Today I read a story from the Associated Press by Marilynn Marchione, “Falls, eye test may give clues to Alzheimer’s.”
Scientists in Australia are encouraged by early results that suggest retinal photographs show a difference in the width of blood vessels in the nerve layer in the back of eyes for individuals with Alzheimer’s and others with mild cognitive impairment. “The amount of difference matched the amount of plague seen on brain scans.” Although brain scans can be used to detect evidence of Alzheimer’s, they are impractical to use widely because of expense.
Another study done at Washington University in St. Louis, “involving 125 people, average age 74” revealed a correlation with falls and Alzheimer’s. “The risk of falling was nearly three times as great for each unit of increase in the sticky plaque that scans revealed of their brains.”
According to Dr. Ronald Petersen, a dementia expert at the Mayo clinic, Alzheimer’s can start with vision changes. “Eye doctors often are the first to see patients with signs of Alzheimer’s.”
Without a cure in hand, I wonder about the value of knowing you or a loved one has Alzheimer’s earlier. Marchione writes, “Finding it early mostly helps patients and their families prepare and arrange care.”
I suppose in our case, finding it early would have allowed us to understand Dad’s wishes a little better while he still had his full cognitive capabilities. It also would have caused him the grief of knowing. Although I’m not sure that he doesn’t know now. The occurrence of Alzheimer’s in my dad was surrounded by a fog of “Is there something strange going on here, or is it my imagination?”
Then incidences started building up and the dread thickened until finally we were willing to act and a diagnosis was made.
I’ve tried to remember when I first started noticing a problem with Dad. I think I saw worrisome symptoms as early as November of 2007 during my son’s wedding, although at the time I attributed it to simple aging. My son’s wedding was in St. Louis. I had spoken with my oldest sister about driving with, following or leading, my parents on the trip to St. Louis.
But at the very end of the drive to St. Louis, my sister and her husband got split off from my parents. My dad got very confused about what exit to take. My parents arrived at the hotel flustered. This was not normal. My dad was good at finding his way places.
When my father-in-law died in the spring of 2008 and my parents came to the funeral, my sister noted that Dad seemed to be “wandering” at the church and then later at the reception.
I think it was in early to mid 2008 that my mom talked to me about some worrisome things she was noticing with Dad’s behavior. In particular, he never knew what day of the week it was.
She took him to a doctor for some physical tests and cognitive tests. Physical conditions for Dad’s unusual behavior were ruled out.
Dad was diagnosed with probable Alzheimer’s some time in the fall or winter of 2008. He was prescribed Aricept.
I suppose it is all water under the dam as far as Dad is concerned. We know now.
The better question in light of the fact that my dad and his sister both have Alzheimer’s is, would I want to know?