Health Report

By Hannah Wallace January 1, 2012

Do you really have a memory problem?

What’s causing it? What should you do about it?

The state-funded Memory Disorder Clinic at Sarasota Memorial Hospital helps people understand their condition and negotiate their options. "We want to keep you living as independently as possible," says clinic manager Kathleen Houseweart.

The causes of memory loss and dementia (when memory loss is paired with another cognitive impairment) often accompany aging and may be as simple as a B12 deficiency or thyroid problem. Sometimes medications or chronic alcohol use can affect memory. Even clinical depression—considered "pseudo-dementia," according to Houseweart—can affect cognitive abilities. "Unfortunately, when we rule everything else out, then our default position is most likely Alzheimer’s," Houseweart explains.

Fortunately, many causes of memory loss can be treated, leading to marked improvements. The key is to take advantage of the community’s resources before the condition becomes a crisis. Houseweart says too many people wait for dire circumstances before acting. "The art of aging well is the art of being willing to compromise," she says.

How do you know you might have a problem? When memory loss affects your way of life. Streets you see every Sunday on your way to church suddenly look unfamiliar, or you can’t count the cards during your weekly bridge game. "All of us occasionally have word-finding difficulty," Houseweart says. "But if you get so embarrassed that you can’t find words that you’re withdrawing from things you used to enjoy, that’s affecting your quality of life." Then it’s time to ask questions.

"The biggest thing," she adds, "is if someone you trust says, ‘I’m concerned about your memory,’ even if you don’t notice anything. You have to trust the people around you."

The SMH Memory Disorder Clinic performs free cognitive assessments and can refer you to a number of community resources: (941) 917-7197.

Did you know?

A Duke University study suggests family members often misidentify or fail to recognize memory loss and dementia in older relatives. Among patients studied whose family reported no memory loss whatsoever, 75 percent were found to have cognitive impairment. (When families did report memory loss, 30 percent of those patients actually had no cognitive impairment at all.)

Memory ClockTop three causes of dementia:

No. 1: Alzheimer’s disease, affecting an estimated 5.4 million people

No. 2: Vascular dementia caused

by decreased blood flow to the brain, often because of stroke.

No. 3: Lewy bodies, abnormal deposits of protein inside the brain’s nerve cells.

(In many cases, patients present with more than one memory-affecting condition.)

SOURCE: Alzheimer’s Association

Ten Minutes a Year for Memory

Researchers at Sarasota’s Roskamp Institute recommend an annual memory test for anyone over 60. The institute’s own neuropsychologist-developed standardized test takes only 10 minutes and can point to problems in attention, memory, language, visual construction, visual thinking and orientation. The test is free and may be shared with your personal physician for further testing and follow-up. Plus, some subjects may be eligible for clinical trials. Call for an appointment: Roskamp Institute Memory Center, 2040 Whitfield Ave., Sarasota, (941) 256-8019.

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