For the past four years or so, we have watched my ex-mother-in-law decline slowly in some areas but rapidly in others with her dementia. If you have ever experienced this personally, you know how agonizing it is to watch a loved one decline. Sadly, my oldest son is heartbroken over how his grandmother is basically dying before his eyes, and he has zero power to help her.
Although he is a young adult, his grandma has passed the point of regular visits from a nurse and her grandson. She needs more care today than they can provide. My grandson and her nurse are discussing either seeking 24-hour home health care or moving into an assisted living situation. Quite frankly, I feel she probably needs more nursing care at this point.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have watched a loved one decline with dementia: my great-grandmother, a dear neighbor friend, and a close friend’s parent all passed away from dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Below are some warning signs to watch for if you or a loved one thinks you might have dementia:
- Memory loss that affects day-to-day abilities
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks
- Problems with language
- Disorientation to time and place
- Impaired judgment
- Problems with abstract thinking
- Misplacing things
- Changes in mood and behavior
- Changes in personality
- Loss of initiative
- Challenges in understanding visual and spatial information
Some treatable conditions can produce symptoms similar to dementia, such as vitamin deficiencies, thyroid disease, sleep disorders, alcoholism/abuse, or clinical depression. Other potential causes of confusion may include poor sight or hearing, and as a direct result of this, it is essential to schedule a full medical assessment should you notice any changes in abilities, mood, personality, or behavior in yourself or a loved one.
What causes sudden memory loss in elderly?
Memory and other thinking problems have many possible causes, including depression, infection, alcohol abuse, or medication side effects. Sometimes, the problem can be treated, and cognition improves. Other times, the problem is a brain disorder, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, which cannot be reversed. Memory loss and cognitive decline can be concerning for elderly individuals and their loved ones.
Alcohol-related dementia may be diagnosed when alcohol abuse is determined to be the most likely cause of dementia symptoms. The condition can affect memory, learning, reasoning, and other mental functions, as well as personality, mood, and social skills. Alcohol-related dementia typically develops gradually over time due to the damaging effects of alcohol on the brain. Discontinuing use altogether is highly suggested and could slow down or halt further cognitive decline.
Depression is one possible cause of cognitive impairment in older folks. It is a common condition among older adults, often undiagnosed and untreated. The symptoms of depression can include difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, and a lack of interest or motivation. Addressing and treating the underlying depression can often lead to memory and cognitive function improvements.
Infections can also contribute to sudden memory loss in the elderly. Urinary tract infections, for instance, are common in older adults and can cause confusion and cognitive impairment, known as delirium. Other infections, such as pneumonia or meningitis, can also affect brain function and memory. Timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment of these infections can help restore cognitive abilities.
Medication side effects may play a significant role in memory loss among older adults. Certain medications, especially when multiple drugs are taken together, can cause cognitive impairment. Reviewing an individual’s medication regimen with a healthcare professional to ensure they are not experiencing any adverse cognitive effects is essential.
It is crucial to approach the topic of sudden memory loss with empathy and understanding. Providing a supportive and caring environment for individuals experiencing cognitive decline is essential. Seeking medical attention to determine the cause of memory loss is vital for appropriate treatment and support.
What neurological disorders are caused by alcohol?
Chronic alcohol consumption has produced numerous neurological manifestations, such as polyneuropathy, cerebellar degeneration, and dementia. On the more severe side are WE, Korsakoff syndrome, and Marchiafava–Bignami disease.
Some more life-threatening diseases caused by chronic alcohol abuse are in the list below. Case after case has shown that excessive alcohol use can increase a person’s risk of certain terminal illnesses, including:
- Mouth cancer
- Throat cancer
- Bowel cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Liver cancer
- Breast cancer
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
Let’s discuss more about the polyneuropathy side effect mentioned earlier, its causes, and symptoms below.
What causes polyneuropathy?
Before we get into what causes polyneuropathy, let’s discuss quickly what it is exactly. Polyneuropathy is when multiple peripheral nerves become damaged. Symptoms include problems with sensation, coordination, or other body functions. Also called peripheral neuropathy, it can have different causes. Peripheral nerves are the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord.
These peripheral nerves are prone to various toxic, inflammatory, hereditary, and infectious factors that impair their health and function. Generally speaking, polyneuropathy can be caused by any of the following:
- Injury to the nerve from accidents, falls, and sports
- Autoimmune disorders such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, Sjögren’s syndrome, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis
- Infection with viruses such as human immunodeficiency virus, varicella-zoster (chickenpox) virus, West Nile virus, cytomegalovirus, and herpes simplex virus
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- End-stage kidney disease
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Lyme disease
- Toxicity due to chemotherapy, alcohol abuse, and heavy metals
- Genetic factors
Symptoms of polyneuropathy
Symptoms of polyneuropathy might vary from mild to disabling, with life-threatening symptoms being on the rare side. These signs vary and depend on the type of nerves damaged. Some of the most prevalent symptoms of polyneuropathy could include:
- Muscle weakness
- Painful cramps in the muscles
- Uncontrolled twitching in the muscles
- Problems with processing sensations such as pressure, vibrations, and temperature in hands and feet leading to numbness, tickling, and pain
- Feeling severe pain from a light touch (allodynia)
- Severe pain in the night disrupts sleep
- Problem with walking and coordination
- Excess sweating
- Heat intolerance
- Problems with eating, swallowing, digestion, and bowel movements
- Problem with urination and bladder control
- Sexual dysfunction
Ten early warning signs of dementia
In conclusion, sudden memory loss in the elderly can have various origins, ranging from potentially reversible factors such as depression or infections to progressive brain disorders like Alzheimer’s. Understanding and addressing these causes can aid in identifying appropriate treatment options and support for both the affected individual and their loved ones.
With patience, empathy, and proper medical care, it is possible to navigate the challenges associated with cognitive decline in a compassionate and professional manner.