MEM­ORY CHECK

There’s good news from the coun­try’s most in­ten­sive study of mem­ory loss and pre-de­men­tia.

North & South - - Contents - BY DONNA CHISHOLM

North & South read­ers first met North Shore re­tiree Graeme New­ton in 2017, when he be­came one of the first pa­tients en­rolled in a na­tional study of peo­ple with mild cog­ni­tive im­pair­ment. New­ton had gone to the doc­tor about his mem­ory af­ter fold­ing his dirty laun­dry and pack­ing it in a yel­low coun­cil rub­bish bag in­stead of the wash­ing ma­chine along­side.

We’ve been fol­low­ing his progress and now, af­ter his sec­ond bat­tery of tests at the De­men­tia Preven­tion Re­search Clinic in Auck­land, New­ton’s been told his con­di­tion is sta­ble – de­spite his con­cerns that his day-to- day mem­ory is get­ting worse.

Of around 100 peo­ple who have com­pleted two an­nual as­sess­ments since the clinic opened in April 2016, fewer than five have de­te­ri­o­rated from a di­ag­no­sis of mild cog­ni­tive im­pair­ment to Alzheimer’s dis­ease. Re­searchers hope to re­cruit 400 pa­tients na­tion­ally be­fore the study con­cludes.

It’s en­cour­ag­ing news, but New­ton, 76, re­mains con­vinced his mem­ory is fail­ing and that he’s sim­ply get­ting bet­ter at do­ing the re­peated tests.

Neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist Dr Christina Ilse says there’s some ev­i­dence in the lit- er­a­ture of a “prac­tice ef­fect” on re­sults, and re­searchers here have had “mul­ti­ple de­bates” over what to do about it – but if New­ton was show­ing a true de­cline, the same mea­sures would pick that up.

“When peo­ple de­velop an ac­tual de­men­tia, no mat­ter how fa­mil­iar they are with some­thing, they will do worse on the test be­cause their brain’s abil­ity to en­code the in­for­ma­tion re­duces. If Graeme was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a true de­cline, he would find the tasks dif­fi­cult.”

If the mea­sures are changed to avoid rep­e­ti­tion, Ilse says, “we might end up com­par­ing ap­ples and pears, rather than ap­ples with ap­ples”.

New­ton says if his cog­ni­tive func­tion was a 10/ 10 a few years ago, he now rates it at no more than a six or seven. He fre­quently for­gets the names of peo­ple he knows well, even fam­ily mem­bers, and he finds it dif­fi­cult to mul­ti­task. “If Jay [his wife] asks me to put away one thing in the cup­board and bring back some­thing else, I’ll come back with both. That hap­pens a lot.” He’s also less able to han­dle prob­lems that arise with his com­puter.

Last year, at the sug­ges­tion of his GP, he be­gan tak­ing an­tide­pres­sants, be­cause of the stress and mood changes brought on by his mem­ory loss. The pills have been a sig­nif­i­cant help, he says. “They make me feel much more re­laxed – it has been a very pos­i­tive thing.” The med­i­ca­tion helped him cope with a cou­ple of stress­ful sit­u­a­tions this year and last, when Jay’s fe­mur was frac­tured dur­ing a par­tial knee re­place­ment, and her bank ac­count was hit by scam­mers.

New­ton says he’s still work­ing hard to ward off fur­ther de­cline by keep­ing him­self phys­i­cally and men­tally ac­tive. He plays petanque and bad­minton, and reg­u­larly at­tempts Su­doku and word puz­zles. And while he no longer tack­les nov­els be­cause he for­gets what he’s pre­vi­ously read, he still reads short sto­ries and mag­a­zines. +

Graeme New­ton with wife Jay.

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