Julie Halbert, at left with her dad, writes:
"Last spring, my 78-year-old father began a downward descent. Instead of initiating conversation in his usual gregarious way, he would stare into space, unresponsive, never wanting to leave the house. He scrambled to find the right words in conversation. Ultimately, a neurologist diagnosed him in the early stages of Alzheimer's.
"We were told he needed to stop driving and would require constant supervision. Immediately, my sister and I were forced to confront a situation we never prepared for, scrambling to take turns spending time with him, showing my mother how to begin handling the finances and driving him to a round of doctor’s appointments.
"My father at the time was on 18 medications for his various chronic illnesses, including asthma, diabetes and low functioning kidneys. After reviewing these medications, the internist decided to take my father off eight of them.
"Within a few weeks, he started to emerge from his coma-like state. His alertness returned, along with his sense of humor and memory, and he was back to exercising regularly. His neurologist revised the diagnosis to medication-induced dementia. Now, just seven months later, he’s like his old self again.
"My father's problem, called 'polypharmacy,' is quite common, says Ken Langa, a professor of Medicine at the University of Michigan whose focus is geriatric care. As you age and face a host of chronic illnesses, it's not uncommon to have several specialists prescribing varying medications that can interact to create a hazardous cocktail of side effects—one that’s often mistaken for dementia."