Yesterday I had my annual wellness exam. It was the first time that my doctor asked me if I had any memory concerns. It made me sit up straight and realize that I am definitely in the age group of people who start showing signs of mild cognitive impairment. I nodded or shook my head in response to her questions and then said, “When I walked into my bedroom the other door I completely forgot why I had gone in there. My little granddaughters were playing hide and seek and when I said, ‘I don’t know why I came in here,’ they looked up at me confused and wondered why I was acting a little strangely.'”
Was I concerned? Yes, a little. I’ve done that before, but this time I was frozen for a few seconds. And actually, lately I’ve noticed that my spelling isn’t as sharp as it used to be. Neither is my long-term memory.
I’m even more concerned because I took the MindCrowd test, a short memory test in which you need to read and memorize 12 pairs of words. https://mindcrowd.org/?gclid=CjwKCAjwo4mIBhBsEiwAKgzXOEWhBjIHYSm0c42NvHNYAb2HDr6sMLfSCYjOc-zYq4D7-5FkW6mSmBoC-OIQAvD_BwE You’re given one word and asked to complete the pair, before the screen moves rather quickly to the next pair. To be honest, I didn’t do very well, and I was a little nervous while I was taking the test. It was more difficult for me than the Mini Mental Exam, which is given to people who are evaluated for Alzheimer’s disease.
As I said to my doctor, I know I don’t have Alzheimer’s disease. I’m kind of an expert on the disease and symptoms because I cared for my husband who had younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease for 10 years. And I wrote a book about our journey. https://www.amazon.com/Calmer-Waters-Caregivers-Alzheimers-Dementia/dp/1681570149/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&gclid=CjwKCAjwo4mIBhBsEiwAKgzXOHgn8mAm0UZQiBHyTLv7S_v_CYHJ-ruG_G0MyWUNV9myn59vmJfbvxoCuFAQAvD_BwE&hvadid=241894911837&hvdev=c&hvlocphy=9028817&hvnetw=g&hvqmt=e&hvrand=18354321622967658254&hvtargid=kwd-23474874821&hydadcr=22532_10344436&keywords=calmer+waters&qid=1627596739&sr=8-2
But I, and lots of my girlfriends, are somewhat concerned that we’re developing mild cognitive impairment. Should we be worried?
Here’s what I know
Approximately 12-18% of people age 60 or older are living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).
Researchers have found that more people with MCI than those without it go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. An estimated 10 to 20% of people age 65 or older with MCI develop dementia over a one-year period.
MCI is more common in men (19 percent) than in women (14 percent), according to a 2010 study in the Neurology. https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/mild-cognitive-impairment-more-common-older-men-older-women
- MCI prevalence was higher among people with the APOE e4 gene, a known risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer’s, a form of the disease that usually occurs at age 65 or older.
- A greater number of years spent in school was significantly associated with decreased MCI prevalence, from 30 percent among participants with less than nine years of education to just 11 percent in those with more than 16 years of education.
- MCI prevalence was higher in participants who never married, as opposed to those currently or previously married.
Signs of cognitive decline
- Forgetting appointments and dates.
- Forgetting recent conversations and events.
- Feeling increasingly overwhelmed by making decisions and plans.
- Having a hard time understanding directions or instructions.
- Losing your sense of direction.
- Losing the ability to organize tasks.
- Becoming more impulsive.
I don’t forget appointments, but I do forget events that occurred in the past decade or so. But then again, I’m good at remembering details about many events that others don’t remember. I typically don’t get overwhelmed about making decisions and plans. But then again, I had tons of work this summer and did get a little overwhelmed. I don’t have a hard time understanding directions, unless it’s something like installing a toilet or putting together a new machine, which I will gladly leave for my handyman. I rarely lose my sense of direction, but then again, it’s not as acute as it once was and I do get turned around while hiking sometimes. I never have trouble organizing tasks. In fact, I often multi-task. I am not typically impulsive.
What happens physically to the normal aging brain?
The brain changes more than any other part of the body. Yes, even more than our complexion that withers and wrinkles. Physically, the frontal lobe and hippocampus, the areas involved in higher cognitive function and encoding new memories starts to shrink around age 60 to 70. Fewer synaptic connections are made, which may contribute to slower cognitive processing. White matter, consisting of myelinated nerve fibers that carry nerve signals between brain cells, shrinks, and neurotransmitters that play a role in cognition and memory deceases.
Normal brain aging
- Difficulty learning something new: Committing new information to memory can take longer.
- Multitasking: Slowed processing can make planning parallel tasks more difficult.
- Recalling names and numbers: Strategic memory, which helps with remembering names and numbers, begins to decline at age 20.
- Remembering appointments: Without cues to recall the information, the brain may put appointments into “storage” and not access them unless something jogs the person’s memory.
So what do I think? Am I developing MCI? I certainly hope not, and I really don’t think so. I spend a lot of time using my cognitive skills. I’m a writer, and am at my best while sitting at the computer writing words. But my memory is definitely not what it used to be, nor is it as good as my mother’s was when she was well into her 80s. But I take ginkgo, phosphatidylserine, B vitamins, and Lion’s mane mushroom, and I know they help because when I don’t take them, my mind is fuzzy. I’m not going to worry, because worrying does no good but add stress. But I will continue to eat a plant-based Mediterranean diet, which is proven to stave off premature aging, and try to get enough sleep and exercise
P.S. I repeated the MindCrowd test and scored really well!
P.P.S. No, I never forgot to pick up my granddaughter from preschool. 🙂
Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Boulder Book Store, Tattered Cover Book Store, Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.