Brain health: When memory issues should become cause for concern
NORTH OGDEN, Utah — For Steve Jeffs, each day feels a lot like the day before – and the one before that.
His wife Joy, his partner of 57 years, has severe dementia.
“There’s really nothing she can do by herself,” he said. “Most of the time, she has no idea where she is or what’s going on.”
The daily routine may feel repetitive, but in their North Ogden home, sweet memories abound.
“She was an avid reader, and she would read two or three books a week,” Jeffs recalls. “As time went on, she was able to do fewer and fewer things.”
Over the years, the couple has visited over 70 countries together.
“I was keeping track of them on a world map,” Jeffs said.
It was during one of their vacations, aboard a cruise ship in Alaska in 2015, when Jeffs became concerned for his wife. What had until then seemed like normal signs of aging suddenly became troublesome.
Dr. Kevin Duff is a clinical neuropsychologist and professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of Utah. He says families should learn to recognize common examples of forgetfulness or minor memory loss.
“Struggling for a name of a person that you haven’t seen for a long time, that’s very normal,” Duff said. “But when we start to struggle for names of people that we see on a more regular basis, then that can be more of a sign of concern.”
There are definitely more serious signs.
“The person who’s regularly forgetting, say, to take their heart medication, and that’s starting to negatively affect their health, that’s much more a sign for concern,” he said.
Doctors consider if cognitive decline is interfering with daily functioning when considering a diagnosis.
“They may make a diagnosis that there’s a problem here, like mild cognitive or even dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and then may prescribe some type of intervention to try to slow down the progression of those difficulties,” Duff said.
If you’re concerned about a loved one, make an appointment with a primary care physician. Doctors can do cognitive tests and look for other factors, including depression.
While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, doctors say brain health is a lifelong commitment. They stress the importance of regular brain-building activities like physical exercise, cognitive stimulation and social engagement.
While no longer traveling far from home, nothing slows down Jeffs’ commitment, devotion and love for his wife Joy.
“Every night when I put her to bed, I give her a kiss and say her name and tell her that I love her,” he said.
An eternal optimist, Jeffs admits he mostly needs more time for himself. He encourages people to show support for friends and caregivers who just need someone to talk to.
“The best thing for me was the neighbors and the friends helping me, talking to me.”
AARP Utah has information about Caregiver Support Groups and activities for seniors on their website.
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