Can You Recognize Early Alzheimer’s?

Last week what was the breaking news about Alzheimer’s? From Dr. Oz, his mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Was it a surprise? YES. But Dr. Oz is the first to say he didn’t pay attention to the early signs for over a year. Valuable lost time. Alzheimer’s is a slow-moving disease. But the severity of memory loss or how fast or how slow it moves can vary greatly.

There are three (3) stages of Alzheimer’s. Some divide the three stages into seven (7). To keep it simple we’ll stick with three (3). They’re labeled as 1. Mild or early, 2. Moderate or middle and 3. Severe or late stages. These more descriptive titles may help understand them better.

  1. Most Important
  2. Most demanding
  3. Most difficult

In this post, we’ll talk about Stage I, The Most Important. Later posts will cover stages 2 & 3.

  1. Most Important Stage: average length, 2-3 years

In the first stage it’s easy to overlook early signs. It’s not always a memory issue, and most important, it doesn’t happen every day.

Another sign, these ‘new’ behaviors show a noticeable progression of decline that eventually interferes with everyday activities.

It’s easy to distract ourselves with comments like, ‘She’s just getting older.’ and, ‘Don’t bother mom, she’s fine for her age.’ Or, mom says, ‘I’m fine, don’t worry about me.’

But first…

Memory issues can appear, that have nothing to do with dementia or Alzheimer’s. A UTI infection can cause memory issues. A change in medication, a new ailment such as a thyroid problem, sleep, diet or dehydration can all be ‘fixed’ with a trip to the family doctor or PCP and some new habits .

With a little attention, it’s not difficult to notice changes in behavior. Whether a spouse, parent, sibling or yourself, if we pay attention, the ‘new behavior’ is noticeable. Keep simple notes. It doesn’t have to be a daily journal, a simple note on a calendar; for instance, January 22, ‘mom seemed confused at the grocery store today, had trouble making decisions.’ Then, April 16, ‘mom had trouble completing phrases and words in a conversation. Or, July 23, ‘now and then mom shuffles when she walks, but not all the time.’

If ‘new’ behaviors become more frequent, it’s time to ask a simple question. ‘How are you doing these days mom?’ Use a pleasant tone of voice, be honest and be sure to use humor. No one should be fearful or embarrassed. The idea is to diminish the fear. The first steps to take; be understanding and knowledgeable about the disease. Then, build trust, let them know you’ll do this together.

It’s important to use this time wisely. Be aware, be compassionate and empathetic. Be prepared. Soon, it will be time to get a referral to see a neurologist. Having a diagnosis is beneficial for several reasons. Once the problem is identified specific treatments can follow. There’re medications that can minimize the symptoms, or an opportunity to participate in clinical trials if you choose. Find a doctor who works with you.

It’s time to build a medical support team as well as support from family and friends. Consult an elder attorney and take a look at financial options.

This is a new experience, there’s something for everyone to learn. It’s a new decade and everything will be different. Use the time to strengthen relationships and rebuild old ones as well as meet new friends.

Watch for the next post about Stage 2, the Most Demanding.

If there’re any questions, feel free to contact me, elaine.rwts@gmail.com