By Roni Caryn Rabin
When my mother, Pauline, was 70, she lost her sense of balance. She started walking with an odd shuffling gait, taking short steps and barely lifting her feet off the ground. She often took my hand, holding it and squeezing my fingers.
Her decline was precipitous. She fell repeatedly. She stopped driving and she could no longer ride her bike in a straight line along the C& O Canal. The woman who taught me the sidestroke couldn’t even stand in the shallow end of the pool. “I feel like I’m drowning,” she’d say.
A retired psychiatrist, my mother had numerous advantages — education, resources and insurance — but still, getting the right diagnosis took nearly 10 years. Each expert saw the problem through the narrow prism of their own specialty. Surgeons recommended surgery. Neurologists screened for common incurable conditions.
The answer was under their noses, in my mother’s hunches and her family history. But it took a long time before someone connected the dots. My mother was using a walker by the time she was told she had a rare condition that causes gait problems and cognitive loss, and is one of the few treatable forms of dementia.
“This should be one of the first things physicians look for in an older person,” my mother said recently. “You can actually do something about it.” Continue reading