Summer 2007
The Mystery of the Disappearing Memory
The Mystery of the Disappearing Memory
Center for Geriatrics

Christine Buonefet was always pretty good at picking up the clues and hints that crafty authors drop along the way. But in 2002 she found her concentration slipping. "I kept having to go back and re-read chapters over and over to get what was happening," she recalls.

Her husband, Ralph, and daughter, Linda, began noticing other disturbing things. "She wasn't eating very well," Ralph says. "Plus, she was just grumpy," he confides in an aside. "Oh, don't hold back, let it all out," Christine laughs.

Changes were becoming apparent in other ways as well. At the Baldwin Senior Center in Stratford, where Christine has been a long-time volunteer, Social Services Coordinator Beth Paris noticed that "Christine was forgetting to complete assignments, and—even more worrisome—she seemed kind of down." With Christine's permission, Beth contacted Linda, recommending that the family seek help from Bridgeport Hospital's Center for Geriatrics in order to get to the bottom of the mystery: What was going on with Christine?

At the Center, the first step for Christine was a geriatric assessment by a team of "detectives" including a geriatrician (a physician specializing in the medical care of older adults), a geriatric nurse practitioner and a geriatric nurse.

What's So Special About a Geriatric Assessment?

"This specially tailored assessment is designed to determine the total physical, emotional and mental well-being of older adults who are affected by the conditions that can arise as we age," says Beata Skudlarska, MD, Chief of Geriatrics at Bridgeport Hospital.

Christine's geriatric assessment involved gathering clues about her life to help solve the mystery of her disappearing memory. And like all good detectives, the team at the Center for Geriatrics began with basic research.

"We always start with a physical examination, and by asking about the patient's personal and family medical history," says Christine Tocchi, APRN, MSN, C-GNP (Certified Geriatric Nurse Practitioner). "We want to know if anyone in the family suffered from depression, heart disease, diabetes or other conditions that can affect physical and mental health."

Then there are tests and screenings that can help evaluate the patient's lifestyle. "To learn about patients' nutritional health, for example, we'll not only ask what kinds of foods they normally eat—we'll also ask if they have an illness or condition that made them change the kind or amount of food they eat, or if they usually eat alone. Information like that often tells us a lot about the patient's situation," says geriatrician Vivian Argento, MD.

The physical evidence is usually pretty straightforward. But how do you evaluate someone's emotional and mental condition? What kinds of questions can reveal something that's so elusive? Experts in the field of Geriatrics have created screening tools that can give them a pretty good idea of what's going on in an older person's mind.

Here are a few of the many questions asked:

  • Do you prefer to stay at home, rather than going out and doing new things?
  • Do you think it is wonderful to be alive?
  • Do you often get bored?
  • What is today's date?
  • What is the address of where you are now?
  • Count backwards from 100 by sevens.
  • Draw a clock face with the hours.

A separate questionnaire for family members can detect problems and solutions that they are uniquely able to identify. And finally, a review of all the patient's overthe-counter and prescription drugs and supplements is always a part of the hunt for clues.

When the team reviewed the results of Christine's assessment, they came up with the solution to the mystery of her disappearing memory: She was seriously depressed. "And I didn't even know it!" Christine exclaims.

Dr. Skudlarska prescribed two medications: one an antidepressant and the other designed to improve memory function. Little by little, Christine returned to her old self, outwitting mystery authors and working on crossword puzzles. Her appetite returned, and so did her sense of humor.

"I go back and take the geriatric tests again every three months, and every time my scores go up," Christine says. "Now I just feel good!

"If you're getting older, and you're not feeling right, you don't have to put up with it, she adds." "The geriatric assessment team at Bridgeport Hospital figured out what was wrong with me, and they can help you too!"

For a referral to an expert physician afflilated with Bridgeport Hospital, call us toll free, 24/7, at 1-888-357-2396.

Caring for Your Life • www.bridgeporthospital.com