Among my older friends I sometimes hear “guess I’m getting Alzheimer’s”. Generally, this is in response to forgetting something or not being able to recall things as easily. Sometimes I laugh with them (although Alzheimer’s is definitely nothing to laugh at) and sometimes I ask them the following questions;
To me, the most important question is “are the changes in your memory negatively effecting your daily living?” It’s not uncommon to forget names or plans you’ve made as long as you remember them later. Obviously, if you remember most of the details with a slight reminder it’s probably fine.
If you’re increasingly needing to use memory aids (post-it notes, the reminder app on your phone) for more and more things, this is a sign you should pay attention to.
One of the very early signs of my Mom’s Alzheimer’s was her neglecting to fill in work order forms completely. Too often clients would return for their photos (we had a 1-hour photo lab) and the job would not be done.
It was easy to dismiss with the assumption that the phone rang or another client came in and she got distracted. Looking back, however, this happened more frequently until the day she didn’t recognize her own handwriting on an incomplete work order.
What Other Signs Should I Pay Attention To?
Another common sign that is easily dismissed as stressed, too busy is having more trouble completing normal everyday tasks. This could look like struggling to organize a shopping list (or remembering to use it), forgetting the steps to a recipe you make all the time, or suddenly getting confused driving to normal destinations.
People who are still working (or in an important volunteer position) may suddenly have difficulty organizing and planning. They may struggle with problem-solving. If you’re noticing financial issues, or bills not getting paid on time this is a big warning sign.
Many people misplace things and jokingly assume they’re getting Alzheimer’s. The true warning sign is misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps to find it. It’s quite common for someone in the early stages of the disease to accuse people of stealing or hiding their things.
Before we understood that my Dad was having cognitive issues due to kidney failure he called me up angry because my Mom had moved his glasses and he couldn’t find them. My first reaction was “huh, weird, she’s never done that ever and he’s worn glasses the entire time they’ve been together.”
It seemed possible she had done this, she was the one with Alzheimer’s. What I didn’t know was this is a textbook example of early cognitive issues!
Are There More Warning Signs?
Have you or your loved one had a sudden change in their work or social life? Changes caused by Alzheimer’s may make it more difficult to follow a conversation (especially if it’s noisy). If a baseball fan suddenly starts mixing up the rules or the stats on their favorite players, this could be a sign of something serious. Finding themselves in this situation may cause withdrawal from social activities.
If you feel this way on occasion you probably are as normal as the rest of us.
My last question to my friends is “are you having changes in mood or personality?” This is better asked of the spouse or close family, it may be something you’ve noticed yourself.
Getting confused or mixed up more often can cause fear, anxiety, cause suspicions, and possibly even depression. If you see any of these in someone you’re close to, it’s definitely something to have checked.
There are 10 official warning signs put out by the Alzheimer’s Association. The five I ask my friends (and sometimes strangers) are the ones that I feel show up really early and are easily dismissed. I know that’s what we did with my Mom.
A side story. My friend and neighbor were complaining about his wife’s sudden memory issues. She told him she didn’t have a problem. I took him aside and explained that what they were going through was eerily similar to how my Mom was in the very early stages of her disease. I admitted that it could be stress, distractions, too much work OR it could be something to look into.
Any Good News?
Thankfully, it wasn’t the worst-case scenario.
One last thing. These warning signs are also signs of other issues. Are you on a new medication, is there another illness that might be the culprit? It’s a good idea to log some of these situations, when and where they happen. This will give you excellent information to discuss with your doctor.
What you don’t want to accept is, “it’s just a part of getting older” because if you’re concerned about your memory, it’s not something that should be dismissed this easily.
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