GREENSBURG — Kristi McCann, a representative from the Indianapolis branch of the Alzheimer’s Association gave a presentation about the disease Tuesday evening at the Greensburg Public Library.
After a brief welcome, McCann began by covering the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. Each case of Alzheimer’s and dementia is different and an individual may experience some or all of the warning signs in varying degrees of intensity.
The first warning sign is memory loss that disrupts daily life, especially recently learned information. A typical age-related change might involve sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later. However, if one is forgetting important dates and events, asking for the same information repeatedly and increasingly relying on memory aids for things previously done independently, it may be an indicator.
Challenges in planning or solving problems is another warning sign. Some may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. While occasionally making an error when balancing a checkbook is a normal age-related change, having trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills may be a signal of an underlying problem. Difficulty concentrating and taking much longer than before to complete familiar tasks are also indicators of a problem.
Experiencing difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work or leisure is another warning sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Some common issues have been trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules to a favorite game. Comparably, needing occasional help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show are normal age-related changes.
Confusion with time or place is a common sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Those afflicted with the disease often lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. If something is not happening immediately, they may have trouble understanding it.
They may also sometimes forget where they are or how they got there. Getting confused about the day of the week, but remembering it later, is a normal age-related change.
Another warning sign is having trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. For some people, vision problems may be a sign of a degenerative brain disease. Alzheimer’s can cause difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color. People with Alzheimer’s often have trouble seeing the color white. Alzheimer’s related vision problems can make driving and other activities difficult and dangerous. Vision changes related to cataracts are normal age-related changes.
Experiencing new problems with words in speaking or writing is another warning sign. Those suffering from Alzheimer’s may have trouble joining or following a conversation. They may stop suddenly and have no idea how to start again or repeat themselves. They may also struggle with vocabulary and finding the right word, for example, calling a “watch” a “hand-clock.” Having occasional difficulty finding the right word is a normal age-related change.
Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps is another warning sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia. A person with Alzheimer’s may put things in unusual places, for example, storing keys in the oven or a wallet under the bathroom sink. They often lose things and are unable to remember where they’ve been. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing from them. This may occur more frequently as time passes. Misplacing things from time to time and retracing steps to find them is a normal age-related change.
Decreased or poor judgment is a warning sign as well. People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in their decision-making or judgment; for example, using poor judgment when dealing with money. Often, people with Alzheimer’s and dementia give large amounts of money to telemarketers and salesmen. They may also pay less attention to personal hygiene and caring for themselves. Making an occasional bad decision is a normal age-related change.
Withdrawing from work and social activities is another warning sign of an underlying problem. A person suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia may forget how to do a favorite hobby. They may also be trying to hide the disease. Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations is a normal age-related change.
The last of the ten warning signs is changes in mood or personality. Confusion, suspicion, depression, fear and anxiety are common changes with Alzheimer’s and dementia, causing the person to become easily upset at home, work or with friends. These changes may become more frequent and intense as time passes and the disease progresses. Developing a routine and being upset when that routine is disrupted is a normal age-related change.
If one notices any of these signs in themselves or a loved one, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends seeing a doctor as soon as possible. The process of diagnosing Alzheimer’s or dementia should not be a quick process. It requires many tests and extended monitoring to reach an accurate diagnosis. Medication reactions and several other illnesses have symptoms that mimic Alzheimer’s.
McCann suggested making notes of abnormal behavior to take to the doctor’s appointment and she stressed the importance of attending appointments with the patient. She said it is important for families to be honest with each other and the affected person, which may require multiple attempts.
McCann said that while the disease can’t currently be slowed or stopped, medications to treat the symptoms are available. She recommended exploring available treatments and taking part in clinical trials.
The earlier one receives a diagnosis, the earlier one can begin making plans for the future. Transferring power of attorney to a trusted person is very important, as is making one’s wishes known. Finances and assets should be taken care of while the affected person is still capable of making decisions. Much of this can be accomplished through an elder care lawyer. Planning care as the disease progresses will make things easier on the family and the affected person. A strong support network is another vital tool.
The Alzheimer’s Association has a wealth of resources available and most of it is free of charge. They operate a Memory Loss Hotline 24 hours a day and are always available to answer questions. The hotline number is 800-272-3900. There is also a local Alzheimer’s support group run by Nancy Middendorf, which meets on the second Monday of every month.
The Alzheimer’s Association also offers memory loss medic alert bracelets. Six out of ten Alzheimer’s patients will wander if left alone, which poses significant safety risks. The bracelets let people know the person suffers from memory loss and provides contact information for caregivers. Though a recent grant, the Alzheimer’s Association is offering these bracelets free of charge, though they normal cost $55. To receive a memory loss medic alert bracelet, contact the Memory Loss Hotline during the day and speak to a representative of the Indianapolis Alzheimer’s Association for more information. Bracelets for caregivers are also available, but are not free of charge.
The Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the chief fundraiser of the Alzheimer’s Association and provides the funds for all the services in the area. The Alzheimer’s Association is also the largest monetary contributor for Alzheimer’s research. They advocate taking action to move toward a future without Alzheimer’s. To learn more about the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, visit www.alz.org.
Currently, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. One in three seniors will die from some sort of dementia and more than five million Americans are currently living with the disease.
While early diagnosis may not be able to stop the disease, it can make a huge difference in the quality of life for the person suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. If any of the warning sign have been noted, please, make a doctor’s appointment and voice your concerns as soon as possible.
Contact: Amanda Browning 812-663-3111 x7004