This article was originally posted on Easy Living.
I’ve noticed Mom is increasingly forgetful. Is this just normal aging? How do I know if Mom has Alzheimer’s? And, what’s the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?
These are common questions and concerns for people with aging parents. Younger people even wonder if memory slips might be signs of future Alzheimer’s. Our geriatric experts will help clear up definitions, myths, and all your questions about Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s disease is “an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills” (National Institute on Aging). It is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who first discovered the plaques and tangles characteristic of the disease in the brain tissue of a deceased patient.
Alzheimer’s is one type of dementia. Other types include Lewy Body dementia, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia and dementia related to diseases like Parkinson’s. Dementia is a term for the symptoms and behaviors, while Alzheimer’s and the others are the specific diagnosis.
Some other common misconceptions revolve around causes, prevention and cures. You can read more from the Alzheimer’s Association. As far as prevention goes, there’s little proof for specific vitamins or supplements. But, overall nervous system/cardiovascular health is important, so keep your brain healthy with a balanced diet and exercise. We also researched “The Best Brain Boosting Hobbies”. Heredity does play a role, but only a small percentage is familial Alzheimer’s. So, it is not automatically true that you will develop the disease if your loved one had it.
This includes missing appointments, asking repeated information, forgetting tasks just done or what happened earlier in the day. It is normal to occasionally forget an appointment or name.
The person with Alzheimer’s starts to have trouble managing normal household and self-care tasks due to forgetfulness and processing challenges. On the other hand, it’s not unusual to have difficulty figuring out the remote or working a new appliance.
Complex thinking involving steps becomes disrupted by this disease, making this an area you might notice first. Mom can’t follow a recipe or a set of instructions. You find out her finances are a mess and see she’s unable to follow the process of bill paying anymore. This doesn’t mean we all don’t occasionally miscalculate something or make some errors with bills.
Obvious signs include forgetting where she is or how she got there. Especially when retired, we may not know the date at first but a person with Alzheimer’s might be confused about the season or year or overall timeframes.
Alzheimer’s can cause difficulty judging distance or color/contrast. Driving problems and falls often result. Of course, this can also be caused by age or disease-related eyesight issues, which should always be checked.
We all do this from time to time but it becomes a pattern with Alzheimer’s and the person can’t retrace their steps due to memory deficits. They also tend to misplace things in strange places and forget where things “belong”.
The person might stumble over common words, or become withdrawn in conversation/let others speak for him or her. They may call things by the wrong name or simply stop in mid-conversation. They tend to repeat themselves, particularly asking questions for reassurance. We all have moments where we can’t think of words, but it doesn’t stop our conversational fluidity or basic writing abilities.
This is another sign of deficits in higher level thinking, or executive functioning. Many of us make poor decisions, but this symptom becomes obvious when your parent’s behavior is unusual for them.
Mom stops going to her normal activities or socializing with lifelong friends. She might be having trouble keeping up or be embarrassed by lapses. It’s also quite possible she’s having difficulty making and remembering plans. Again, it is the change of pattern that indicates this is more than life’s ups and downs (though this can also be a sign of depression).
The person may become suspicious, angry, fearful or anxious. Again, these may also be symptoms of depression. Learn more: Signs and Symptoms of Depression in the Elderlyand Myths about Elderly Depression.
*Adopted from the Alzheimer’s Association
If you notice some of the symptoms above, it’s time to get Mom in to see a specialist. This is essential because reversible (treatable!) causes can mimic Alzheimer’s. For example, Mom could be suffering from a vitamin deficiency, vision or hearing problems, medication side effects or depression.
The doctor will conduct tests to assess memory impairment, cognitive and functional abilities, and behavior changes. The workup will include taking a history and performing tests to rule out other possible causes of impairment. In recent years, understanding of the disease and diagnostic testing has become much more sophisticated. Though currently there is no cure and treatments cannot arrest the disease, researchers are making great strides.
Understanding that Mom has Alzheimer’s is also important for planning purposes. Because this is a progressive disease, your family needs to be prepared for what lies ahead. Some key to do’s:
A daily check-in call could be the lifeline, the joy you give someone that makes the biggest difference in their perception of what old age is like.
Contact me at 317-480-1038 today. Let’s make a difference together.
I’m Diana Beam, Founder of Keeping in Touch Solutions. It is my heartfelt desire for every person to live a happy and healthy life in the place they call home, no matter what their age. You can’t put a price on peace of mind for your parents and yourself. It’s priceless . . . and significant.
For that reason, the goal of every Keeping In Touch Solutions program is to provide a caring connection and service that both the elderly and their caregivers can rely on to make living that good life easier.
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