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Alzheimer’s: A Train Wreck in Slow Motion?

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That depends on what you mean by “slow” motion.  It was just a couple years ago that I noted in my book on dementia that a new case of Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed in the United States every 67 seconds.  I received a solicitation from my state chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association yesterday, and an opening sentence informed me that “every 65 seconds someone in the United States developed Alzheimer’s disease.”  I paused for a moment, and then it really struck me.  The train wreck is gathering speed.  Two seconds less is no big deal, but that is three percent faster; three percent is higher than the current inflation rate.  Would you invest in a financial instrument that guaranteed you three percent less each year?

I think the takeaway is that we all need to be vigilant with our friends and loved ones when it comes to “forgetfulness.”  The Alzheimer’s Association offers some very basic tips on the most common early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease:

  1. “Memory loss that disrupts daily life,” like recently learned dates or events
  2. “Challenges in planning or solving problems,” such as recipes, paying bills, etc.
  3. “Difficulty completing familiar tasks,” because familiar no longer is familiar
  4. “Confusion with time or place,” is like having no clock, no map
  5. “Understanding visual images and spatial relationships,” such as a clock’s hands
  6. “New problems with words,” but it is not just “word-finding”…it’s sentence-making
  7. “Losing the ability to retrace steps,” and then blaming someone for the problem
  8. “Decreased or poor judgment,” like giving up on self-care or donating in excess
  9. “Withdrawal from work or social activities,” because they just can’t keep up
  10. “Changes in mood or personality,” like confusion, paranoia or depression.

The challenging part when we may take stock of a loved one is that all of these in some minor ways are simple products of just having more and more birthdays. I strongly encourage you to visit this page to see not just the warning signs, but also the “normal signs.”  But I also add that the first steps one should take when the signs begin to seem real include getting specialized assistance in a proper diagnosis from a neuro-psychiatrist…and then, don’t go it alone.  There are numerous resources in almost every community and on-line that help all of us with a loved one with “that diagnosis” … and to find the support that you as the caregiver need.  You will do a much better job of caring for a loved one if you first take care of you!

Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.

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