An odd story from my grandmother leads to serious questions

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With my father having just passed after battling dementia, and the fact that all four of his first cousins and my mother's grandfather had dementia, it is never far from my mind. This morning I remembered when my grandmother was in the hospital. Her sodium level was brought dangerously low. She suffered seizures and amnesia. The doctor said that the amnesia was caused by the dramatically low sodium levels and that it would likely clear up as the levels returned to normal. It did. While she did not have dementia, that leads me to a question. The one thing many older people have in common is a low sodium diet. If dangerous sodium levels can cause memory issues, can a lower level of sodium over an extended period of time cause damage that leads to dementia? While the answer is too late for my family, I ask this question for all the new and future patients that may be helped.

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Memory loss can be caused by many things, some of them reversible, like low sodium levels. In my understanding, low sodium levels in the elderly are more complex than eating a low salt diet. The amount of various electrolytes in the bloodstream is mediated by the kidneys.

I've never seen any suggestion that long term low sodium causes dementia, which is a nonreversible cause of cognitive decline.

The good point that you've brought up is that dementia should never be the first thing that a health care provider thinks of when memory and cognitive changes are the presenting issues. There's lots of other conditions that need to be ruled out first.
Excellent, insightful and provocative question and answer. I've never made that connection, but as I read of dementia statistics (as well as other nondementia diseases), I've often wondered how the modern lifestyle contributes/causes some of these diseases.

I've read about connections of sugar to dementia, but not sodium. I'm going to do some research for myself as well. This is an intriguing subject.
HaveQuestions, that is an excellent questions regarding sodium. Both my parents were on low salt diets for decades. They didn't even have a salt shaker at the dining room table. They even had no-salt soups. Both lived into their 90's and I never noticed any memory issues until they go into their 90's, thus it was age related. Both grew up on farms, so they ate organic their first 20 to 30 years. Thus, had a good health platform.

Did your Dad's parents have dementia? What about his two sets of Grand-parents? If not, maybe it was environmental or food processing, depending on the age of your Dad and his cousins. More preservatives had been placed in our food during the past half century. Is there a connection, maybe yes, maybe no.

I remember leaded gasoline from the past. That lead could be found in the soil around people's houses just from the cars exhaust, and who knows how damaging it was health wise.

I've been busy doing the family tree, and found it interesting what illnesses relatives had passed from back a century ago. My Dad's mother's father's father had dementia, but it was due to a farm accident that caused brain injury. Thus, something to take into consideration when doing a medical family history, it was out of the norm.


My father used to love food like KFC; he still loves ribs. He could eat all he wanted and still remain less than 140 pounds. And at 99 he doesn't have dementia.

Maybe I should start visiting KFC, but I really couldn't stand all that salty food.

Does anyone remember the fellow who conducted an experiment and ate nowhere else but McDonald's for a whole month? At the end of the month, he had already developed a variety of medical problems. I can't remember his name at the moment.

Morgan Spurlock. The documentary is Supersize Me.
I realize that Dementia is largely a genetic disorder. And with five immediate family members having the same disorder, it is a given that genetics is likely. However, the one thing I learned about genetic disorders from my family's other medical issues is that just having a gene doesn't mean you will get the disorder. What I am trying to do is find a trigger that may activate a dormant gene, or accelerate the onset of a disorder. That way, someone who is aware of a propensity for a disorder like dementia could take a preventative measure.

Thank you all for your comments, especially freqflyer. My father told more than one story of mouthfuls of leaded gasoline, or having his face splashed with lead paint. That is an interesting note. However I thought lead caused an immediate intellectual deficiency and my father always was a very intelligent man up until the last stages of the dementia .
I have read that early onset dementia (before the age of 65) has more of a genetic component then old age dementia.

As I understand..age is the number one predictor of dementia especially over 80. My parents were both very healthy (ate whole foods, veggies, little processed foods), they had a great relaxing retirement, they exercised and had lots of social contacts, didn't take any meds. My Dad started getting dementia symptoms around 81 and my mom around 83. They are now 85 and 86.

My Dads mom got dementia in her early 80's, and my Mom's dad got dementia in his mid 80's . Could be a combo of genetics and living into 80+ age range?. We do not have any early onset dementia in either my Mom or Dads family.

Dementia all around me... Scary really and I do not want to live into my 80s to find out what my chances are.
This is a very worthwhile and provocative thread. I've been mulling over responses since it was posted. I think that while research is progressing, there's still so much to learn. At one point only an autopsy could specifically diagnoses dementia, or so I had read years ago.

On a related issue, the search for cancer causes and cures has been extensive, but something that's surprised me is that animals can contract cancer as well as humans.

Another surprising discovery is that mummies have been discovered to have cancer. A 4200 year old mummy was discovered to have had typical metastatic breast cancer.

So modern living isn't the sole cause, nor is modern adulterated food. Egyptian society is a far cry from contemporary society, yet something existing then and now causes cancer.

Now I'm wondering whether a similar phenomenon is involved in dementia.

Has anyone watched a documentary, or read in a reliable news or medical magazine, that dementia has been diagnosed in people either of ancient civilizations, or before, perhaps, the Industrial Age?

I did a quick search on "mummies with dementia" but only got hits for some blog, and some photos, which I wouldn't consider particularly reliable.

If research can isolate whether dementia, as cancer, can be documented in civilizations beyond our contemporary ones, it would extend (and perhaps unfortunately broaden) the possible causes.

Just thinking out loud....
Don't forget that one cause of dramatically low sodium levels can be dramatically increased water retention - you're not lacking the one, you've just got far too much of the other.

And, besides, this tends to be a result of disease rather than the cause of it.

Don't tinker unless you know what you're doing, is my rule of thumb.

GA, there is evidence that neolithic peoples practised trepanning - knocking a small hole out of the skull - but whether that was to relieve haemorrhage or evil spirits, medicinal religious or both, who can say. Humbling, isn't it though, to think that this is still our treatment of choice for certain brain conditions.

If there isn't mention of dementia in the bible I'll be very surprised.

Then there's the "seven ages of man" speech in Shakespeare (yes I should know which play - but I don't and I don't care!). Not sure about Chaucer, but probably.

You're bound to get it in Roman and Greek literature; and certainly in Chinese which not only goes back further but also will have had a lot more material to draw on.

Oh 'eck, I'm sorry I looked - if you Google "dementia in antiquity"... you might wish you hadn't!
We had a beloved relative pass away from liver failure and the doctor told her to lower her salt dramatically when she started having fluid building up. I remember her saying that she felt like her mind was almost gone ( she had always had a good memory before that) so there must be a link to sodium. Noticing that many doctors on the internet say that salt is nowhere near as bad as sugar. I also know people who were farmers and they all have Parkinson's - wondering if there is not only a genetic link but also brain damage from the use of pesticides and herbicides on the farm?

Keep the conversation going (or start a new one)

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