Every once in a while, I’m reminded of why I do what I do by the people I’m doing it for. I’m guilty of occasionally forgetting that there are those in the caregiving journey of a loved one with Alzheimer’s, or some other dementia, that really have no clue what they’re dealing with or how to deal with it.

When I meet with family members who are sharing some of the behaviors their loved one is displaying, but they’re not concerned, it worries me. Not because I think they’re in denial, but because they simply don’t recognize the many telltale signs that their loved one has begun a very unfortunate journey.

Often what happens in the early stages of the disease, if family suspects something, is that they’ll go to a checklist of symptoms. Not a bad idea, but everyone needs to remember that very few individuals with Alzheimer’s will display all of those telltale symptoms. It is with that thought in mind that, with thanks to Alzheimer’s Disease International, we go back to the basics in this month's installment and look at "The 10 Warning Signs of Dementia." 

1. Memory Loss: This is the most common early sign of dementia. Long-term memory may be relatively intact, but short-term memory is compromised. “I did not have lunch!”

2. Difficulty Performing Familiar Tasks: They may have forgotten how to get dressed, or brush their teeth, or operate an appliance.

3. Problems with Word Retrieval: They can’t find the right word so they replace them with other words. Many suffer from expressive aphasia or trouble speaking, but we also need to remember that many suffer from receptive aphasia. That’s when they don’t understand us.

4. Disorientation to Time and Place: Along with losing the ability to separate night from day, many will no longer recognize their own neighborhood, a familiar park they visited regularly, or a store they shopped at for years.

5. Poor or Decreased Judgment: Mom is now using “blue” words you never knew she knew  Grandfather has taken his clothes off in the family room. Grandma gave a repairman a blank check. All this because their brain has lost its boss or filter.

6. Problems Keeping Track of Things: From not remembering an appointment, they’re now no longer able to manage the checkbook, keep track of bills, or follow a recipe.

7. Misplacing Things: You may find the TV remote in the microwave or vegetable crisper. They may have money hidden in the sock drawer and what’s worse is they may blame you or an aide for stealing it.

8. Changes in Mood or Behavior: Along with mood swings they may become disconnected and apathetic. As the main character in the movie “Where’s Alice” said, “I’m not suffering, I’m struggling.”

9. Trouble with Images and Spacial Relationships: Suddenly what’s on TV is real to them or they may have trouble judging distances so when they go to sit down they miss the chair and end up on the floor.  

10. Withdrawal from Work or Social Situations: As they have trouble processing and following conversations, they’ll avoid them. In a large group, multiple conversations, music and various noises are all coming at them at once and they are not able to separate them. The result? A great deal of confusion that won’t make them happy.

So how did your loved one do? You don’t want to be the caregiver who thinks that just because they’re displaying only three of the symptoms and not all 10, that all is well. It’s not. Be proactive and get them tested early. Likewise, you should start learning as much as you can about the illness, resources that are available to you, legal dynamics, and consider joining a support group. One of the most valuable things you’ll learn there is that you’re not alone.

Questions? Email me at repe@careforcaregivers.org. Remember, Join The Journey

Robert E.P. Elmer III, of Stonington, is a senior care adviser and Alzheimer's care specialist. His website is www.careforcaregivers.org.

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