The Importance of a Diagnosis
When an older adult begins to show signs of confusion and memory loss, we often leap to an assumption of dementia, especially if that individual is of advanced age.
This was precisely the situation with Mary, an 80-year-old retired teacher, with a large and loving family. Over a period of many months, Mary had become increasingly forgetful and had difficulty with her daily activities. She stopped preparing meals, participated less and less in conversation and seemed tired all the time.
Her three grown daughters were understandably concerned, and turned to a professional for help. “She can’t be left alone.”, they explained. “Yesterday, she couldn’t even tie her own shoes.” The family had already accepted that their Mother had a progressive dementia, and were moving forward with plans for her care.
While it is essential to address immediate needs for health and safety, we were aware that Mary did not have a diagnosis for her symptoms. Dementia is not the only reason an individual might experience confusion and memory loss. Medical issues such as depression, diabetes, conflicting medications or an acute infection can all contribute to symptoms that mimic those of dementia.
We set up an appointment with a Geriatrician to rule-out any medical issues that might be causing Mary’s symptoms. Blood work revealed that Mary had pernicious anemia, a condition that prevents the body from absorbing Vitamin B. As a result, she had a significant Vitamin B-12 deficiency. The doctor prescribed monthly B-12 injections, and Mary gradually regained her life. Within just a few months, she was preparing meals, playing cards with friends and enjoying time with her grandchildren. She did not have dementia.
While Mary continued to require periodic assistance from her daughters, she was able to live safely, happily and independently in her own home for many more years. A complete diagnosis made all the difference.