Is it Alzheimer’s or normal aging—Five ways to know help!

Persons with dementia do not remember
because the inefficient brain did not process the information
correctly. Insisting that the information was given to them
can trigger anxiety, agitation, anger.

I can’t find my keys.  You never told me that.  You know who I mean….whatshisname.  Where are we?  You go.  I’ll stay home.

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, it can be difficult to decide whether a problem is normal or a symptom of dementia.  Frequency can be a clue.  There are also other ways to tell.

  1. Help! I can’t find my keys. We have all heard it.  We have all said it.  It can be unnerving.  Does my parent have dementia?  Do I?

Normal aging—Drat!  I can’t find…  Am I losing my memory?  Where did I put it down?  Where was the last place I saw it?  Before that?  As we search, our memories start trying to connect the dots and continue to do so.  Even if the lost object is found in an unusual place, it is no cause for alarm.

Quite often, when distracted, we put something down wherever we are.  When it is found, our memory kicks in and we think, ‘O, that’s right. The doorbell rang and I…’

Dementia—Persons with dementia will panic when their keys are missing or their cell phone, wallet, purse, etc. AND STOP.  Just like the toddler who can’t find a favorite toy and is agitated until mom or dad finds it, so, too, the adult with dementia.  The ability to mentally retrace one’s steps is impaired.  In that void, panic and agitation grow.  When the object is found, there is little recall of how it came to be there.

“I can’t find my glasses”  “Where did you put them?”  “I can’t find them!”  “When did you use them last?”  “I don’t know where they are!”  “Did you read the newspaper this morning?”  “Somebody took them!”  “Did you read the newspaper this morning?”  “Did you take my glasses?  Somebody took them!”

  1. You never told me that! “What do you mean, ‘I never told you”?  Of course, I did.  I know I did.”  “I don’t remember you telling me that.”

Normal aging—Daily we are bombarded with information from multiple sources.  We multitask.  We are interrupted.  We become immersed in thought.  Information given to us at such times may not be retained or is filed away haphazardly in our memory bank.  If the person who gave us the information elaborates on when or where it was given, quite often our minds will remember.

Dementia—Persons will dementia do not remember because the inefficient brain did not process the information correctly.  Insisting that the information was given to them can trigger anxiety, agitation, anger.  “We’ll have to leave by 6 a.m. Saturday, if we want to be at the Marriott on time.”  “Why are we going to the Marriott?”  “To meet with the cousins who are in town.”  “You never told me about that!”  “I mentioned it several times.”  “No, you didn’t.”  “Yes, several times in the last three weeks.”  “You did not.  You say you did.  But you didn’t.  I would know.  I’m not crazy.  I don’t know what’s wrong with you.  You say you tell me things, but you don’t.  Something’s not right.”  The voice of the person with dementia grows louder with each sentence.  Agitation begins to build.

  1. You know who I mean…whatshisname.

Normal aging—As we age and our brains fill up with more and more information, we often draw blanks remembering names.  It’s normal.  The politician’s names and the names of famous people we used to know so well elude us.  “Darn, I just can’t think of her name!”  We start digging around the synapses looking for it.  It’s usually found about 3 a.m.

Dementia—People with dementia will struggle to remember not only names but also other nouns.  Quite often, they will start using the same word for different things.  As the disease progresses, the names of relatives and friends may become unfamiliar to them and their language skills will be impaired.  Hubby pops his head into the doorway as wife is working in office on laptop.  “That guy is on TV?”  “What guy?”  “You know, that guy.”  “Who?”  “That guy who used to be president.”  “There are several ex-presidents.”  “You know, the one who goes around making speeches.”  “Clinton?”  “No.  Not him.”  “Bush?”  “No.  The one who’s doing so much good.  “You mean, Carter?”  “Yes.”  Hubby smiles and heads back to the family room.

  1. Where are we?

Normal aging—We may have to pause and review directions, especially to places we go infrequently.  We do not get lost in familiar places and not remember how to get home.

Dementia—People with dementia can get lost in familiar places.  Every person is different.  The losses can be an area in general.  They can be more specific such as not recognizing the street on which one lives or the house.  We were driving home through the western suburbs of Chicago where my husband had lived for the first 35 years of his life.  A multi-car accident forced all traffic off I-355 and onto Roosevelt Road.  As we exited, Jack looked confused.  He did not recognize where he was.  As a kid, he and his buddies rode their bikes up and down the length of Roosevelt Road a gazillion times.  I was stunned.  This was the first time there was any issue with his driving.  His skills were fine.  He obeyed all signs and directions.  I started to pull out of my brain whatever I could remember about the area.  I guided him along several streets until we reached Route 83.  When we were about five miles from home, Jack visibly relaxed his grip on the wheel.  This area was familiar to him.

  1. You go. I’ll stay home.

Normal aging—Heredity, personality and upbringing can define our attitude toward socialization.  Are you the person who drops everything to go anywhere, anytime?  Or do you need to know way ahead of time, so you can prepare?  Whatever your preference, normal aging may impact your choices.  Ease of movement, tiring more easily, chronic health issues, vision and hearing losses can alter enjoyment of certain activities.  Those 3 a.m. homecomings after a party may not be as much fun at 70 as they were at 30.

Dementia—Socialization requires much brain activity that is taken for granted until our brain begins to deteriorate.  “Mom, it’s time to get ready for Kelly’s birthday party.”  Getting ready means she wants me to shower.  The last time, I couldn’t remember which knob to use.  The shower was icy cold.  I’m warm now in my flannel robe.  I don’t want to be cold.  “Mom, wear the navy outfit.  You look so good in it.”  It has short sleeves.  I’ll be too cold—especially if I have to shower.  “Honey, you go.  I’ll stay home.”  “MOM, the whole family will be there.  Everyone wants to see you.”  Will I embarrass myself by not remembering their names?  That cute little girl with the brown curls, I thought she was my daughter, Rachel, but someone told me it was my granddaughter, what was her name, again?”  “Bye, Mom, I’ll pick you up in half an hour.”  Half an hour?  What is a half of an hour?  Daughter arrives.  Mom is sitting in her nightgown and robe.  “Mom, you’re not ready.”  (Irritation creeping into her voice.)  “Here, I’ll help you.  Forget the shower.  Just change your clothes.  We’re going to be late.”  “YOU GO.  I’LL STAY HOME.’  I know she’s mad at me.  But I feel so tired.  My head is spinning.  What’s the difference, anyway.

Copyright © 2019. S. Heavey. All rights reserved.

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