Monday, January 26, 2015

#alzsignpost



Today I begin doing my part to help educate my readers on the warning signs of Alzheimer's.  I missed these signs in my own parents and for that I am indescribably sad.  Had I done something to get them to a doctor for diagnosis earlier, perhaps we could have held off the advancement for a longer time and my parents would still be with me as I remember them. 

But I didn't.  

Even though I had a co-worker going through her own Alzheimer's journey with her Mother, I listened to her, but didn't put two and two together for my own family.

Eventually, thanks to that co-worker, I finally woke up to what was happening to my parents and I began researching for what I was to expect.  

In this series of posts I'll share some (sometimes funny, sometimes sad) stories of how we got where we are currently.  But most importantly, I hope my readers will take these signs to heart and be honest about what you see in your own families, and maybe even in yourself.

Of course, as always, if you suspect anything, go see a specialist.  Find a practice in your own city that specializes in aging.  They may be difficult to find and if you need help, turn to your local Alzheimer's Association chapter for referrals and assistance.  And here's why it's important.  These signs point to a great number of other physical ailments that are TREATABLE.  And while Alzheimer's is not curable, other issues are and only a doctor can point you in the right direction.

Many of the signs that I now recognize as dementia were three or four years prior to the time I had to have a real diagnosis made for them.  These signs can be subtle, but looking back, they should have alarmed me LONG before they did.  

And so...our journey of discovery begins.

SIGNPOST #1: MEMORY LOSS THAT DISRUPTS DAILY LIFE. 

During the early stages of my Parents Alzheimer’s journey, they had moved back to our home state to be nearer to family.  At that time, my Aunt and Uncle were very ill and Mom wanted to be here for them.  Plus, I lived nearby, so we could spend more time together than when they were half a country away.

Forgetting things wasn’t ever a big thing for either of them.  Signs I missed at the time were small, so it never occurred to me that there was a big issue brewing.  I’d sometimes go to visit and find that they’d forgotten I was coming or couldn’t remember whether they’d visited with my Aunt and Uncle that day.

Car keys were misplaced a LOT in the beginning.  Mom would misplace them and Dad would get mad.  Dad would misplace them but tell Mom it was her that lost them, only later to be found in his pants pocket, causing her to think he was doing it on purpose.  This would lead to hurt feelings and bad moods.

Mom, who was always the only cook for the two of them, would sometimes forget to fix lunch or dinner until it was time for it to be on the table (Dad’s stomach always ran, and still does run, on a strict eating schedule).  Dad would get mad about it, then Mom would get upset.  Lunch might end up being a PB&J sandwich and dinner could easily end up being a bowl of soup.  NOT like their normal meals at all.

One of the frustrating times we had early on (before I really recognized this as an issue) was the time
I went to visit them in Florida.  I arrived by air and expected that they would meet me at the airport.  They did get there, and they did find me in the terminal, but when the time came to leave and go to their house, they forgot where the car was parked.

Now, if you've ever lost your car in a normal parking lot, it can be very frustrating.  So imagine if you loose it at the airport and cannot even recall which lot you were in.  It took us well over an hour to locate the car and we had to have help from the lot attendants to drive us through the lots until I recognized the car.  Once we got over the frustration, there was no mention of the incident.  Now I realize it was because they'd likely forgotten about it.
Believe it or not, I STILL didn't really think this was a bad sign.  For the next 4 or 5 visits, I simply rented a car so that my parents didn't have to drive out to get me.  Wow, DENIAL! 

During this same visit, I ran across some other memory loss signs that I promptly ignored.  Mom was always a baker and there were generally pies or cakes or cookies coming from the oven.  What I noticed now, was that while there were supplies in the pantry for baking, she was not baking.  Instead, they were eating copious amounts of ice cream and boxed cookies. This was so not like my Mother.  What I realized much later was that she would begin to bake something but find she was missing an ingredient so things would just stop.  And then rather than purchase the completion items, she would just simply begin again a day or two later.  I emptied numerous measuring cups filled with flour or brown sugar sitting forgotten in the back of the pantry.  Warning sign or just a comic incident? 

As the years progressed, their memory loss got worse but for the most part I only found it amusing, not really alarming.  It took four years for it all to catch up with me that what I was seeing was not normal. 

There's a line between everyday memory loss and the sort of memory lapses that disrupt daily activities.  Loosing your car at the airport is a disruption.  Forgetting to eat lunch or dinner is a disruption.  

How to recognize these lapses in your own family?  Keep your eyes and ears open.  Pay attention to any disagreements about "lost" or "misplaced" items between your aging parents.  Pay attention to their schedule to see if they're running early or late.  I discovered that in order to not be late for appointments, my parents would be extremely early, sometimes leaving the house an hour or two before necessary.  It was one way they were compensating for their memory lapses.  

Inquire about their eating habits and notice if it's disrupted by forgetting to go to the grocery store or forgetting to fix the meal entirely.  This can be noticeable if they are losing or gaining weight. For my parents, while they weren't eating regular meals, they were eating huge amounts of cookies and ice cream, so their weight wasn't really changing much.  

JOIN IN MY DISCUSSION
If you are dealing with any of these issues, feel free to comment here and share your stories.  Not every signpost is the same and some are much harder to read than others.  Only by sharing and asking questions are we to learn how to best protect our loved ones if they end up going down this path.

For more on the signs, visit the Alzheimer's Association web site at http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_know_the_10_signs.asp

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