DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My mother is 69 and has, during the past few years, shown signs of memory problems. In the span of 20 minutes, she might ask the same question several times. She has trouble following the flow of conversation. I am concerned she might be forgetting her medicines. I called her physician and was told that until she forgets what things like toasters are used for, there is no real concern. Isn’t early intervention a key to treating Alzheimer’s? – M.K.

With age, it takes more time to retrieve information from the memory than it does in youth. That’s normal. It’s also normal for older people, given a sufficient amount of time, to recall the events of the preceding day or of special occasions.

They might, on occasion, find it difficult to come up with a particular word, but they should be able to continue to perform tasks like balancing a checkbook. They might misplace things, as we all do. However, they can institute a search in an orderly and methodical way.

It’s not normal to forget an entire event even when they are given promptings of what has happened. Misplacing things because the things have been put in strange places isn’t normal. An example is putting the car keys in the refrigerator.

Neurologists, geriatricians (doctors who specialize in the treatment of the elderly), psychiatrists and psychologists administer tests that more precisely reflect a person’s memory and thinking capabilities. Having your mother tested isn’t a bad idea, and she should not take offense at the suggestion.

Four medicines constitute the bulk of prescriptions written for Alzheimer’s disease. They are Aricept, Razadyne, Exelon and Namenda. The first three are usually prescribed for the early stages of this illness. None is a cure. They can slow its progression. Dozens of new medicines are currently under investigation.

The booklet on Alzheimer’s describes this illness and its treatment in understandable terms. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 903, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Six years ago a family member said she had breast cancer. Her doctor recommended that she see a surgeon. She never saw one. She has had no chemotherapy or radiation or any other sort of cancer treatment. Six years later, she looks the same as she always did, without any sign of cancer.

Does cancer ever cure itself? Could it have been misdiagnosed? Have you ever heard of someone surviving breast cancer without any treatment? – N.N.

I have never seen breast cancer cured without treatment. I don’t believe it happens. If others have evidence to the contrary, let me know.

I would ask those people the same questions I would ask your relative: Did the doctor say it “might be” cancer? If the doctor was definite about the diagnosis, was a biopsy done, or on what evidence was the diagnosis made? I would be most interested to learn the facts.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am writing with respect to the woman who has been getting recurrent bladder infections.

We lived in England for many years, and my mother had repeated bladder infections.

She had had many prescriptions for antibiotics, until she saw a doctor who told her to buy a box of barley. He told her to boil the barely and then throw the barley away or use it in soup or a stew but save the barley water. Put it in a jug and refrigerate it. Drink a glass three times a day for a few days. My mother did this and she never had another bladder infection. What do you think? – S.B.

I am skeptical. However, I’ll pass the information on, since I am sure it can’t hurt anyone. I still believe a doctor should be consulted when a person has the signs and symptoms of a bladder infection. I’ll let people use the barley method if they promise to see a doctor if they are not getting better quickly.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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