Everyone forgets something now and again.  It’s a fact that we do so a little more as we age.  When must we consider the dreaded “A” word… Alzheimer’s?   A formal diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can only be done by a medical expert. But here are some common warning signs that what you are experiencing warrants concern.

Memory loss that affects daily activities

One thing is to forget the toothpaste when you’re shopping.  The other thing is to become so forgetful that you rely on notes and memory aids to get through nearly every daily activity.  Especially when we regularly forget recently-acquired information, it may be a sign of a serious underlying condition.

Having a hard time making plans, completing familiar tasks or solving problems

We all make an occasional mistake when adding up numbers or balancing checkbooks.  Some directions (such as the assembly of IKEA-like furniture) may be challenging.  But when we are unable to follow familiar recipes or keep track of monthly expenses, it may be time to consult a professional.  An example of a red-flag situation is when it becomes confusing to use the same microwave that we’ve had for the last five years.

Confusion with spatial relationships and images

Difficulty in perceiving distances or understanding the relationships between images may simply be due to poor vision.  It is commonly, however, a signal of the cognitive decline related to Alzheimer’s

Confusion about dates, seasons and the passage of time

Folks with Alzheimer’s and other dementias lose track of time-related details. They may not understand that something which actually happened a long time ago is not recent.  There may be large differences between their understanding of events and actual history.  For example, they may think they moved to North Carolina last year when, in fact, they moved here 20 years ago.

Decline in judgment and decision-making

Folks who have Alzheimer’s will often experience a decline in their ability to use good judgment.  This is why they are so frequently victims of scams.  Someone calls asking for money and they believe there is a real person needing their help.

Difficulty in participating in conversation and other social interaction

If your mom has Alzheimer’s, you may find that she has trouble following a conversation.  She may lose her train of thought in the middle of a discussion and seem unable to resume the dialogue.  In particular, she may get by with “catch all” responses that allow her to participate in the conversation without necessarily following its logic or meaning.  Excessive use of terms like, “That’s a good point,” or “I can’t argue with that” may simply be ways of masking the fact that she does not understand what is being said.

At some point you may find that your mother simply declines the social activities she used to enjoy and opportunities to engage with friends.  Even though her cognition is in decline, she is well aware that she is not the person she used to be.

Changes in personality

Once someone gets Alzheimer’s, their mood and personality can change.  You may find them more readily confused, anxious, or depressed.  In particular, new environments where they are outside of their comfort zone may give rise to these mood swings.

If you are reading this article, it’s probably because you’re concerned about your loved one.  If symptoms continue, you should consult a medical professional.  Be aware, however, that if mom has Alzheimer’s there is no cure for it.   So what’s the benefit in knowing?  A formal diagnosis sets the stage for a conversation with her about next steps.  It helps drive a discussion about planning on legal issues, where she might live, and what she wants the remaining years of her life to look like.

Caring Corner

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About the Author:

Lorenzo Mejia and his wife, Mary Lynn Ryerson, are the owners of Acorn, a caregiver registry located in Chapel Hill.

They founded Acorn based on their experiences caring for his mom, who suffered with Alzheimer’s Disease.  In 2013, he became a Qualified Dementia Care Specialist.  In 2014, the Alzheimer’s Foundation named him the Dementia Care Professional of the Year in the United States.

Lorenzo is the founder of Dementia Friendly Orange County an effort to make local businesses more accommodating to people with dementia.

Lorenzo speaks often on dementia and the challenges associated with caring for loved ones.  He has been interviewed by ABC News and National Public Radio.  He is an advisor to Orange County’s OC-CARES Dementia Capable Community Project.

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