The Factor

By: Wayne Brown

A few years ago, my mother had aged into her mid 70’s. She had always had some aches, pains, allergies, etc. but, for the most part, she was able to deal with those as simple irritants and move along with life. My father was still living at the time. He had retired and it seemed a time when he and my mother could start to enjoy life together. It was then the trouble started that put the entire family on a road of pending doom.

Initially, there was no real cause for alarm. Mother began to slow down. She was less involved, less engaging. No one in the family really thought much about it. We just considered it a phase in her life and attributed some of it to age. She lost her appetite and ate less and less. Since it was just my father and mother now living in the house, this went pretty much unnoticed until her weight became easily noticeable to everyone. Again, there was some concern but no real alarm. We coached her to eat better and she didn’t argue against it that much. She just seemed uninterested and detached basically. The weight loss continued until it aroused concern. The family began to whisper concerns to each other. We were convinced that mom was under the influences of a yet undiscovered illness. My sister took her to the doctor for a check up and test to get to the bottom of things.

The doctor examined my mother, ran blood tests, and completed those steps to review her physical health. The results came back negative. There was nothing to diagnose. When questioned about her weight loss, her detachment and disinterest, the doctor’s explanation was a diagnosis of early dementia. He told us that this was a common occurrence in people as they aged and there was not a lot medically that could be done to head it off. It was a by-product of the aging process in humans. Although it was painful to see my mother wilting away, the logic of this argument seemed over-powering. As a family, we had to put our energy into caring for her and trying to minimize the impact of the dementia on her life.

Mother continued to go downhill. Her body weight dropped to a low of 96 lbs. She now weighed over 50 lbs less than she did when this condition began to develop. Her taste in food had totally changes. All her life, my mother had been a proponent of fresh cooked vegetables and home-made meals. Now, she did not feel like cooking. She was weak. She wanted fast-food. At first, my father went along with her mostly to appease her desires. Soon they were both living in the fast food-lane at almost every meal. The cooking that did go on in the house was done by my father who was literally teaching himself to cook as he approached 80 years of age. Mother took to the bed for almost every hour of the day. She lived in her night gown and she was taking on the appearance of a person who was being slowly starved to death.

Our concerns for her health continued to grow as we watched mother turn totally inside herself. If people came to visit, she lay in the bed and turned her back to them. She spent hours sleeping or silently staring at nothing. We pleaded with her to seek more medical advice without success. She was against everything. She had no faith in doctors or their opinions. It was a waste of money. We need to butt out of her life and leave her alone. Her personality had totally shifted. It was as if another being had done away with my mother and was occupying her body. Her preferences in almost every area shifted to the opposite ends of the spectrum. In effect, my mother had died three years before but her body was still here, fragile and failing. The family was at the end of the road and all of us were start to reconcile that she was at death’s door and we were powerless to change the destiny. Luckily, that was not the case.

My sister finally convinced my mother to go back to the doctor for blood work. Once the blood was drawn, the doctor was quite upset. The blood was so thin and in such a state that the quality of it was far too poor to test. He wanted her in the hospital and on transfusions immediately. As might be expected, mother was totally against it. This allowed my sister the opportunity to suggest that mother see a specialist about the condition. The doctor agreed and referred her to a hematologist who practiced in a city about an hour from our hometown. For the first time in a long time, family members were pleased that we at least we getting mother some medical attention and would hopefully get to a conclusion or understanding.

What occurred from this point forward is a bit disconcerting. The reason I say that is that the outcome speaks loudly to the simplicity of getting the proper medical attention. At the same time, it also speaks volumes about how easily the doctors who practice general medicine can miss what should have been a relatively easy diagnosis. The hematologist took one look at my mother on the first visit without the aid of any test, etc. and told my sister that he was certain of the cause of the problem. At the same time, he assured her that he would test to confirm but he was almost certain that she was suffering from a condition medically referred to as ‘pernicious anemia’. Never heard of it? Well, join the club, you will find there are a lot of folks just like you, our family included.

Pernicious anemia as might be described in the words of a lay person develops when a person’s digestive system stops absorbing vitamin B-12 from the foods processed through it. The digestive system utilizes a process referred to as “The Factor” which breaks down and absorbs the B-12 through the walls of the intestinal tract. When a person loses this “Factor”, this absorption process ceases and the B-12 passes through the body unabsorbed. B-12 is a critical element in the development of red blood cells and DNA within the body. Without it, the structure of the blood breaks down. At some point, this condition, untreated, is fatal. Blood tests did confirm this condition in my mother and the hematologist prescribed an on-going regimen of monthly B-12 injections which would compensate for the digestive system’s inability to complete the process.

The diagnosis was perfect and the treatment was highly successful. In a matter of months, we had mother back on the road to recovery. She is now back at her fighting weight, eating a good diet, and demonstrating all the traits of her old personality. Next month she will celebrate her 82nd birthday.

Now, I did not relate this story to write a family drama. My point here in to highlight the insidious dangers of this anemic condition, especially in elderly persons. Once mother was diagnosed, I began to read as much as I could find about the condition on various web medical sites. I learned a lot about it but the one thing that I learned that was the most troubling was that this condition is misdiagnosed as ‘dementia’ in almost 30% of the cases where it is presented. Think about the impact and result of that figure. These are almost always elderly people who are juggling some medical issues. One out of every three of them will be diagnosed as simply suffering from ‘dementia’ and will be sent home without treatment. Basically, if the family does not take it beyond that point, that person will die. Sadly, the cause of death will be chalked up to old age and the effects of dementia. By relating this story, I hope that I have provided enough detail that anyone reading it will recognize those symptoms in their loved ones and get the proper diagnosis and care. Your loved ones life depends on it and yours may as well someday.

Pernicious Anemia is not a difficult diagnosis if the proper tests are employed. If you have concerns in this area, speak up and challenge your family doctor. Get the test run even if the results are negative. It is the only way to make this diagnosis as common as it should be in the medical profession.

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Comments 14 comments

sheila b. profile image

sheila b. 6 years ago

I'm taking this article personally. I can imagine just this same thing happening to me, since I've always had a tendency to become anemic. Thank you for writing this.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

My pleasure, Sheila. If it saves one person, that's enough for me. We have to be vigilant of this condition in the elderly...it's out there and yet I had never heard of it. I appreciate your comments!


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 6 years ago

Very important hub, Wayne. Therein lies the importance of being able to get another opinion and not be micro managed by the government. I say go with your instincts and seek other advice and further testing. I'm happy things turned out well.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

Thank you, bpop...after seeing this condition consume my mother like an alien from space, I grieve at the thought of anyone dealing with it. It literally takes away the person's ability to reason for themselves and seek solutions. I guess that is why it is so easily sorted into the 'demenia' bin. WB


lalesu profile image

lalesu 6 years ago from south of the Mason-Dixon

Wayne, first, let me say how glad I am that your mother finally got the proper diagnosis; secondly, thank you for writing such an informative article.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

Thank you, Laura. For our family, it was truly a gift from God. I am glad to share it because it may bring that same gift to others.


saddlerider1 profile image

saddlerider1 6 years ago

Thanks again Wayne, you see how important it is to write in Hubpages. There is so much useful content that we stumble on to find that it is exactly what we or a member of our family is going through. We had a similar situation in our family and luckily caught it in time. There is always room for error in the medical profession, I guess they just have to much of a workload, causing them to overlook what should have in the first place been an easy catch.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas Author

Thank you for the read, saddlerider. I hope that it helps. As a public, we must educate ourselves on every aspect of our lives these days. Luckily, we have some tools at hand that are quite effective. Regardless of our healthcare plan, we cannot leave our welfare to the physician. His intentions are good but he could be wrong thus the consequences are devastating. Get a second opinion!


Truckstop Sally profile image

Truckstop Sally 5 years ago

What an amazing testimony for probing into health matters and not giving up until the correct dignosis is determined. I have never heard of pernicious anemia, but it makes sense that without enough B-12 - the body would begin to shut down. It must have been very difficult to see her in that condition. I love your expression -back at her "fighting weight". Here's to her continued health! She is lucky to have a son like you!


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 5 years ago from Texas Author

@Truckstop Sally...Most people have never heard of it nor are aware of the "factor" in our digestive system. As stated in the article, general practicioners misdiagnose it 30% of the time in the elderly as dimentia. I think this is partly because the diagnosis is made in the early stages when the effects are not in full bloom and only simple blood tests are used which does not detect the blood anemia due to the masking effect of the high levels of folic acid in our foods. The family tends to accept the early diagnosis and nevers goes back until it is too late. This is not a "curable" condition but it is quite manageable once it is identified and the patient can live a very normal life with a monthly B-12 injection. WB


Becky 5 years ago

I have Graves disease. I developed it shortly after my 14 year old daughter was born. It is also a killer and misdiagnosed frequently. Mine was not diagnosed even after I went to the Dr. 6 different times, telling him that I just did not feel right. He would tell me I had a sinus infection or allergies.

When my daughter was 2, she got burned when she pulled a frying pan off the stove. Hot hamburger grease burned her arm and hand. We went to the hospital. While we were waiting for medication to work, I noticed a nurse nodding at me and then the Dr. looked at me and nodded at her. I asked him what that was about.

He told me that the nurse had asked if I had ?. He nodded yes.I had to bug him but he finally told me that he couldn't tell me because I was not his patient but I needed to get my thyroid level checked.

I went the next day and had my daughter checked again and had my thyroid level checked. It was extremely high. The nurse could see it across the ER but my Dr. didn't see it while touching my face. The bug eyed look is a give-away.The shakes are also a big clue. I went on medication immediately but changed Dr. immediately also. The new Dr. walked into the room and checked my chart to see if it was listed. I had a competent Dr. finally.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 5 years ago from Texas Author

@Becky...We tend to put doctors on a pedestal in this country. They have the ability to make passing grades in difficult courses, endure the ardurous task of medical training yet too often they do not have that common sense ability to apply logic and arrive at a proper conclusion. Thank God there are still some with enough common sense to be able to apply their medical training accordingly in an effective problem solving method which teaches you that you must first recognize the symtoms before you apply the solution. Thanks, Becky. WB


hafeezrm profile image

hafeezrm 5 years ago from Pakistan

Pernicious Anemia !! The more I read about sickness, the more worried I am. At 69, I feel perfectly OK. I go on long safari, go for mountains and strenuous hikes but year by year, I have dreadful thoughts about my ability to continue.

Thanks for sharing your views.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 5 years ago from Texas Author

@hafeezrm...Those of us who hold on to our health and ability to be active are the richest people in the world...little else matters in the end in terms of our enjoyment of life and happiness. Good for you! Thanks much. WB

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