Stroke cause my mother’s dementia. She did not have Alzheimer’s, but her doctor said the diagnosis did not matter; the results were the same. I moved my mother to Minnesota and was her family caregiver for nine years. Though she had an apartment in an assisted living high rise, I had daily contact with her.
I also had regular conferences with the staff. My mother’s increasing memory problems worried me. At each conference I asked, “Is it time to transfer my mother to nursing care?”
“Not yet,” was the answer. “We will tell you when.”
Caring for my mother became increasingly difficult. She was angry all the time, kept getting lost, threw out two sets of hearing aids, stole from other residents, hoarded food on the window sill, and became an addictive spender. All this while I was trying to make her meager funds last. Sometimes I thought I would die before my mother.
One winter evening, when the wind chill was 70 degrees below zero, my mother decided to leave. Mom called to tell me the news. “You don’t want me any more,” she shouted, “so I’m going to visit friends on Long Island.” But the friends she mentioned had all died. I called her physician and he wrote orders transferring her to nursing care.
Observing my mother’s steady decline taught me about Alzheimer’s and other memory diseases. What are the early warning signs? The Alzheimer’s Association has 10 warnings on its Website. They include problems with short-term memory, difficulty with problem-solving, losing the ability to do familiar tasks, time and space problems, inability to read, speech problems, losing things, poor judgment, social withdrawl, and personality changes.
Mom had all of these symptoms, but changes in her personality were hardest for me. During my childhood years we were more like sisters than mother and daughter. Dementia made us adversaries and it broke my heart. Your heart may be breaking now if your loved one’s personality is changing.
The National Institute on Aging lists other symptoms of memory disease. One, asking the same question over and over again, made me think of my mother. Her recurring question: “Will you take me shopping?” Every time I heard the question I winced. Telling Mom she she was out of money had no effect at all. She kept opening charge accounts and I kept closing them.
The problem with early warning signs of Alzheimer’s is that many of them are characteristic of normal aging, according to a World Science Website article, “Alzheimer’s Warning Signs Show Up Years Before Diagnosis.” The article notes that Alzheimer’s “causes general deterioration and tends to follow a stable preclinical stage with a sharp drop in function.”
You may already know this. One thing you may not know — people with Alzheimer’s often plateau for a while, and then cognition drops again. This may cause you to question your observations, and indeed, your sanity. So when you see an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s write it down and date it.
Knowing the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s helps you, the caregiver, and other family members prepare for what is ahead. You may have to sort household goods, arrange for smaller living space, update a will, track investments, change banks, get Power of Attorney, and take other steps to protect your loved one. These are hard times, but they are loving times. You are returning the love you were given so long ago.
Copyright 2009 by Harriet Hodgson