Mom’s Memory Is Going. Could it be Celiac Disease?

Mom is slightly bent over and her hair is thin and white, but she still rakes her lawn all summer long and trims the tree branches, then hauls the overfilled black bags to the landfill—all by herself. She’s the first one in the neighborhood to clear her driveway after a heavy New England snowstorm. She walks her dog around the block at least seven times a day. She rarely eats red meat, preferring salmon or chicken, and she grazes on fruit and vegetables. Mom hardly ever gets sick.

Meme Summer 2011

You could say my mother is the epitome of what we’d all like to be in our silver years.

Until now.

Something is wrong with Mom’s memory.

This past Sunday she told me about seeing The Butler with her neighbor Bonnie. Not once. Not twice. Not three times. She told me at least five times during a ten-minute conversation!

I asked her if she was feeling okay.

“Oh yes, I had a lovely time with Bonnie at the movies, and then we had dinner. Do you remember Bonnie?”

“Mom, maybe you should drink some water. Are you dehydrated?”

“Well, I had coffee during dinner. Oh, did I tell you I went to the movies today. We saw The Butler–”

“Mom, when was the last time you saw a doctor? You’ve lost a lot of weight, maybe your prescriptions need to be lowered.”

“Oh those doctors don’t know what they’re doing . . .”

An hour later, I’d tracked down Bonnie. She told me she hadn’t noticed my mother’s memory being any worse than usual, just the occasional “senior moments.” I felt tons better. Maybe The Butler really was that good.

When Mom called on Monday, she sounded fine.

“I called to see what you and the family were doing for Labor Day.”

“You mean next Monday?”

“Today. Isn’t today Labor Day?”

“No, next week, Mom.”

“Oh, I should look at a calendar I guess. By the way, have you seen The Butler?”


After our call, I typed “memory loss,” “dementia,” and “Alzheimer’s” into the computer and pulled up a few reputable medical websites. I felt relieved to see many plausible explanations for sudden short-term memory loss, ones that didn’t necessarily lead down a dark path. I know Mom needs to see a doctor, but believe me it will take some persuading.

She’s scared.

I’m scared, too.

A few months ago when I attended a seminar on celiac disease at a local pharmacy, I was surprised to see the room filled with recently diagnosed elderly people. Many told me that memory loss was one of their first symptoms. At the time, I figured they were talking about the brain fog we CD folks all experience. But after the frightening conversation with my mother, I can’t help wondering if they were talking about something different.

You see I inherited celiac disease from one or both parents, according to genetic testing, so I I’m worried Mom’s memory difficulties might be caused by undiagnosed and untreated celiac disease. While never tested, both of my parents (Dad is diseased) definitely showed CD symptoms over the years. My brother also shows signs, and one of my sons is severely gluten intolerant.

Based on data from the University of Chicago

Based on data from the University of Chicago

The good little researcher I am, I headed to the Internet. Though my investigation was brief, what I discovered didn’t provide me much comfort. It appears the elderly are just now being diagnosed with CD—and at record numbers. According to The University of Maryland School of Medicine Center for Celiac Research, CD is about two and a half times more common among elderly people than it is in the population as a whole.

Wow! I wonder what is causing this explosion in gluten-intolerant grannies and grandpas.
Holding Hands with Elderly Patient

My research also revealed that older people are pretty much getting left out of the celiac research.’s Jefferson Adams, who deciphers medical research on celiac disease for the layman, says that “despite a growing body of research on celiac disease, very little is known about this condition in older people.”

I would think finding out why older folk are developing a disease that was once thought of as a childhood disease would be incredibly helpful to the medical community. Such research would certainly be helpful to families with genetic links to CD.

But maybe that’s just me–a daughter, a sister, and a mother worried about what celiac disease is doing to her family and wanting to do something about it.

What I Read:

Adult Celiac Disease in the Elderly (
Neurological Disorders in Adult Celiac Disease (
Celiac Disease in the Elderly (

What do you think . . .

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