As our loved one’s age, the spectre of Alzheimer’s Disease can loom large. As something that attacks memory, thinking, and reasoning, it threatens to remove our loved ones from us. We have images in our head from movies and television of parents who don’t recognize children and forget their own name. There’s also the issue of safety, and we worry that our loved ones will have difficulty caring for themselves.
When these fears start to take hold, there’s often an issue of forgetfulness on our own part. We forget that our loved ones are only human and that people make mistakes from time to time. We’ve all forgotten where we put the keys or asked someone to call our phone because we’ve looked everywhere and still haven’t found it. But understandable and everyday lapses like these take on a frightening aspect in ageing friends and relatives. Holding these elderly friends and relatives to an impossible standard of perfection, and becoming awash in anxiety every time they fail to live up to it, is a recipe for mental and emotional turmoil. It can rob us of good times spent with loved ones and can lead to unnecessary arguments and accusations.
While it’s easier said than done, keeping this fear and anxiety in check can help us keep a level head and be in a better mental state to distinguish between ordinary memory lapses and true signs of Alzheimer’s Disease. This does a great deal of good for both our loved ones and ourselves. There is great value in recognizing the signs of Alzheimer’s early. But if we jump to this conclusion too readily, our loved ones are less likely to heed our warnings and advice.
Breaks in the Routine
Typically, it is the breaks in what we’ve come to know as “normal” behavior that can signal the onset of Alzheimer’s in our loved ones. This is why friends and family are invaluable in helping to spot the early signs of Alzheimer’s. Someone who’s been misplacing their keys since their twenties shouldn’t be expected to gain a newfound meticulousness about their location late in life. But for normally fastidious family members, who have put their keys and wallet in the same place for years or decades—perhaps on a shelf or table by the door—losing track of their keys takes on a different meaning.
This is one of the early signs of Alzheimer’s: Changes in short-term memory. Losing track of where things are can become more common, as can forgetting things they had planned on doing. We’ve all gone into a room and forgotten what we went in there for, but if this becomes more frequent—to the point where you’ve begun to notice it—it’s important to take note. What can be challenging to comprehend is that long-term memory may be perfectly intact. Your loved one may recount a story that happened decades ago in perfect detail, but have trouble remembering what they were going to buy at the store moments after you’ve arrived there.
Issues with a sense of direction or ability to follow a plan fall into a similar category: Deviation from established behaviors is something to take note of. Did your father get lost on the way to the grocery store he’s travelled to for as long as you can remember? Is your mother having trouble following the recipe for the cookies she’d baked for years? Turn-by-turn or step-by-step directions can become difficult to follow with Alzheimer’s, even if they were committed to memory long ago.
On the flip side of this, learning new things increasingly becomes a challenge. Again, it’s important to remember that learning new things can present a challenge without the presence of Alzheimer’s. Teaching an elderly loved one to use a smartphone can often be a frustrating experience. But remember, this is typically a tremendous leap forward from the technology they’ve known. However, if you’re used to trading recipes back and forth with a loved one, but recently, you’ve noticed more frequent calls to re-explain or walk them through the recipe, this could be an early indication of Alzheimer’s.
Changes in Personality
Changes in memory or ability to follow directions don’t necessarily equate to a change in personality. Your loved one may be more forgetful, but otherwise be the same person you’ve always known. And, similar to what we discussed above, it’s easy to overanalyze isolated incidents. We all have bad days. Even the most talkative among us has an afternoon where we just don’t have much to say, and someone who’s normally withdrawn can get excited if the right topic comes up.
But it’s important to pay attention to more frequent changes in behavior. Apathy and indifference, in particular, can serve as signs of warning when it comes to Alzheimer’s. This can have different causes. For one, increasing forgetfulness may lead a person to feel anxiety when they’re out with others. More engagement means more chances of forgetting something or becoming confused, and an increased chance that others will start to notice.
But sometimes, the change is more subtle than that. Activities that used to bring joy may simply lose their appeal. Loved ones can begin to withdraw as they see less and less reason to partake in activities, or they may seem emotionally flat. This can also progress to depression, which is another issue that afflicts those with Alzheimer’s.
As those who know our loved ones best, we are the best equipped to recognize these early changes. While they may not be cause for alarm from an objective standpoint—we need not rush someone to the doctor simply for not being talkative—observed in context with a person’s life, they take on new meaning.
Benefits of Early Alzheimer’s Detection
The sooner we can detect Alzheimer’s, the more options we have at our disposal. Treatments are sometimes available that can slow the onset of symptoms, and help loved ones maintain their independence for a longer period of time.
Most beneficial to both those with Alzheimer’s and their loved ones is the ability to plan for the future together. Rather than waiting until the disease has progressed, and making often agonizing decisions for a loved one who’s suffering, you can come up with a plan together that can guide you through this tough time, such as where to turn when the disease progresses. There are plenty of wonderful facilities for those with Alzheimer’s. The Memory Care Unit here at The Woodleigh Nursing & Rehab Center provides a comfortable, secure place for those with Alzheimer’s to call home, where they can get the assistance they need and the comfort they deserve. Visit our website to learn more about Alzheimer’s and the role a memory care facility can play in your loved one’s life.