Because of concerns about Alzheimer’s and other dementias, when you’re over a certain age forgetting things suddenly becomes scary.
You or a family member may wonder if it’s just being distracted… or if it’s something more serious like dementia including Alzheimer’s. When you get concerned you probably look to professionals for help.
Just like “Tom” and “Irene” (not their real names)…
Tom and Irene were high school sweethearts. They married shortly after high school. Throughout their marriage they remained committed to each other.
When they were both in their 70s, Tom first brought Irene to see me. Tom was concerned about her confusion. The two of them were still very much in love.
Tom spent a lifetime protecting and providing for Irene. He would not allow anything to prevent that. He still maintained old-fashioned gentlemanly gestures. Holding Irene’s coat while we talked… making sure she was comfortably seated before sitting himself… among other loving gestures.
It was easy to see how deeply they cared for each other. Tom noted he was concerned about Irene’s forgetfulness. With time, he took over more of the chores and duties at home, without complaint or hesitation. When asked if it bothered him, he’d only say Irene cared for him for many years and now it was his turn.
His marriage vows of loving in sickness and in health included caring however he could. Concerned for his wife, he wanted Irene examined.
Why? To be sure she didn’t have an easily treated medical condition. Irene was nervous, and what would be described as pleasantly confused. If she couldn’t remember a word or an answer, she just made one up. And smiled a lot.
After the results of the examination and tests were in, they returned to the office. She had a dementia, probably Alzheimer’s disease. We discussed their options. For now Tom wanted to take Irene home. She was not difficult to care for… and as he said, “It’s what we do.”
They wanted to keep her at home as long as possible. And they did with the help of a very supportive close-knit community and church.
Each situation is unique.
Many wonder though…
What are dementia symptoms? Five are..
- Memory loss.
- Language problems.
- Difficulty with routine tasks.
- Inappropriate behavior.
- Getting lost.
These are not the only dementia symptoms, just five of them. And dementia is not the only cause of these problems, so they should be evaluated medically.
Okay, so just what do these mean? Memory loss is a common symptom in age related dementia.
It is not a normal part of aging though. And memory loss does not mean the person you’re caring for has dementia.
Is the one you’re worried about losing things and then cannot retrace his steps to find them? That is consistent with dementia.
Forgetting where you put your keys when distracted, then remembering a few minutes later does not mean you have early dementia!
Is she asking the same question over and over? Patients with dementia truly don’t recall they just asked the same question a few minutes earlier. Nor do they remember the answer!
Of course if you — or someone you care for — has memory issues you should consult your — or their — personal physician or other health care professional for advice.
Language problems can be associated with age related dementia.
Is your loved one using the wrong word? For example, does she refer to her grown daughter as “the girl” instead of using her name?
Or maybe she mumbles or has slurred speech.
Is she having difficulty reading or writing?
Having difficulty doing things that should be routine.
Does she find cooking a meal or driving a car suddenly difficult or impossible?
In more advanced stages she may have problems…
- Feeding herself…
- Getting dressed…
- Caring for personal hygiene including bathing…
- Lose mobility (walking, transferring from bed to chair, using a cane or walker) and more.
Are you noticing childish behavior?
Or maybe she’s dressing inappropriately for the weather?
Getting lost easily in familiar surroundings.
Is your elderly grandmother getting lost in her own house? Or walking down the street she’s lived on for years and not finding her way home?
Or maybe she goes outside and doesn’t recognize the front of her house?
As with many medical conditions, Alzheimer’s doesn’t show the exact same symptoms in everyone. So these age dementia symptoms should be discussed with your loved one’s physician or other health care professional.
Just because someone has one or two of these symptoms doesn’t mean they have Alzheimer’s or another dementia. While these are concerning, there can be other causes. Some are fairly easily treated. A physician can decide if the symptoms need further evaluation.
Read on for more…
Other symptoms include…
- Can’t tell time.
- Mood swings and sudden outbursts of emotion.
- Poor judgment and loss of abstract thinking.
- Sleeping problems.
- Personality changes and apathy.
These problems can be caused by things other than dementia. So when they occur they should be evaluated medically.
Losing the ability to tell time.
Maybe you notice she can’t read a clock or understand a calendar. Or she has no idea what season it is.
Mood swings and sudden outbursts of emotion may be challenging.
Are you noticing mood swings? Sudden bursts of anger, violence, crying and other emotions can all be associated with dementia.
Poor judgment and loss of abstract thinking.
While anyone may from time to time make an error in judgment, when your loved one experiences major changes in behavior or big errors in judgment you need to seek help.
Having a pot boil over on the stove may happen to anyone who gets distracted. When someone turns on the stove and then walks away forgetting it’s on, that’s different.
And potentially a fire hazard!
What’s “loss of abstract thinking?”
“Loss of abstract thinking” is a sign of losing complex thinking skills. Sometimes it’s first noticed when someone is unable to do a series of tasks they’ve done easily in the past. It takes different forms and can include things like . . .
- Losing the ability to balance a checkbook or pay bills…
- Inability to follow knitting instructions by a long-time knitter or…
- Having difficulty following a conversation.
Is he sleeping during the day and up at night?
Agitated at night?
While occasional insomnia may not be concerning, changes in sleep can signal an underlying problem—and can make life difficult for the caregiver.
How? Well if you have someone who’s wandering the house at night and possibly more confused at night, you may be waking up to get them into bed before they get hurt.
Personality changes and apathy.
A calm quiet-spoken person may become loud and agitated, while a happy person may become depressed.
Or is she suddenly irritable, suspicious, fearful or passive?
She may want to stay home and not see people she’s enjoyed for years.
What do these symptoms mean?
While these symptoms are often associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, it’s important to get a medical evaluation to exclude other causes.
And while some of these symptoms are more likely to appear early in a disease such as Alzheimer’s, others appear later as the disease progresses.
Are you a caregiver with someone who’s showing these symptoms?
While the disease may progress, maybe you can still help them feel useful.
Perhaps you can help them do something they’ve always loved, although now a simpler version—or one you do as a team.
Some examples include . . .
- Simple word puzzles for a crossword enthusiast.
- Garter stitch scarves or dishcloths for a knitter. Or knitting odd shaped pieces that you can later sew into a lap robe . . .an afghan . . .or a pillow.
- Working together on jigsaw puzzles for a jigsaw puzzle fanatic.
November is National Family Caregiver Month and Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Join us in honoring, supporting and helping care partners on the Caregiving Heroes Facebook Page.
To your Happy&Healthy Caregiving,
Ina Gilmore MD
Global Purple Angel Dementia Ambassador