Some important questions to ask yourself regarding your health are:
1. Is my blood pressure under control?  (Elevated blood pressure can lead to strokes and tiny areas of destruction in the brain.)
2. Do I drink more than two glasses of alcohol per day?  (Alcohol is toxic to the brain in high amounts.)
3. Do I smoke?  (Smoking is one of the worst offenders for dementia.)
4. Do I have trouble sleeping?  (This can lead to dementia.)
5. Am I depressed? (This worsens memory problems.)
6. Are my Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 levels low? (They have been shown to be protective.)
7. Do I exercise very little or not at all? (Aerobic exercise is best.)
8. Do I keep my mind active by doing puzzles or other brain stimulators? (Use it or lose it.)
9. Do I stay away from social relationships? (Do I belong to any church or community groups?)
10. Am I taking pills that might cause fatigue or memory loss? (An often overlooked culprit.)

If you answered yes to any of the questions, you’re putting yourself at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Review the checklist with your doctor and see what efforts you can make, either through medication or lifestyle changes to stay healthy, both in mind and body.

I thank you for your question, and please feel free to call upon me should you require a referral.[hr] Dr. Steven Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on The NET, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Channel 97 Time Warner and Channel 30 Cablevision.