I began writing these articles nine years ago and I know for a fact that there are those out there today that had no interest in what I was writing about then because they weren’t in that caregiving universe ... yet. I continue to work with families every month that are new to the challenge of Alzheimer’s caregiving or who may be on the cusp of stepping into that role, and that’s why we’re going back to the basics to cover those early warning signs that you may recognize.

1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. Are they forgetting important dates or events? Are they asking the same question again and again? Are they constantly taking notes to help them remember?

2. Challenges in planning or solving problems. Do they have problems following a recipe? Are they having problems with the checkbook? Are they having a problem concentrating?

3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks. Are they having trouble driving to a familiar location? Do they have problems forming a grocery list or remembering the rules of a favorite game?

4. Confusion with time and/or place. Have they not known where they are or how they got there? Are they confused about what season of the year it is?

5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. Vision problems can be a sign of Alzheimer’s. Do they have trouble with balance or trouble reading? How about judging distance. That chair can be farther away than they think.

6. Problems with words when speaking or writing. Problems with word retrieval are very common. They don’t socialize as much and have problems finishing a thought or even naming a familiar object. They may also have trouble understanding you.

7. Misplacing items and not remembering where they’ve been. They may become paranoid and begin to hide things like money or jewelry. The problem is they don’t remember where they hid it and may blame you.

8. Displaying bad judgment. Is their hygiene compromised? Are they careless with money and being taken by scam charities? Using inappropriate language? Dressing poorly?

9. Withdrawing from work and social activities. Do they have trouble processing? Following a conversation? Are they overwhelmed in a large social environment?

10. Changes in mood and personality. Is their personality changing? Are they confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious? They can become angry and agitated even at home if they are overwhelmed in a loud environment or are asked to do things they are no longer capable of.

So did you have any “ah-ha” moments when reviewing this list? For more details on all of these symptoms, I refer you to the Alzheimer’s Association website at ALZ.ORG. Also remember that you are able to reach out to the Alzheimer’s Association 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling 800-272-3900. They can answer your questions in 170 different languages.

It goes without saying that in the event that you recognized some of these symptoms in your loved one or yourself, you need to reach out to your physician as soon as possible. They’ll be able to refer you to an expert in the field and more importantly determine whether or not you are actually dealing with an early warning sign or dealing with a non-dementia related issue that presents like dementia, e.g. a urinary tract infection.

Although there are tests you can access online like the SAGE and SLUM exams, my advice is that you should not try to play Dr. Google. Leave the interpretation of those self administered exams to the pros.

Don’t be looking for perfection in your loved one. We all make bad decisions on occasion, make a math error with the checkbook, lose track of the day in the week or misplace things every once in a while. The problem is when it becomes chronic.

Questions? Email me at repe@careforcaregivers.org. Join the Journey.

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