Rob Stewart takes a look at the changes of how we perceive aging and senility.
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Changes in Perceiving Aging and Senility
Rob Stewart: As we age keeping our minds active is crucial. Taking care of ourselves as we get older, well, often times help maintain middle strength later in life. You know Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can strike at any age. Not just our senior years. Memory loss can have huge impact on family members who often times become caregivers themselves. We began with a look back at how our beliefs about aging and memory loss have profoundly changed with time.
A lot has changed regarding our thoughts on aging and memory. It wasn’t long ago when America that people just became “senile” or loss their minds.
And for society as a whole, that was just seems as a fact of aging.
Michael McCloud: Senility is still in the dictionary. If you go to Merriam Webster senility is the mental infirmity of older age. Well, that’s pejorative definition if there ever was one. You know it’s amazing if you think that up until about 1970, the old bromide was if you like long enough you’re going to get significantly confused. You’re going to be senile.
Rob Stewart: Today, we know a little forgetfulness as we aged is normal. But memory loss that disrupts daily life, that’s abnormal and a sign of a problem.
Barbara Gillogly: The standard analogy is if you can’t find your car keys and you look and look and there they are and you know that you were looking for them, why you were looking for them, and what you do with them, that’s normal. If you can’t find your car keys and later you find them and you don’t know what to do with them that’s abnormal. That’s dementia.
Rob Stewart: But for decade’s especially through the 1940’s and 50’s, when a person exhibited what we now know are classic signs of Alzheimer’s they stood a good chance of being sent to an institution.
In fact many people declared senile ended up in a asylums to the point were over crowding became a national issue. So how did this happen? It begins with Dr. Alois Alzheimer discovering the cognitive disease in 1901 and later presenting it to a meeting of doctors in 1906.
Michael McCloud: And what he concluded the moderator of that meeting said, “Well, any questions?” There was no question. This was truly thought to be a very unusual bizarre footnote that none of us would ever actually see in the practice of medicine. And boy, was everyone wrong?
Rob Stewart: In 1970, 69 years after Alzheimer’s discovery, two neuroscientist Blessed and Tomlinson from the University of Manchester published research that finally change doctors views.
Michael McCloud: And what they saw was a real brain change. They showed that most of those people who were being labeled senile had these lesions in their brain. This litter, a glue like litter. We call it tangles and plaques that was exactly what Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906 had described in one haze as being medical oddity. But Blessed and Tomlinson showed us, “That’s not an oddity at all. That’s not a medical curiosity. That’s what we’re calling senility.
Rob Stewart: Rita Hayworth was the first big star to be diagnosed with the disease in 1980, and she died from Alzheimer’s seven years later. But of all things what really segmented the disease into the public consciousness was a letter to Dear Abby dated October 23rd 1980.
Michael McCloud: Pauline Philips who wrote the column in Dear Abby, received a letter from someone who sign that as Desperate in New York, that saying that her husband have been diagnosed with this disorder called Alzheimer’s disease. And doctors didn’t seem to know much about it and it was just a nightmare. And the weeks after that letter was published, the Alzheimer’s association received somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 letters saying, “Yeah, our family member has also been given that diagnosis.
Rob Stewart: Today, not only our thoughts but sensitivity to memory loss has completely changed since the days of simply calling people senile. And that’s mainly because we know more about diseases that affects the mind than ever before. Here are a few things we know. Dementia is defined as a loss or declined in memory and cognitive ability and there are many varieties.
Shawn Kile: So, dementia is a large category and most common cause is Alzheimer’s disease. But there are other causes of dementia like dementia purely due to vascular disease and dementia due to Parkinson’s disease, with Lewy Body disease, frontotemporal dementia.
Rob Stewart: To be classified as having dementia, a person needs to exhibit not just memory loss but decline in one of the following criteria. One, the ability to generate coherence, speech or understand, spoken or written language. Two, the ability to recognize or identify objects. Three, the ability to execute motor activities like walking. And four, the ability to think abstractly make sound judgments and plan and carry out complex tasks, and the decline of these abilities must be severe enough to interfere with daily life.
Charles DeCarli: What know firmly about Alzheimer could be is that is mostly a disease of older people that it does have some genetic. It influences and it’s unfortunate but right now that we can’t change the course of the disease once someone has it. We can improve the symptoms but the ultimate course right is death and it’s a terrible disease. It’s a terminal disease.
Rob Stewart: But we also know that while there’s no cure. Medications can help.
Shawn Kile: Cognitive function in Alzheimer’s disease can sometimes be improved with medications and not only prescribing medications but also reviewing a patient’s medication list to make sure there are no medications that are impairing memory function especially when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease because they're very sensitive to certain medications.
Rob Stewart: And we now know if you have Alzheimer’s, you’ve had it a long time.
Michael McCloud: Well, once you're diagnosed to having Alzheimer’s disease. For intents purposes, you have late onset disease. You had this process brewing in your brain for several years potentially two or three decades.
Rob Stewart: We even know exactly what happens to the brain with Alzheimer’s patients.
Shawn Kile: Specifically, we’ll look at this at this region of the brain.
Michael McCloud: There is an accumulation of this starch, a glue-like protein that adheres like barnacles to the brain cells. We call it those amyloid plaques. Then within the brain cells, we see these threadlike filaments or hairballs under the microscope. They're called neurofibrillary tangles or tangles. Those just seem to choke the thinking brain cells both from outside and inside.
Rob Stewart: But for all we know about the disease there are still so much we don’t know.
Charles DeCarli: What we don’t know is how some people get Alzheimer’s disease in their brain looks like the worst case of Alzheimer’s disease and they’re normal. Their thinking is normal, their behavior is normal, their living independently until the day they die. Okay? They’re other people have very little Alzheimer’s disease and they have a dementia.
Rob Stewart: To make it perfectly clear, Alzheimer’s is a disease. It only affects some and what we use to think about aging that everyone eventually gets senile and memory loss was normal was actually a myth, one that justifiably put fear into a lot of people.
Barbara Gillogly: Part on the fear that most people have is I’m going to lose my mind and that’s not normal aging. That’s called the disease process and that’s what dementia is. It doesn’t happen to everybody.