Signs and Symptoms
The Alzheimer’s Association website has an article called “10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s.” The first warning sign is “memory changes that disrupt daily life.” If you sometimes forget names or appointments, but remember them later, you’re probably experiencing typical age-related changes. Here’s the real warning sign:
“One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s, especially in the early stages, is forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; relying on memory aides (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own.”
Mom died from Alzheimer’s disease on May 20, 2012. I received many expressions of sympathy, but one of the most meaningful was a letter from the Alzheimer’s Association acknowledging of a gift made in her honor. It arrived in September which is World Alzheimer’s Month. Our local paper featured an article that listed several ways to observe the month. One way was to speak up about the disease. I’m no authority about causes, treatment, cure, research, numbers affected, or what’s on the horizon in relation to this insidious disease, but I have 15 years experience as an Alzheimer’s caregiver. I decided to combine some of that experience with some information from the Alzheimer’s Association about the signs and symptoms of the disease.
Mom’s first symptoms
The first symptom I noticed in Mom was what I called “the loop.” She asked the same question or told the same story several times in a fifteen-minute conversation. She often forgot where we were going, and she always thought it was her birthday, regardless of whose big day we were celebrating. And remembering new information was next to impossible.
One of the most graphic examples of her inability to learn new tasks came with a phone call one Saturday morning.
“An alarm is going off at your parent’s house,” said an unidentified female voice. “I can’t reach them by phone, and you’re listed as the secondary contact.”
“You must have the wrong number,” I said. “My parents don’t have an alarm system.”
“Oh, yes. We installed their system yesterday.”
“Oh, really! Can you hold a minute?”
I called Dad on my cell phone. When he picked up the phone, I heard an alarm blasting as he frantically explained how Mom had accidentally set it off. With a phone at each ear, I relayed instructions to him and restored silence. Obviously, I had some investigating to do.
Mom and Dad lived in a small house on a busy, well-lit corner within sight of the police station, but a salesman convinced them they needed a full alarm system. Within hours of installation, they had set it off several times, and going over the instructions only added to the confusion. When they lived with us, Mom got confused if I bought a different brand of milk, so you can imagine how she dealt with a key pad, a number code, and a panic button. I started making phone calls and eventually worked my way up to the owner of the company. After explaining the situation as well as how interested the media is in companies that take advantage of the elderly, I convinced him to take out the system at no cost.
Why warning signs matter
When Mom first started exhibiting symptoms many years ago, public awareness of Alzheimer’s was in its infancy. When someone misplaced a set of car keys or forgot a name, they joked about having “Some-timers,” and some people stopped drinking soft drinks from aluminum cans and cooking in aluminum cookware in hopes of avoiding the disease. We were as uneducated as anyone, but if we had known the difference between typical age-related changes and the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease, we might not have waited several years before consulting a doctor.
There is not yet a cure for Alzheimer’s, but early intervention and treatment can slow the disease and increase your loved one’s quality of life. For more information about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, contact the Alzheimer’s Association at 800.272.3900 or www.alz.org.