Kathy Griffin’s mother Maggie became a breakout star on the comedian’s reality show, Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List. Now, Griffin has shared heartbreaking news about her mom: She has dementia.
"As heartbreaking as this is, I feel the need to share some important info about my mom Maggie. I’ve always been honest with you all, but this one is really hard," Griffin wrote in an Instagram post that featured a photo of herself talking to her mom in bed. "The pic below, taken in September, was the last time I was able to have a proper/coherent conversation with her."
"Since that photo was taken, she has rapidly fallen into the throes of dementia," Griffin continued. "This is never easy for any child, I know this is a reality that millions of people deal with every year. But when it comes to my mom this is particularly hard because her sharp mind was everything. My mom is 98 and up until this past couple years she was so sharp she always kept me on my toes."
Griffin added that her mom isn’t in pain and only knows her daughter’s name and "I love you" right now.
Dementia is made up of a group of symptoms that affect thinking, memory, and social skills enough to interfere with a person's daily functioning.
It’s normal for your memory decline somewhat as you get older, but dementia is different in a few important ways, Amit Sachdev, M.D., an assistant professor, neurologist, and director of the division of neuromuscular medicine at Michigan State University, tells SELF.
Although normal age-related memory decline may cause you to forget the names of certain people you haven’t seen in a while or details from your past, people with dementia may feel lost in places that are familiar, forget to pay bills, or repeat the same questions or statements, he says.
People with dementia can also have difficulty with reasoning, problem-solving, planning, and organizing things. They may also experience personality changes, anxiety, or depression, the Mayo Clinic says.
Loved ones are the most likely to pick up on early signs of dementia in someone close to them, Dr. Sachdev says, but it can be easy to write them off.
If one of your parents or grandparents starts repeating themselves or is forgetful about names, it’s easy to chalk it up to them having an off-day or just "getting older." But recognizing the early signs of dementia and taking action is important, Verna Porter, M.D., neurologist and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Program at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells SELF.
"It’s often more complex tasks that fall out first, like driving, shopping, cooking, and cleaning," Dr. Porter says. "After that, you might notice them have difficulty with basic activities, such as grooming, hygiene, and physical mobility. However, she adds, "the process is different for each person and individual."
If you notice that your loved one seems to be struggling with something (or several things) that they didn’t have an issue with in the past, it’s important to make sure their doctor is aware of it. Certain lifestyle modifications, like encouraging your loved one to consistently do moderate aerobic exercise, cut back on or completely avoid alcohol, and make sure they're eating nutritious meals may help slow the progression of dementia, Dr. Porter says. There are also several medications available that may slow the progression of dementia related to Alzheimer's, SELF reported previously, but they can't treat the underlying disease.
The rate at which dementia progresses may differ for each patient, and some become more severe much faster than others.
Some people will progress very slowly, most will progress over a period of years, and others will progress quickly, even over a period of months, Dr. Porter explains. But the way it's actually changing over time may not necessarily be easy to track. It might "feel like a rapidly progressing disease when it's actually been slowly building over time and then reached a point where the symptoms are obvious," Dr. Sachdev says.
Another important reason to see a doctor sooner rather than later is that dementia can be caused by other conditions that are treatable, such as depression, endocrine abnormalities, nutritional deficiencies, and reactions to medications. "When you have someone who is rapidly progressing, you want to understand if this is truly caused by dementia or something else," Dr. Sachdev says, which may require additional testing like an MRI or blood test to rule out other potential causes.
Ultimately, it's important to take action when you first suspect something is off and not sit on it. In some cases, though, your loved one's cognitive impairment may still progress to dementia quickly even if you did everything the "right" way, Dr. Porter says.