(This article appeared previously on the Alzheimer’s Reading Room.)
When I heard my mom laugh for the first time in two years, I ran over to find out what was going on. I felt so happy and elated it would be hard to explain in words. One thing was clear: my heart soared.
For the longest time, my mom had this glassy-eyed look — the stare into what must be either confusion or “nowhere.” The look of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Or so I thought.
Have you ever seen this look on the face of your loved one?
Alzheimer’s and the Thyroid
Then the day came. I picked up my copy of what I consider to be the bible of Alzheimer’s care, The Alzheimer’s Action Plan, and I started reading through some of the pages I had dog-eared. I had been reading it regularly since my mother was diagnosed with the disease.
My mother not only started laughing, she started smiling. She actually thanked me when I cooked for her.
I read, “Get your thyroid tested. Nearly one in five people over the age of 60 has some degree of hypothyroidism, meaning a sluggish thyroid. The symptoms include forgetfulness, weight gain, depression, dry skin, intolerance to cold, muscle aches, and fatigue. People who are hypothyroid feel as though they have mild Alzheimer’s and depression all mixed into one bad day.”
Women are especially prone to hypothyroidism. My mother had five of the seven symptoms listed above.
Bringing It Up with the Doctor
At the time, we had a wonderful doctor who really cared about his patients. When I went to him with this information, he didn’t give me the doctor look and say, “What, you read a book and now you’re a doctor?” He simply listened and said, “Let’s check her thyroid.” They did a blood test. (Few personal-care physicians routinely run this test. You have to ask.)
Seven days later, we were back in the doctor’s office. “The results look suspicious,” he said.
My mother didn’t quite test positive for hypothyroidism, but the result was just barely above that level.
The doctor said we were going to take a cautious approach. He gave me all the caveats, prescribed the mildest dosage of thyroid medication and told me we would test her blood in a month to make sure we didn’t give her hyperthyroidism with the medication.
A Striking Change
One day later, my mother laughed. I jumped up when I heard it. I ran over to find out what was going on. She was watching Seinfeld. Kramer made my mother laugh. I was so elated I felt like I could fly. Soar actually.
From that point on, things just got better and better with my mom. She perked up.
My mother not only started laughing, she started smiling. She actually thanked me when I cooked for her. Instead of the standard “OK” that I had been listening to for two years, she would respond with “good” or “delicious.” Her attitude also changed.
This development. along with the other treatments and exercise, led to my decision to find a way to get her out into the light, to get her into restaurants, to get her socialized.
I decided right then and there that we would start living our life the way we always had lived it.
Getting out into Life
As it turned out, the more we did, the more our life improved. For both of us.
Believe it or not, it was not unusual for us to go out at 6 p.m. and come home after 10 p.m. My mother was the one who wanted to stay out. This was very different than before we had her thyroid checked.
So please take my advice and get your loved one’s thyroid checked. We often assume that it is the Alzheimer’s disease causing a problem, when in fact, it may be something else that is treatable.
And while you’re at it, get your own thyroid level checked. Over the years, many of our readers found not only that their loved one had a sluggish thyroid, they themselves did. Their mood, energy level, and behavior changed for the better when they started the medication.
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