If you’ve noticed your loved one forgetting things more often, you may suspect the worst. Alzheimer’s disease, however, isn’t always the cause of memory related issues yet it’s seems to be what we think of first.
Personally, the more I hear and read about Alzheimer’s, the more I second guess my own memory. Possibly more concerning – why did my wife forget what I told her yesterday? Does she have a memory impairment? Could we both have dementia? Probably not!
It’s only natural to forget things
We all have very hectic days trying our best to balance multiple things at once – after all we are a generation of multitaskers. We care for our kids, spouses, and parents. We have careers and interests. It’s natural for us to do things on auto pilot or not pay attention to the details of our loved one’s story because our mind is somewhere else.
The two classic comments about forgetfulness are: “I never remember names and I can never find my keys”. Come on! We’ve got to use some common sense here and understand these are simply not signs of something worse. They are cases of not paying attention!
It’s not normal, however…
To repeatedly forget to pay bills, let food rot, paperwork pile up, or dress oddly (unless of course you’re a teenager). Remember – Your loved one will not tell you there is a problem! You have to pay attention. When you don’t live with them, it’s even harder to pick up on the warning signs so slow down and pay attention.
Are there more signs?
One symptom alone is not reason to sound the alarm so you should be aware of and watch for other patterns. According to various sources, below are some possible symptoms of dementia that may be reason for concern:
Memory loss that disrupts daily life
Confusion about the location of familiar places
Difficulties completing common daily tasks
Difficulties in solving problems or planning
Loss of time perception
Trouble understanding visual images
Problems with words in speaking or writing
Losing the ability to retrace steps to find misplaced items
Additional resource: Basic Overview of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
It could be something else
According to my research, as of 2013, approximately 20 million people in the USA have cognitive impairment (some form of dementia) while 5 million of them are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. So obviously, for 15 million people the impairment is caused by something other than Alzheimer’s. I should also point out that another study shows that 25% of those with cognitive impairment will in fact get better1 so we know they don’t have Alzheimer’s because no one gets better from Alzheimer’s disease.
Here are some correctable things that can produce the same symptoms: Medications, infections, alcohol or drugs, stress, depression, or even vitamin deficiencies.
Early diagnosis is a good thing
I’ve heard stories of people being so afraid of receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s that they didn’t get tested until things got really bad; only to find out that the cause was correctable. These people and their caregivers lived unnecessarily in fear and discomfort for years – ouch!
Getting your loved one’s doctor involved sooner rather than later will result in one major benefit: It will allow you and your loved one to move forward. The anxiety of the unknown will be gone. Patients say they feel a weight lifted from their shoulders because now something can be blamed for causing their mistakes. And, maybe you will find out it’s not Alzheimer’s and can be corrected.
So remember, just because you or your loved one is having trouble remembering things, does not mean they have a progressive disease like Alzheimer’s. Instead of fretting, see a doctor and get a proper evaluation.
Additional resources: Do I Have Alzheimer’s page or Publications and Tools
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Questions? Stories? In the comments below, I would love to hear any input or experiences that you have.
My mom has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In fact we have recently been told by her dr that she is in the last stage. I just left her awhile ago and she was asking me who I was. She ask me if I was going to get married. My ex husband died seven yrs ago. It’s interesting that she could not carry a conversation with me but then ask if I was going to get married. We never know what to expect from her. She just fell again. This makes three times in two weeks. She has a walker but we have a difficult time getting her to use it. Her dr said she must have the toughest bones of any ninety year old My heart breaks to see her go thru this.
Mike Good says
You probably already do this but when she asks questions like if you getting married, tell her yes. You can then relive your marriage (if it’s not too painful) with her. Talk about planning for the wedding. Create moments of joy by going into her world.
I was with mom today for about seven hours. She sleep a lot of the time but when she was awake she wanted to talk to me so badly. You could tell she was struggling for words and things she said did not make since. I just held her hand, smiled and agreed with her. When I got ready to leave I hugged and kissed her and said I love u a bushel and a peck and to my surprise she fished by saying and a hug around the neck. Then she said that’s a lot of love. Mom always told her seven kids every night this little jingle. It put a smile on my face all the way home.
Mike Good says
I received the following comment via email from a psychologist and it emphasizes the importance of getting proper medical attention when someone is showing symptoms of dementia because some dementias are reversible: “Very, very helpful information. I am working with a wife of a person diagnosed with dementia. She happens to be an R.N. and works with Hospice. Her husband was in a nursing home, in a wheel chair, and she insisted on a second diagnosis. He is home now, not in a wheel chair, and doing rather well. He does not have dementia, after all.”
Mike, this a helpful summation of the early signs for Alzheimer’s.
My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about a year after my dad’s death. Dad had been sick a long time and all attention was on him and his care. After Dad died, Mom had difficulty living alone and was exhibiting some of the signs described in your article. In hindsight, she was having problems even before Dad’s death, we just weren’t paying attention.
She also experienced a series of panic attacks and vivid hallucinations in the middle of the night, where she would call 911 and wind up in the hospital. We subsequently learned that these things can also happen to persons with Alzheimer’s. It was these panic episodes that resulted in her going to a neurologist for testing.
Receiving the initial diagnosis was hard at first, but it gave a name to what was happening and got Mom on the right course of treatment. She is still in the early stages, and, while she can no longer live alone, she continues to live an active lifestyle and maintains a high quality of life.
Mike Good says
Hi Tom, thank you for sharing. I’m happy your mom got the proper medical attention. Understanding the cause of the symptoms is definitely an important first step in fighting back against the disease. I’m also happy to hear that she is staying active! 🙂
Mike, thank you for telling Annette to dive into her mom’s world and agree with her that she’s getting married… They can still feel engaged, even though the information is not correct! My Grandma thought she had two husbands…(she was married to Grandpa for 67 years before he died) — but when she would look at their wedding photo, that was husband #1 and then when she looked at their 50th wedding anniversary photo, that was husband #2! We just agreed… 😉
Mike Good says
You’re welcome. Two husbands – I hadn’t heard of that one, but I can see how it would happen 🙂