early memory loss – alzheimer’s part 3

Everyone does it. You make a beeline into a room, but then stop short, forgetting why you went in. You look around, waiting for it to come to you. You backtrack, you remember, and assure yourself that you’re still on top of things.

Imagine what’s it like, though, when you start to realize that a more frequent and widespread pattern of forgetfulness is emerging? It can be a subtle change. Others may not notice, but you do, and it’s an unnerving realization. What now? Do you seek clinical confirmation? Keep it to yourself? Share the news with family and friends? Of course, it’s a very personal decision and, barring any safety concerns, it’s an individual choice.

When Eileen Mangan of White Plains noticed some changes in her memory function, she decided to be proactive. “I went to Burke Rehabilitation Hospital five years ago, on my own, to be tested and was diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). I feel very angry about it, as though there is another person in my body,” says Eileen. Despite this, she is determined to continue living a busy, happy life while addressing the MCI.

Eileen decided to join Memory Boosters, at Bethel Homes and Services, to help cope with her memory changes. She also attends a senior center three times a week, where she engages in an exercise program and other social events as they present themselves. “I keep busy,” she says, “That’s when I’m happiest.” And, with some support from family and volunteers, Eileen remains independent. “I am so happy to be in my home,” she adds.
Margaret Vitoli of Peekskill, also suffering from early memory loss, has been living with her sister, brother-in-law and two nephews for almost two years. As with Eileen, she likes to stay busy. She spends one day at the Memory Boosters group and three days at senior groups in Putnam County. “I also like to take walks along the river and listen to music, especially Elvis,” shares Margaret.

According to her sister, Sophia Manelli, having Margaret move in was an adjustment for everyone, but Sophia wouldn’t have it any other way. “I can’t say it’s been easy, but it’s been a rewarding experience. Margaret is 73, 10 years older than me – I was the baby of the family, and we have never been closer. We are both cancer survivors and I will do what I can to bring her some happiness,” says Sophia. “We have our laughs, we go shopping and Margaret helps me run my errands.”

“I will say I wasn’t comfortable with dementia at first, but I’ve been learning about it as I go,” says Sophia. “We don’t really talk too much about dementia at home, but Margaret sees the books I read, sitting on the table. Of course, we talk about it when we go to the doctor’s office, but sometimes that upsets her.”

Sophia shared that Margaret’s life has also been enhanced by reconnecting with a friend from high school, Steve, for whom she had a crush at the time. They had gone their separate ways until several years ago – reviving their friendship when both were widowed.

Now companions for each other, Steve and Margaret watch old movies, take walks, go to the senior center and listen to music together.

The transitional nature of Early Memory Loss/MCI enables those diagnosed, and their families, an opportunity to examine current and future options in the management and coping of the disease. For Eileen and Margaret, quality life experiences can still be successfully pursued with active lifestyles, awareness and support.

While certainly a difficult prognosis, the day to day effort of personal perseverance, family support and community programs can offer hope for those managing early memory loss.

Cathy SantaColoma

Cathy SantaColoma

Cathy SantaColoma is Director, Communications of Bethel Homes & Services, a not-for-profit organization offering a full continuum of care including: independent and assisted living; nursing; rehabilitation; adult day services; and home care. Campuses are in Croton-on-Hudson, Ossining and Valhalla; 914-739-6700.
Cathy SantaColoma

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