MARILYN HAGERTY: Communication is key in understanding Alzheimer’sIt isn’t easy to talk about memory loss — your own or that of a loved one. But talk we should. There are things we should know, and help we can get.
By: Marilyn Hagerty, Grand Forks Herald
It isn’t easy to talk about memory loss — your own or that of a loved one.
But talk we should. There are things we should know, and help we can get. The 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease were described at the Grand Forks Senior Center this past week to an audience that learned about memory changes as a person grows older. They also were told memory loss that disrupts daily life is not a typical part of aging.
“It’s perfectly natural you wouldn’t remember everyone you met in your lifetime when you are 70 or 80 years old,” said Ashley Magner of the Alzheimer’s Association. But she said you should remember how to balance your checkbook and how to find your keys when you lose them.
Magner is regional care consultant for North Dakota’s Dementia Care Services Program, which offers free services. And she said North Dakota was the first state to have such a program.
She has offices in Grand Forks and McVille, N.D. Services extend into Minnesota. Her telephone numbers are (701) 322-4938 or (701) 322-4939. Her email addresses are firstname.lastname@example.org and www.alz.org/mind
She defines dementia as an inability to organize tasks and follow through. The symptoms are progressive and increase over time. For example, there comes a time when people realize their mom no longer can make an apple pie. She simply can’t organize the ingredients and follow through anymore.
Along with the disability, there is confusion.
“People with dementia have no perception of time or place,” Magner told the group. “Home to them is a feeling of comfort, and they want to be in a place where they feel good.” She said, “We need to adapt to their reality.”
Other symptoms of dementia and warnings of Alzheimer’s include trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships — a factor in driving. Magner said people with dementia see things in black and white. “A black rug may look like a hole and they will step over it.”
Then there are new problems with words in speaking or writing. Almost all people in the end stage of Alzheimer’s rely on non verbal communication.
“You will see them withdraw,” Magner said. “That comes from fear.”
Severe hearing loss also can do that, she said.
“As we age and symptoms emerge, the best first step is to take the person to a doctor. We have great physicians here in Grand Forks. There is technology available. It’s really important to seek the most specific diagnosis to find help and relief.”
Misplacing things and an inability to retrace steps is another warning sign. Sometimes, a person in trouble will put a wallet in the freezer. Or more often, they will say someone has taken it.
“Keys, wallets, dentures — we need to help,” Magner said. “If you can retrace your steps, you’re doing OK.” She said, “We all walk downstairs sometimes to find our keys and then forget what we are looking for. We all do it.”
On the other hand, decreased or poor judgment is considered a warning sign of Alzheimer’s. Then there is withdrawal. Some people don’t want to go out because they don’t know what to say. They will have bills that are past due and spend money for things they don’t need, Magner said in her review of the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Dementia,” Magner concluded, “is not a disease. It’s simply a term that refers to a range of symptoms. Alzheimer’s is a leading cause of dementia. She said the younger the onset — before age 60 —is strictly genetic. Later onset is not a genetic disease.”
While people usually do not die from Alzheimer’s, she said they sometimes die from related conditions such as pneumonia.
Reach Hagerty at email@example.com or (701) 772-1055.