So you forgot where you parked the car. That doesn’t mean you have Alzheimer’s disease, Tonda Ames said.
People with Alzheimer’s, even if they were to find their car, "might not know what to do once they get in it,” said Ames, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma/Arkansas chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. "They may not know where they’re going.”
The number of Oklahomans over age 65 with Alzheimer’s is expected to jump almost 15 percent in the next decade, from 74,000 to 85,000, according to projections by the Alzheimer’s Association. That would likely be due to better recognition and an aging population, Dr. Calin Prodan said.
There’s plenty of confusion when it comes to Alzheimer’s, said Prodan, a neurologist at OU Health Sciences Center and the VA Medical Center. Patients he sees have been referred for some sort of "generic” memory loss.
The key, Prodan said, "is to determine if this memory loss is more severe than you would expect with just simple aging.” Of all patients he sees who have memory loss, he said, probably two-thirds have dementia. A patient is considered to have dementia if the memory loss is pronounced enough to impair the person’s ability to function normally.
Of older people with dementia, Prodan said, about 60 percent have Alzheimer’s. "That’s the main cause of memory loss.” The other 40 percent have other diseases, from vascular dementia, to brain trauma, seizures or even brain tumors. "It’s a whole host of things,” he said. "Our job is to sort it out.”
Prodan has a particular interest in the dementia "gray area,” patients with mild cognitive impairment, or MCI. People in the MCI stage are capable of making decisions on finances, health, driving and other normal functions. Sometimes, medical staff discover other causes for the memory loss, such as thyroid conditions, Vitamin B12 deficiency or reactions to medicine.