This month is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and as part of this we are presenting a series of articles on the disease and what you can do if your loved one is diagnosed.
Your father can’t remember where he put his keys, mom doesn’t know where she parked the car, these things seem to happen more than usual lately. Is it just normal aging or is it more? Could it be Alzheimer’s?
As much as we hate to admit it, we are getting older, which means so are our parents. It’s a reality we have to face although we don’t want to. And with age, comes increasing chances of developing Alzheimer’s. According to the Alzheimer’s Association (Alz.org) over 5 million Americans have the disease. This does not include people with other forms of dementia, which is not a specific disease but rather a group of symptoms which affect a person’s mental functions and reduces their ability to perform everyday functions. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia which will get worse over time and affects a person’s memory, thinking and behavior.
Keep in mind that Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging, it is a disease and it will get worse over time. There are treatments but so far, although there is promising research, there is no cure. It is also important to note that Alzheimer’s doesn’t just affect the elderly, but can affect people even younger (see link below for info on early onset Alzheimer’s).
How can we tell if our loved ones have Alzheimer’s as opposed to some other form of dementia? Dad’s losing his keys and Mom’s forgetting where she parked the car could be part of the normal aging process or it could be more. It is also important to note that an Alzheimer’s diagnosis doesn’t mean you will need to put your parents in a “home”, locked away from society. Many Alzheimer’s patients can live for quite some time with only limited help. When it is time to move them into a facility will be discussed in a follow-up article.
It is important to once again note that just because someone has these symptoms doesn’t mean they have Alzheimer’s, only a medical professional can determine this. Some of the signs of the disease can be caused by such things as chronic alcoholism, brain tumors, some medications, blood clots in the brain, vitamin B12 deficiency or even kidney, thyroid and liver problems.
Ten Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s
With that let’s look at the some behaviors you should be observing in your parents (taken from ALZ.org, “10 Warning Signs”).
1) Does your loved one seem to have more and more problems remembering things which disrupts their daily life? Is it getting worse over time? This can sometimes be difficult to notice if you aren’t able to spend a lot of time with them, for example if you live on different coasts, and if this is the case, find someone who may live closer who might be able to better observe them.
2) When it comes time for you loved one to plan something, do they seem to have difficulty? Was your Mom always the one who could plan the birthday parties and Holiday celebrations and now seems to have problems dong so? Is your Dad suddenly having issues with simple household “fixes” he never had problems with before, unclogging a stopped sink or putting the screens up in the summer?
3) Related to this do they have problems with completing familiar tasks such as writing a grocery list or mailing a letter?
4) Have you noticed your loved one forgets what day it is or where they are? Do they think it is a time 10, 20 or more years ago? Do they think they are someplace they may have lived or visited when they were young?
5) Does your loved one look at a picture and seem to have trouble identifying what or who it is of? How about with spatial relationships, do they have trouble determining where one object, say a chair is in relationship to a table?
6) When you talk to your loved one are they having trouble saying or writing words that should be familiar to them? If your parent was always an avid reader do they now have trouble reading the newspaper? How about writing a grocery list?
7) Does your loved one have difficulty finding their way back home or even retracing their steps from one room to another? How about losing items more than what they normally do and not being able to remember where they were the last time they had the item?
8) How about trouble making simple decisions or making decisions which they never would have made in the past? Do they have a problem with determining whether something is right or wrong, something there never was a question about before?
9) Is your parent or loved one withdrawing from things like work or activities they used to love? Do they not want to go to the weekly card game at the Senior Center something they always looked forward to?
10) Have you noticed a change in the personality or mood of your parent, something not normal for them? Are they suddenly angry or even unusually happy, when they have always been the opposite?
Once again it is important to note that just because someone has one or more of these symptoms, doesn’t mean they necessarily have Alzheimer’s but they should consult with their doctor. As a loved one, you might have to take the initiative on this as the person may not want to admit they are having any problems or they don’t want “to be any trouble” and won’t go.
While there is yet no cure, Alzheimer’s can be managed and the patient can live comfortably for some time with it. Yes, there will need to be changes in their life styles, and yes, you may need to become a care giver for them, which can be difficult when you realize you now have to take care of the ones who took care of you, but then, isn’t that the least you can do?
Written by: Paul Roy
Coming soon: Your loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, what’s next?