Image: Getty images/ Thanasis Zovoilis
Health-care pros tell us their patients’ most-asked questions.
Q: My spouse has been increasingly forgetful over the past few months. Is it dementia?
Dr. Nicholas Pimlott, clinical researcher and staff physician at the Family Practice Health Centre, Women’s College Hospital in Toronto says:
“If you or a loved one is experiencing troubling symptoms such as forgetfulness or slower processing, visit your family physician for a mental-function test. Symptoms may stem from cognitive decline associated with normal aging, or they may be related to something other than dementia: a medical condition like an underactive thyroid; a psychological cause, such as depression, anxiety or sleep problems; or excessive alcohol use. Tests may reveal mild cognitive impairment [MCI], which is noticeable but usually doesn’t interfere with day-to-day life. Approximately half of people with MCI may develop dementia, but there’s currently no way to determine who’s most vulnerable. Further complicating early detection, risk factors for dementia—such as high blood pressure, obesity, smoking and physical inactivity—are similar to those for heart disease. Modifying those factors may help reduce risk or even prevent the disease from developing.”
Q: What are the most common symptoms of a concussion following an impact injury?
Dr. Hemen Shukla, staff physician at the Family Practice Health Centre, Women’s College Hospital in Toronto says:
“A concussion is a traumatic brain injury caused by a force to the head, often associated with high-impact sports. But any blow to the head or neck—or an impact to the body that rattles the head, like a car crash or falling on ice—could cause a concussion. Signs and symptoms may occur within minutes of an impact or take hours to manifest. Common symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, mental fog, feeling off or not right, confusion and drowsiness. In all instances of a suspected concussion, you should stop what you’re doing and be assessed by a doctor or your health-care provider. You’ll need to be monitored for a change in behaviour or worsening symptoms, such as vomiting or extreme drowsiness, which may signify a serious injury—in which case, you must go to the emergency room immediately. To learn more about concussion prevention, recognition and management, visit parachutecanada.org.”
Q: I have never had chickenpox. Does that mean I’m not at risk for shingles?
Lisa Fernandes, clinical pharmacist, Women’s College Hospital in Toronto says:
“Not necessarily. Shingles is caused by varicella zoster—the virus that gives us chickenpox. After you’ve had chickenpox, the virus lies latent but can reactivate years later as shingles. Anyone who’s had chickenpox can develop shingles due to a weakened immune system or, most commonly, old age. In fact, more than two out of every three shingles cases happen in those over age 50, with one of every two occurring in those over 85. A person with shingles can pass the virus to anyone who hasn’t had chickenpox; this usually occurs through direct contact with the rash. Once infected, the person will develop chickenpox, not shingles. Shingles vaccines are recommended for people aged 50 and older; they help reduce your chances of developing shingles and the risk of complications.”