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Mother's Day -- Is It Alzheimer's?

Posted May 07 2010 5:42am

It is very difficult to recognize Alzheimer's and dementia. The typical personal care physician can't do it.

Changes in memory and behavior are usual subtle in an early stage of dementia. A person suffering from dementia can still function while evidencing behaviors that are suspicious. Typically, family and friends conclude that these behaviors are simply a sign of "getting old".

If your stomach tells you there is something wrong; or, if you are concerned or worried about the behavior changes in a family member or friend the solution is simple -- get their memory tested by a specialist doctor.

The failure to do this usually leads to increasing heart ache, stress, and anxiety. The failure to take action often results in feelings of guilt.....
By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Earlier this week I wrote -- Mother's Day How Do You Spot Alzheimer's Early? -- in that article I asked Alzheimer's caregivers to list one or two things (memory problems, behaviors, or events) that might have alerted them to Alzheimer's dementia earlier.

I call these Alzheimer's caregivers and industry specialists the Collective Brain of the Alzheimer's Reading Room. They are experts in their own right when it comes to Alzheimer's disease.

Here are some examples of what the Alzheimer's caregivers on this blog had to say about the early signs of Alzheimer's and dementia. Keep in mind, these people are now living with or have lived with Alzheimer's as a part of their life. They have been there.

Doloress -- His first car accident in his life, and it was his fault. When questioned, he couldn't explain to me how it happened.

BrennaB -- My dad quit using the remote control for the television and quit answering the phone; he avoided social interactions and finally became unable to balance the checkbook although he had been an accountant in his professional life.

Judy -- I remember clearly the moment I knew something was wrong - that evening when other oddities seemed to fit. We were having friends over for dinner in our home and mother and daddy joined us. In the midst of conversation and laughter I glanced at my mother and realized the look on her face - that empty stare - was not good.

Debbie -- Looking back for my Mom, it was fear of so many things and anger. She would babysit my neices kids and not let them go outside on a beautiful day because they might fall or a branch might fall from a tree and hit them.

Mike Donohue -- My sign was easy. My wife's concern about my driving prompting me to reluctantly see our Doctor. The rest is history! After seeing the doctor I still could not believe it. To prove Diane my wife and the doctor wrong I schedule and took a driving simulation exam offered by Sr. Kenny Institute in Mpls. I failed it miserably and had to face what I couldn't see.

Elsabae -- My husband is usually outgoing. When his son got married it was a multiple day affair, with a succession of events. My husband found it very confusing, repeatedly asked about the schedule and became increasingly irritable and withdrawn. His "unfriendliness" offended people including his new in-laws and his own sons.

Carole Larkin -- Fender benders. Getting locked out of the house. Can't balance the check book. That was my mom!

Gail -- He used a lot of wrong words in his sentences, words that were close or similar to what he should have said. He also couldn't remember things in the correct order.

RLB -- Repetition of questions. Wife goes to the grocery store and comes home with items we already have sufficient supply of or has a thought that we need more of the the same items.

Diane Roeder -- He'd been a businessman and was careful with his finances but he became a victim of mail scammers.

Ann Norman -- My Mom is on her way to book club, a gathering which she's attended once a month for the past 50 years. Suddenly she doesn't recognize the familiar street, or the houses or anything around her. She's wide awake, but it's like a nightmare.....

Jocelyn Delaney -- Initially, I noticed that mom was wearing the same clothing day after day and had stopped bathing and preparing meals for herself. She displayed an inability to make simple decisions and started phoning me constantly concerning trivial matters. She also stopped maintaining her checkbook.

Diane -- 4 years ago my Mom started hearing the phone ringing multiple times in the middle of the night for months on end...she drove two phone companies crazy checking the poles, connections to the house, even crawling under the house to check.. all technology was perfect. When I visited I never heard any phone ringing, however, she'd wake me up saying "did you hear the phone it just rang".....

Louise -- Paranoia about her cat. She used to let the cat roam free and not worry too much. Suddenly she started locking it inside and never allowing it out on its own. She'd go and sit outside with it, but if it tried to walk anywhere she'd panic and go and get the cat and take it back inside.....

Thanks to all the Alzheimer's caregivers and industry specialist that took the time to share their wisdom and experience here on the Alzheimer's Reading Room.

All of you are difference makers.

Looking back, there is little doubt in my mind that if I had the proper education or information I would have realized my mother was suffering from dementia sooner.

Most people like me tend to ignore the symptoms at first believing they are simply signs of "old age". Anyone who ends up in my shoes knows and understands that a person in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s can function with some normality -- even drive a car. It is not until they deteriorate or until some "event" takes place that we wake up to reality.

Mother's Day weekend is a good time for family and friends to get together and talk about any new and different behaviors they are noticing in an elderly spouse, parent, or friend.

My rule of thumb is clear and straight forward. If you think there is something wrong there probably is something wrong. Letting it go until things worsen is often a mistake. Waiting usually leads to greater heart ache, stress, and anxiety. Sometimes guilt.

Alzheimer's caregivers understand what I am saying, and what I mean. We have been there.

Here are a few things that come up over and over when talking to Alzheimer's caregivers. These are behaviors they noticed well before any diagnosis of Alzheimer's dementia was made.


The inability to find a frequently used road. Getting lost while driving to the home of a family member or friend. Getting lost while driving to or from a familiar place. Inability to get home while driving. Accidents.

Any behaviors similar to these could be an early indication of mild cognitive impairment or dementia. The best plan of attack is to get a referral to a geriatric specialist or neurologist. A personal care physician is not the answer. A memory specialist needs to be involved.

Misuse of money, credit cards, or inability to balance a checkbook.

One of the best things you can do is check and see if a person is paying their bills in a timely fashion. This is especially true with a person who has been good or meticulous at paying bills in the past. If they are having problems with bills this is an early sign of dementia.

Out of the ordinary charges on a credit card statement can be a tipoff.

Inability to locate a check register or out of date check register are usually a sign of a memory problem.

Complaints about finding a wallet or purse. People in the an early stage of dementia often become worried about their money. This causes them to hide a purse or wallet in the craziest of places. One Alzheimer's caregiver told me she became concerned when she found her mother's purse in the refrigerator.

Constant talk about money, or complaints about money can be a tip off. This is especially true if the person had not been complaining in the past about money.

Issues about money and checkbooks come up frequently when talking to Alzheimer's caregivers about the early signs of Alzheimer's.

People in an early stage of dementia are easy targets for criminals and rip-off artists. A simple Google search will yield thousands of examples.

Anger, Fear, Paranoia, or Erratic Behavior.

If a person starts to evidence mean or angry behavior it could be an early sign of Alzheimer's. This is particularly true if these behaviors are new and different.

Hallucinations. Seeing someone looking in the window at night when no one is there. Or, being afraid to go out after dark because it is dangerous.

Hiding things in places that don't make sense like under beds can be a tip off.


Typical hoarding like newspapers or magazines can be a sign of mild cognitive impairment or worse if this is a new and different behavior.

Some early stage dementia sufferers start buying the same things over and over. For example, many bottles of salad dressing, many tubes of toothpaste, toilet paper or paper towels. Usually children tend to laugh when they see this. The first thought that always comes to mind is -- they are getting old. It can be a sign of impending dementia.

Problems Walking, Balance Problems.

A change in gate or scraping or dragging the feet on the ground may be an early sign that someone has a dementia such as Alzheimer's. Research has found physical symptoms, such as problems with walking and balance, are early signs of Alzheimer's disease.

Most of the problems described above can be explained away by saying the person is "getting old". I made this mistake and now I know hundreds of other Alzheimer's caregivers that made a similar mistake.

Here is an easy question to ask. What did you have to eat today? If the person cannot answer this question easily its time to see a memory specialist.

I once asked a friend of my mother what she had for breakfast, she answered ice cream. She was clearly suffering from dementia.

I suggest you go over and read the comments below the original article -- they are eye opening.

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More About the Alzheimer's Reading Room

Bob DeMarco is the editor of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. Bob has written more than 1,400 articles with more than 9,000 links on the Internet. Bob resides in Delray Beach, FL.

The Alzheimer's Action Plan  

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Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room
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