Dec 18, 2014

Mom Didn't Laugh for Two Years and Then I Found Out Why

After more than two years my mother laughed. I jumped up when I heard the laugh. I ran over to find out what was going on. I was so elated I felt like I could fly. Soar actually.

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Mom Didn't Laugh for Two Years and Then I Found Out Why

Max Wallack once wrote about the last great big laugh he heard from his Great Grams. It was obviously vivid in his mind. See The Plaid Pajamas and the Last Big Laugh.

This reminded me of one of the saddest periods in my life. My mother didn't laugh for over two years. She rarely smiled during this period.

I had severe heartache, it hurt. Every day.

I would look over and there would be mom. The glassy eyed look, the stare into what must be either confusion or "nowhere". The look of Alzheimer's and dementia. Or so I thought.


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Then the day came. I picked up the my copy of what I consider to be the bible of Alzheimer care, The Alzheimer's Action Plan, and I started reading through some of the pages I had dog eared.

Page 82, The Less Than Trusty Thyroid. I read,
"Get your thyroid tested. Nearly one in five people over the age of sixty 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."
My mother had five of the seven symptoms listed above.

I took out my doctor's notebook. The notebook I use to keep track of everything that goes on with my mother from day to day. The headaches, her temperature, complaints, attitude -- I call this part the diary. I made a note in the doctor's section to bring up hypothyroidism to our personal care physician. I did just that at the end of our next doctor's appointment.

Dr. Chiriboga was wonderful. He didn't give me the doctor look and talk, "what you read a book and now you are a doctor." He didn't act like I was questioning his capability. He listened and said, "lets check her thyroid". Blood test.

Seven days later we were back in the doctor's office and he said -- "the results look suspicious." 

She didn't actually test positive for hypothyroidism, but the result was just barely above the level defined as hypothyroidism. He then proceeded to tell me how 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 day later my mother laughed. I jumped up when I heard the laugh. I ran over to find out what was going on. Seinfeld, Kramer. 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.

My mother not only started laughing, she started smiling. She actually thanked me when I cooked for her. When I asked how food tasted she actually gave me a review rather than the standard -- OK.

This development. along with the other treatments and exercise, lead to my decision to find a way to get her out into the light, to get her into restaurants, to get her socialized.

We would start living our life the way we always had lived it.


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 PM and come home after 11 PM. My mother was the one that wanted to stay out.

She had more energy and more LIFE.

OK, advice and lecture time.

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Get the thyroid checked.

By the way, if your loved one has too much energy it could be hyperthyroidism. If they are dull, depressed, and lacking in any kind of emotion, it could be hypothyroidism.

Now you might not get a miracle like we did, but it is worth the effort.

Feel free to take this article with you to the doctor. If he refuses to give you this simple, cheap blood test -- go get yourself a competent doctor.

Please note: few personal care physicians routinely include the hypothyroidism blood panel when they check the blood of elderly person. You have to ask.

Additionally, they might not check the numbers if a red flag doesn't come up with the test results. Like I mentioned, our doctor described the test result as -- "suspicious".

I learned by taking action -- "More there." In other words, we often assume that it is the Alzheimer's disease causing the problem, when in fact, it is something else that is treatable.

Instead of heartache, I got that warm, fuzzy feeling for the first time in over two years.

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Bob DeMarco  is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR). Bob is a recognized  writer, speaker, and influencer in the Alzheimer's and Dementia Community worldwide.
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