Zachary Miller loves talking to his patients about their childhood. He believes that the clues to some neurodegenerative diseases have roots in a person’s early years of life. Did your mother have a normal pregnancy? Were you born on time? Did you enjoy reading? Were you ever tutored in math? Are you left-handed? And on and on it goes, patching together dozens of bits of life history to make sense of why an aging brain may be more vulnerable to specific types of dementia.
There was an unspoken script in a young girl’s life growing up in a cultured family in Brescia, Italy in the 1970s that she would go on to a university to study the humanities. But this young girl had no interest in the arts or classics – she did poorly in Latin and Greek – and she had her sites set for medicine. Her mom grew up in a transitional generation in the early 1960s but observed feminism through a telescope. She knew she wanted something different for her only daughter, but she was still trapped in the tradition that etched out life for an Italian girl.
After 20 years of marriage, after raising two kids, after building a farm and tending horses and dogs, Caroline knew this much about the man she loves: he is tender-hearted, fun-loving and never lets stress land too long on his shoulders. Four years ago, the old Nick somehow morphed into a new guy, one who is not so patient. A guy who lost his social edge and seems unable to read faces. He is tired and withdrawn. “He’s just not the same guy,” she says. “I want him back."
It began with a word. It was not the meaning of the word but its pronunciation. A few months passed and there were even more words that couldn’t come out right. First, he noticed that they were longer words, and in time, he was having problems with shorter words too. The words would eventually land chaotically in the air. One syllable after another choppy syllable. Any hints of grace or fluency were gone. In time, he started leaving out adjectives and conjunctions.