My 92-year-old mom has dementia and has been diagnosed with gastric cancer. She had radiation 5 days a week for 5 weeks. Will that degrade memory faster?

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Drawing from personal experience, I'll say two side effects of radiation are fatigue and malaise, and temporary short-term memory loss. If your body doesn't make it your body doesn't want it, and most of the time you don't feel like doing anything because you feel tired all the time. If that's the case with your Mom, I wouldn't force her to do anything she doesn't want to do as she might lash out. Her going "project" might seem that her dementia -- and temporary forgetfulness -- is getting worse, but I'd consult with her doctor OFTEN just to be sure. Keep daily records of anything unusual since treatment began and try mild mind exercises to make sure the stays sharp all the way through (e.g., ask her about Hollywood stars, childhood memories, her plans for the day, etc.). Keep her talking. Most of the information you seek resides within her. So watch, listen, observe keenly, and take notes.

On a more personal note, I must say that the 14 months I spent on chemo were Hellish. I couldn't even remember what I had for breakfast or if I had had breakfast at all. My brain went on a roadtrip without a map, and I became manic-depressive. The mood swings were so extreme I went from suicidal to homicidal in seconds, irritable and irritating. I painted the window panes black to keep the sunshine out and only went out very late at night so noone could see the condition I was in. Once I couldn't remember the way back home, the police saw me meandering the streets and hours later I woke up at Lincoln Hosp.'s psych ward. They actually thought I had lost my marbles. To this day, people in the neighborhood think I'm crazy, most of my relatives think I'm going to snap if they come visit, and the pets run for cover when they see me sitting motionless on the sofa just to relieve stress. For a while I went out of my way to assure them I was mentally sound, but it didn't work and they continue to keep their distance. Good. It'll give me time the weed out social garbage and keep the riff-raff away so I can concentrate on other things.

Best wishes to you and Mom, and keep on trucking.

-- ED
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