Elderly man looking out airplane window

Over the past year, Steve, an 80 year old widow who lived alone, had begun to worry; he was having trouble remembering to pay his bills and had been calling his bank more and more frequently as he couldn’t seem to keep an accurate balance in his checking account.  His children were also becoming concerned as they had noticed that their dad’s once tidy home was becoming increasingly cluttered and that he seemed unusually irritable and anxious when they visited.

“Dementia” is not the name of a specific disease; rather, it is an umbrella term used to describe a range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or thinking skills. For example, Alzheimer’s disease is a TYPE of dementia; it is also the most common type of dementia found and accounts for approximately 70% of identified cases. Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells in various regions of the brain

One of the greatest risk factors for dementia is age.  In other words, the older you are, the greater your risk for getting dementia.  There is also a genetic component which may increase one’s risk for dementia.  Although there is no cure for dementia, research now suggests that activities that protect your heart also protect your brain.  Thus, regular physical activity and a healthy diet may lower your risk of getting some types of dementia.  According to a report published in the April 2013 issue of Neurology, a Mediterranean diet (which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and nuts while staying away from meats and dairy) may help protect the brain and reduce the risk of cognitive impairment.


  • Difficulty in managing a budget and paying bills.
  • Frequently losing items and being unable to find them.
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and social activities.
  • Decreased or poor judgment when making decisions.
  • Difficulty tracking appointments, dates and times.
  • Difficulty following conversations and finding the right word(s) when speaking.
  • Changes in mood such as increased anxiety, confusion, and irritation.

Steve alerted his doctor to the memory problems he was experiencing and further testing indicated he likely had early Alzheimer’s disease.  Although he and his family were understandably devastated by this news, receiving a clear diagnosis allowed him to move forward and plan for his future while he still had time.

If you are experiencing the above symptoms, it is imperative you alert a health care professional.  They can do an initial evaluation and, if necessary, refer you to a specialist for further testing. Although there is no cure for dementia, there are medications available that may help slow the progression of the disease. Most importantly, early diagnosis allows you to plan ahead so that you can maintain the greatest level of independence for as long as possible!