My first encounter with Alzheimer’s disease came when I was just a teenager.
My mother had been taking care of a man named Al, whose wife required assistance to care for him. Those were the days when my mother was always looking for a side hustle, so I’m not sure how she wound up in the role of caregiver.
I must admit that I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when my mother took me with her one day.
I remember being a little afraid of Al, though he certainly wasn’t a very big man then. He had the vacant, haggard look of someone who wasn’t “with it.” Al couldn’t follow directions very well, which was off-putting for the young whippersnapper that I was then. It was puzzling and seemed strange to me.
Al was an elderly man, and I don’t remember what he did before he developed Alzheimer’s disease. The thing with this progressive, neurological disorder is that it doesn’t care whether you are educated or uneducated, rich or poor.
Little did I realize then how intimately familiar I would become with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Not only would I care for my mother, who would develop her own dementia, but I also would care for my husband, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in his 50s.
Perhaps this is the main reason that I’m a firm believer in bringing awareness to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and all its related conditions.
November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, having been proclaimed such by the White House.
“During National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, we honor the extraordinary courage, strength, and resilience of people facing this devastating disease,” the proclamation reads. “We recognize the support of families and caregivers who stand by their loved one’s side and help them age with dignity. We resolve to continue advancing scientific research and treatment options to ensure a brighter future for all Americans facing Alzheimer’s.”
The proclamation also points out that some 6 million Americans are dealing with Alzheimer’s and its related dementias. That number is expected to increase with the “silver tsunami” of baby boomers. One estimate puts the number of affected Americans at 14 million by 2060.
How do you know if someone is dealing with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia? Typically, people think about memory problems. That’s one way, but the first signs can vary from person to person, according to information from alzheimers.gov.
Other symptoms include:
- Having more trouble coming up with words than people of the same age.
- Vision and spatial problems, such as awareness of the space around them.
- Impaired judgment and reasoning, which can affect decision-making.
Behavioral changes can also provide clues:
* Taking longer to complete daily tasks.
* Repeating questions.
* Trouble handling money and paying bills.
* Wandering and getting lost.
* Losing things or misplacing them in odd places.
* Mood and personality changes.
* Increased anxiety and aggression.
If you or someone you love is showing any of these signs, it’s best to consult a primary physician. If warranted, the doctor will request a consultation with a neurologist, who will run a series of tests to rule out other things.
Catching this early provides the best chance to slow down the disease’s progression. Waiting for fear of the diagnosis might sound like a good idea, but it only means losing valuable time.
As in many things, knowledge is power. And the more you know, the more you can do.
• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.