The Truth About Alzheimer’s: Early Warning Signs

Alzheimer's Color Purple

by Joan Blumenfeld, MS, LPC

Before I became a care manager, I was clueless about Alzheimer’s Disease.

I attributed the increasingly odd lapses in my mother’s behavior to her usual flighty charm.

I didn’t get it when Mom told me she was taking taxis to visit her sister downtown.  I thought, sure, it’s a good idea for someone her age to be using cabs instead of public transportation, especially in New York City where the weather is often extreme, either too hot or too cold.

But the truth was right in front of me and I just didn’t see it.  Mom was taking taxis to avoid getting lost, despite having made the same trip every week for 40 years.

I didn’t get it when Mom stopped cooking.  She said, with a twinkle in her eye and a touch of attitude, that she’d been cooking quite long enough now and it was time for her husband to wine and dine her at some of the fine bistros in their East Side neighborhood.

In actuality, Mom could not sequence even the boiling of an egg.  The multitude of steps — from getting the egg out of the refrigerator and finding a pot, to lighting the stove and minding the boiling water — was simply beyond her.

I didn’t get it even when Mom sent me small checks for presents (as she had always done throughout my life) but with attached loving notes in a shaky script I no longer recognized.  Mom’s handwriting had always been the epitome of letter-perfect Palmer Method penmanship, as was the goal for students of her generation.  But her cursive script had become a scrawl that seemed to come from a different hand altogether, and yet I still didn’t catch on.

I finally got it when I took Mother on a trip to northwest Canada.  At the elegant old Banff Springs Hotel, she couldn’t figure out how to turn on the antique faucets.  She had difficulty buckling her shoes.  She nearly drove me crazy zipping and unzipping her suitcase, looking for things she had never packed.  The “A” word — Alzheimer’s — came into my mind as unwittingly and unwanted as the disease itself.

Mother’s mental and physical decline over the next nine years was a long, slow, emotionally painful process for the whole family.  Once we had a name for what was wrong, and a clear understanding of the parameters of this cruel disease, we could plan more realistically and intelligently for Mom’s comfort and future quality of life.  The years were nonetheless filled with unforeseeable ups and downs as well as much loving care.

Ultimately, Mother died peacefully two months short of her 95th birthday.  I was blessed to be at her side, holding her hand.

Pearl of wisdom:  Pay attention to early signs of confusion and memory loss.  While it might be the simple forgetfulness of advancing age, it might also be Alzheimer’s, so a good medical evaluation is called for.  While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, there is much planning you can do to alleviate some of the chaos that accompanies this dreaded chronic illness.

Joan Blumenfeld is a Geriatric Care Manager based in Fairfield County, Connecticut. For information visit her web site joanblumenfeld.com. © 2010 Joan Blumenfeld

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