HomeHealthHidden home problem left ‘perfectly healthy’ 37-year-old woman with dementia
Hidden home problem left ‘perfectly healthy’ 37-year-old woman with dementia
August 20, 2022
An Australian woman has revealed how a secret mold infestation in her Sydney home led to her being diagnosed with dementia and even forgetting her own name.
The constant wet weather that has plagued Australia’s east coast for the past 18 months means many residents are now well aware of how quickly mold can take hold in the home – and how difficult it can be to get rid of it.
While most people understand that mold is harmful to our health, it’s hard to know how much of an impact it can have until you experience it first hand.
Amie Skilton is one of 25 percent of the Australian population who has a genetic vulnerability to mold toxins, meaning that exposure to mold triggers a massive inflammatory response in her body and can even lead to organ damage.
However, the 42-year-old only found out about this five years ago after a horrific experience with a moldy apartment in Manly.
Skilton, then 37, moved into the apartment with her now-husband in 2016.
At the time, she was “perfectly healthy,” had just completed a fun 9km run, was in the US twice to speak at two conferences, and held 39 keynote addresses in the six months leading up to her move.
“My brain was fine and my body was fine,” Skilton, who works as a naturopath and nutritionist, told news.com.au.
What she and her partner didn’t know was that the water tightness in the shower had gone haywire during a recent renovation and as a result, water leaked under the carpet and through the apartment every time it was used.
“I started getting sick, noticeably sick, about two months later,” she explained.
“It may have taken so long just because it was in the summer and it was very sunny, we always had the windows open and we never registered a leak at all.”
The result of the secret mold problem was a “systematic breakdown” of Skilton’s body.
“The first symptom I noticed was allergies, chronic allergies, and I put on 10 pounds out of nowhere,” she said.
“I’m also a nutritionist and have literally been the same weight my whole life. I gained 10 kilos in a few months and was very tired.”
Over the course of a few months, her brain functions also began to decline.
She had trouble concentrating and working, and when she was deep in her illness, she was referred to a neurologist who diagnosed her with type 3 Alzheimer’s disease, also known as inhalational Alzheimer’s.
As it progressed, simple things like leaving the house would become an arduous task because she would forget where her keys were and if she found them an hour later, she would have lost her phone.
“Some days I didn’t know how to dress. I would look at clothes and I was just really confused about how to put them on,” she said.
Skilton had a Vespa that she would ride to the local shops, but when she was gone she would forget where she parked and when she finally found her bike the keys were in the ignition.
But the scariest symptom she had was the day she couldn’t remember her own name.
“I went to fill out a form one day and I stared at the box with my name and I thought what is it again? I was staring at it, looking for it,” she said, describing the horror of such a “deep personal to forget.
Because she and the doctors she visited were unaware of the growing mold problem in her home, all the tests they did came back fine.
She said that fungus-related conditions are one of those conditions that not many health professionals are trained in, meaning most people end up being diagnosed with things like chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia because they have similar symptoms.
She said normal blood tests are not enough to show what is really wrong.
“This is exactly what happened. Everything came back fine, white blood cell count was good, red blood cell count was okay,” Skilton said, adding that most doctors knew her and told her there was nothing wrong with her.
‘Under the carpet was all that black mold’
Skilton said there were a few random things that happened at the same time that made her realize that her house could be the source of all her problems.
For some people it can take years to be diagnosed, but for her it happened in a matter of months.
She first began to realize that something was really wrong in February 2017 and by May the penny had dropped.
What first notified her was an online post from one of her friends explaining how her husband had the mold gene and that they had just found a leak in their Bondi apartment that had caused mold and affected his health.
This led Skilton to remember the layers asking if a plumber could check their bathroom when they first moved in because there was a leak in the garage below and they thought it might be coming from their apartment.
The plumber came and went and they never heard from again, so of course she thought everything was fine.
Once she remembered this, Skilton called a construction biologist to assess the unit that mapped the leak and found that the water had drained under the carpet and made it all the way to their bedroom and study.
“The carpet looked fine on the top, but when she lifted it, there was all that black mold. When we finally got our mattress cover back, the mattress was green,” she said.
When she confronted the property, they acknowledged that they knew the leak was coming from her apartment and that they had known about it for five months.
The owner had reportedly been arguing the entire time with layers about who should pay to fix the problem.
“So they deliberately left us there, which is probably the most infuriating. They knew and it poisoned us,” she said.
Knowing all this, Skilton was able to get the right things tested, namely specific inflammatory markers and a particular group of genes encoded by something called the human leukocyte antigen.
When she got back the results of all those tests, it became “100 percent clear that not only was the place leaky and moldy, but my immune system had reacted as we know my genetics would dictate in the face of mold.”
Five years later, Skilton now lives in a water-damaged house in northern NSW. Her brain function is back to normal, she has her energy back and she no longer suffers from the horrific symptoms she was experiencing.
She is now a qualified mold testing technician and wants to use her knowledge to train others.
The 42-year-old revealed that one of her clients had such a horrific reaction to mold exposure for several years that she went into a coma for three years.
The woman, who also has Lyme disease, lived for years in a house where the bathroom leaked through her bedroom wall.
Mold tests eventually showed that the house not only contained a huge amount of mold, but also some of the most toxic strains.
She became so ill as a young teenager that her body eventually began to shut down and she fell into a coma.
Skilton was linked to her when the woman was 27, but the nutritionist first said she thought she was a child because her body had such a severe reaction to the long-term exposure to mold that it affected her development.
What do you do if you think you are reacting to fungal poison?
Skilton said there are two ways you can determine if you have a mold problem in your home that is affecting your health.
“You can ask a building biologist to check your home or a certified mold testing technician. All construction biologists have done that training, but not all mold test technicians have gone on to do the rest of the construction biology,” she explained.
You can also be tested to see if you have the gene that predisposes you to mold exposure, which can usually be done for about $100 or $150, depending on the lab.
“You go to a primary care physician, you would like to see someone who is an integrative primary care physician or practices functional medicine,” Skilton said.
While some cases of mold are more serious than others, there are some things you can do to keep up with mold growth in your home.
Trevor Grindley, Beaumont Tiles’ glue and tool manager, said that silicone in the bathroom is the main place where mold and mildew begin to grow.
this can spread in the joints due to the porous composition of the grout, especially in wet areas such as the shower.
“If epoxy grout wasn’t used, most other grout wouldn’t resist mold or mildew without using an impregnating sealer that can provide deep and lasting protection with an invisible finish.”
Grindley said bathroom additions like underfloor heating can fight mold by drying out your bathroom.
“Ensuring adequate ventilation is another way to fight mold,” Grindley said.
“Having an exhaust fan or an open window in your bathroom can help prevent mold growth in your bathroom.”