Know the 10 warn­ing signs of Alzheimer’s

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - ALISON BOWEN Chicago Tri­bune

CHICAGO — For Anne Hunt, clues that some­thing wasn’t quite right started to mount. She was re­peat­ing her­self. And for­get­ting things.

Hunt, 80, had al­ways been or­ga­nized. But the Chicago woman in­creas­ingly found her­self con­fused about plans. Did she agree to that date, or was she sup­posed to fol­low up?

Her daugh­ter sug­gested she talk to a doc­tor about whether she might have Alzheimer’s, the de­gen­er­a­tive brain dis­ease that im­pairs mem­ory, think­ing and rea­son­ing. Af­ter ex­am­in­ing brain scans, the doc­tor con­firmed that Hunt’s symp­toms in­di­cated Alzheimer’s.

Hunt’s con­fu­sion about time and place is one of 10 warn­ing signs of the dis­ease, ac­cord­ing to the Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion.

Most warn­ing signs are re­lated to mem­ory loss or con­fu­sion that poses chal­lenges in daily life. Peo­ple with the dis­ease might ex­pe­ri­ence one or more symp­toms to vary­ing de­grees. The or­ga­ni­za­tion rec­om­mends see­ing a doc­tor if you no­tice one of the signs, be­cause early de­tec­tion can mean get­ting the most ben­e­fit from avail­able treat­ments.

The Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion’s Greater Illi­nois chap­ter’s man­ager of ed­u­ca­tion and out­reach, Phillip Ben­nett, cau­tioned that just be­cause a per­son ex­hibits a warn­ing sign doesn’t mean he or she has Alzheimer’s.

For ex­am­ple, he asked at a re­cent pub­lic in­for­ma­tion meet­ing, how many peo­ple have called one of their chil­dren by an­other child’s name? Hands went up as peo­ple laughed. A mem­ory lapse like this doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily sig­nal Alzheimer’s, he said. It might sim­ply be a side-ef­fect of ag­ing, or it could be a dif­fer­ent form of de­men­tia. Many peo­ple strug­gle to find a word, he added, but some­one with Alzheimer’s might stop in the mid­dle of the con­ver­sa­tion and have no idea how to con­tinue.

Sim­i­larly, we all lose things from time to time, but some­one with Alzheimer’s might be in­ca­pable of re­trac­ing his steps in an ef­fort to find that mis­placed item. And per­haps some­one isn’t good with di­rec­tions. But a per­son with Alzheimer’s might drive 20 min­utes to church and take three hours to get home be­cause they can’t re­mem­ber the route.

“Some­one with the dis­ease (might) re­mem­ber what hap­pened to them when they were 9 years old,” Ben­nett said. “But they can’t re­mem­ber what hap­pened three min­utes ago.”

Other signs in­clude with­drawal from work or so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties. Changes in mood or per­son­al­ity also can be a sign — such as feel­ing sus­pi­cious, fear­ful or anx­ious.

“They may have been very mild­man­nered,” Ben­nett said. “Now they’re curs­ing in church.”

Hunt, who didn’t at­tend the ses­sion, learned she had Alzheimer’s a few years ago. She’d watched her mother and aunt age with what was likely Alzheimer’s, so she was well ac­quainted with the symp­toms. But she didn’t ex­pect the di­ag­no­sis.

“I was sur­prised,” she said, “I think partly be­cause I didn’t want to hear it.”

She and her hus­band, Bruce, work to­gether to man­age her symp­toms.

Ev­ery morn­ing, they med­i­tate and map out the day. Anne keeps a daily to-do list, which helps her stay fo­cused and re­mem­ber tasks. They also write re­minders on a dry-erase cal­en­dar.

Hav­ing been mar­ried for 60 years, the Hunts know the power of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. If Anne is strug­gling for a word, Bruce will ask if she would like help or if she’d rather fig­ure it out on her own.

He also gen­tly helps steer con­ver­sa­tion, know­ing his wife feels em­bar­rassed when she re­peats her­self.

The cou­ple ra­di­ate pos­i­tiv­ity, and they point to sev­eral rea­sons why. They live in the same build­ing as their daugh­ter and son-in-law, who cooks for them four times a week.

They be­long to sup­port groups. They also swim twice a week at the lo­cal YMCA.

The daily jour­nal Anne has kept for 30 years has shifted from a com­fort to a cat­a­logue, help­ing her re­mem­ber when she for­gets. And she de­vised a way to main­tain her love of cook­ing de­spite a some­times mud­dled mem­ory. She places all of the in­gre­di­ents on one side of the kitchen and moves them one by one as she in­cor­po­rates them into a recipe. That way, if the sugar is on one side of the counter, she’ll know whether it’s been used.

JOSE M. OSORIO, TNS

Jour­nals help Anne Hunt, who was di­ag­nosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago, re­mem­ber things from her past.

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