If you are living with or in close proximity to any septuagenarian (a person in his/her seventies), it is advised that you keep a close watch on their speech and actions to detect Alzheimer's disease or 'Senile-Dementia' at an early stage.
It creeps in such a slow pace which makes detecting very difficult. There are many websites that gives an idea of what symptoms to watch out for, but they just give a general idea and does not talk of signs specific to our life-style.
My grand-mother is a Dementia patient and has been deteriorating slowly for the past 3 or so years. (She was a seven year old when the photograph was taken ) Had we detected certain odd behaviors 5 years ago, we could have delayed the progress considerably. There were isolated incidents, ones that could easily be brushed aside that we never attached much importance. And brushing aside is what we did ,which turned out to be such a ghastly mistake on our part.
Let me give you a brief idea of the kind of woman my grand-mother is. She is the one I wrote about in one of my earlier posts. She would run her family so efficiently and also take care of the families of her daughters all at the same time.She would keep track of all that is happening in her daughters' families on a day to day basis.
I have an incident that would sum up her character and the role she played in our lives.. When my brother was in UKG or Ist standard he was asked by the tution teacher a question from Social Studies. When he was asked"Who is the head of the family?" My brother had thought for a moment and had replied in a conclusive way "Amamma is the head of the family !"
('Father' was the right answer in the text book..but we'll debate about that later :P )
That is how active she was..involving herself in numerous activities enthusiastically.There is so much to her that I can do a seperate post on the subject.
Around her seventieth year there were some disturbing behavior. Certain things that would not go in sync with her character ,caliber or intelligence.
The earliest was a depressive attitude. She would speak as if there was no hope even in trivial things. We thought she was complaining about her loss of physical strength and put it down to old age.
Then there would be repetitive phrases she would use..it was "enna maa pannaradhu (What can I do!)" for every question we would pose.
She was a very active person in family functions and was in close contact with all her first ,second ,third and nth cousins.But around this time she would never show any interest in meeting people or attending weddings..this was quite a shock to most of us. My cousin was doing medicine and he was the one who detected that something was amiss. When a phsychiatrist visited her, he diagnosed it as 'Depression' and started treatment.
She was a meticulous person giving a lot of to importance to home decoration (to the extent of digging up the floor to change it with not so much as batting her eyelids).She was one person who took a lot of effort to present herself well. It was next to impossible to find a hair out of place. But she could'nt even do her hair properly and her personal hygiene took a nose-dive.
Routine work was a great challenge to her .She would forget where she kept important things and would search for them over and over . One day while we were watching a late night movie she told me "Sree...idhu ellam poi dhaaney..ippo Meena thoongittu dhaaney irupaa?" (She was questioning why an actress was in the TV when everyone must be sleeping at that time of the day!) . I was shocked and did'nt know what to reply.
The next blow was the way she was handling money. She would give a bunch of notes to the cable-guy or the news-paper man and would not wait for the change. She had a bad bout of sweet-craving and would not keep track of the sweets eaten and this coupled with excess sleeping during day time and wandering in the nights was playing havoc with her overall well-being.
The last knock came when she asked my brother whether he was older or younger than me as she was a walking journal of all our lives and would give details with precision even in her sleep. Later when we slowly questioned her about who were siblings ,who were cousins and the order of siblings she was not sure of herself.
This was the time my mother decided to change the doctor and after an MRI the doctor gave us the sad news that she was a Dementia patient and that a part of her brain was not getting enough blood supply and he changed the medication. But even at that time she could carry on her work and was keeping a tab on the house-hold activities.
But slowly deterioration has taken its toll and now she is not able to tell even our names .But surprisingly she remembers her parents and her childhood very well and the moment she sees her father's photograph grabs it and says 'En Naina'('My Dad'). The doctors say that they go back in time and remember their childhood vividly.
There is no cure for Dementia and the best that can be done is delaying the deterioration , keeping their area accident-proof and spending as much time with them as possible. Prolonged medication for BP is also a contributing factor to this condition. Watching TV serials without a break should be discouraged and activities that would exercise the brain like 'sudoku' and reading various subjects should be encouraged.
My message is this. If you spot anything..anything in your parent's or grand-parent's behavior that makes you think "I guess they are getting old"...Dont assume it's old age taking its toll..immediately consult a good Neurologist and get them tested for Dementia. Most of all try spending as much time as possible with them and be part of their world.