Monday, April 20, 2015

WARNING...CONFUSION AHEAD

Let's talk about another of the signposts of Alzheimer's.  I've already written about a couple, and here's another one that I totally missed with my own parents.  My goal here is to help educate others who may be wondering what to look for in their own loved ones.  I hope that these signs aren't in your future, but please do yourself and your family a favor and keep your eyes open and be proactive should you think signs are developing in your loved ones.
 
Here's what the Alzheimer's Association says about this warning sign:  Confusion with time or place     
People with Alzheimer's can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.

IS IT SUNDAY ALREADY?

One of the signs of my parents developing Alzheimer's that I didn't take into account was their growing difficulty with keeping appointments. Mom and Dad weren't really social people and never went to the doctors, so there weren't a lot of things to keep track of in their daily lives.  Maybe it's more obvious in a family who have lots of doctors appointments, family gatherings, social activities, etc.

What I did begin to notice first over the years was their getting ready to go somewhere really early.  I mean REALLY early.  When I'd visit and they would pick me up at the airport, I'd discover that they had been in the lobby for well over an hour waiting for my plane to arrive on time.  When it came time to take me back to the airport, they were taking me earlier and earlier so that I had up to a couple hours wait for my flight.

At the time, I took it as them being either excited to see me (yeah!) or excited to get rid of me (not so yeah!).  However, looking back and talking with friends, there was a pattern of them being out of whack with the day and time.
Wish I'd had one of these for Mom and Dad!

In their later years, they developed a habit of attending church services on Sundays.  Mom enjoyed the fellowship and I think Dad found it comforting to some degree.  In the year or so prior to the "big Alzheimer's reveal", I'd be talking with them on the phone and ask about church and there would be some funny story about them getting ready and going on a wrong day of the week, or if it was on a Sunday that I spoke with them, Mom would say, "Oh gosh, is it really Sunday already? Well, I guess we missed it."

Birthdays rolled around without notice.  For the final two years they lived alone, I sent them handmade calendars for their wall noting all family birthdays.  The first calendar I sent, when I visited them I could see them crossing out the days as they passed.  Then, in subsequent visits, the crossing out stopped and finally, the calendar would be a month or two off.

EXCUSES MADE FOR THEM
I always put this confusion down to their being retired.  It was easy enough for me to loose track of days, and I worked for a living!  I just figured it was typical once someone was out of the "rat race" to not care what the day was or to take their time doing what few things they actually had to do.

WHERE ARE WE ANYHOW?
I have to say that my parents showing a distinct lack of awareness of their global position wouldn't have led me to think anything was terribly out of whack.  Frankly, they moved like Gypsy's from Ohio to Florida more often than the average two people.  After my Dad's retirement at age 55, they moved between the two states 25 times.  Yes, I said 25 times.  And only about 6 of those were as what you'd call a 'snowbird', meaning having two homes, one in Ohio and one in Florida.  

My Father's hatred of all things snow related sent them scrambling to Florida over and over again.  His indecision about where to land sent them from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast multiple times.  

Mom's longing to be near family would drag Dad back to Ohio, if only for a brief amount of time, buying and selling houses like they lived on a Monopoly board.

Given that history, their lack of awareness of where they were, or are, is sort of understandable.  Of course, the lack of logic in the multiplicity of moving should have been a big tip-off about my Father's general mental health.  I imagine now that he's been showing signs of early dementia long before Mom ever did.

But, all that being said, once the disease began to take hold of them, they would talk about their location as being Ohio or Florida interchangeably.  Not knowing seasons would also be normal under these circumstances, but towards the end, I realized that they didn't understand when I'd talk to them about snow on the ground here in Ohio because they'd forget it was winter. 

SO, WHAT IF YOU NOTICE THESE THINGS IN YOUR LOVED ONES?
First of all, don't do what I did and ignore the signs.   I waited far too long for my parents.  I have too many horror stories to tell about the consequences.  I wish I had insisted on Mom going to her doctor.  As it was, she didn't have a GP and I worked for months to find someone to send her to.  And although a friend went with her to her appointments, she missed some and ignored others, like the neurological specialist who would have given us some indication of her illness a year or more earlier.

Although I talked with Mom about her forgetfulness, she never once mentioned Dad having difficulties.  Either she didn't notice, or she was covering, it's hard now to tell what was on her mind. 

I was a poor excuse for a daughter in the regard that I didn't push harder for them both to visit doctors.  Or talk with their neighbors and friends sooner about the things they were noticing.  

Frankly, in the end, it was a phone call from a good friend that sent me to see them the last time.  I found them living day to day with help from neighbors and friends and I was blind to the entire situation.

Talk to your parent and insist that they visit their Doctor with you in attendance.  Ask the nurse to have you added to the list of those with whom they will discuss health matters.  If you think that their Doctor is not taking your concerns about your parent seriously (this is another huge topic of discussion), then find them another doctor that specializes in the elderly.  When I finally got my parents to Ohio, we found a wonderful geriatric practice and our experience has been good with them. 

Look for the warning signs.  Don't be overeager to find things wrong - we can all suffer from confusion and lapses of memory, but be honest with yourself and your parent if you see any of the signs.  You'll be a step ahead of the disease if you do and not just waiting to be bowled over by it like we were.

2 comments:

  1. Barbara, you are being to hard on yourself. I worked with you while your parents were still in Florida. You were a good distance away and it's hard to know what is going on from just telephone calls. You took care of many things for your parents and it's not easy when you are so far away. You have been a wonderful daughter, who has had to deal with both of your parents having this terrible disease. I know how it was with just my mom, I don't know how you did it with two!! You and I had many talks about Alzheimer's and it's not easy to detect in the early stages, but you have passed on some great information that I wish I would have known when my mom first started showing symptoms. Vicki

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