Sep 8, 2013

Dotty Wasn't Just Old, She Was Living with Dementia

People are often surprised when I answer this frequently asked question -- what were the early signs that your mother was suffering from Alzheimer's disease?

By Bob DeMarco
+Alzheimer's Reading Room

Most of my answer centers around the changes in my mother's behavior.


In fact, early on there were no clear signs of a memory problem in my mother. I now know and understand that much of the behavior change I was seeing was in fact being caused by her memory loss.

These changed affected her ability to communicate and cope; and, these changes were so subtle that no one noticed a problem. This includes me.

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There were subtle changes in my mother's behavior for a long period of time. Then those subtle changes became less than subtle, they became horrific. It happened very fast.

Changes in behavior are certainly wrapped up in changes in memory. It is the lose of memory that causes the changes in behavior. Very subtle changes in memory.

How do you spot the signs of Alzheimer's disease?

Let's look at it this way.

Dotty was still living on her own. The people closest to her, her best friends, did not register any concern. In fact, they refused to believe she was living with Alzheimer's disease for years after she was diagnosed with probable Alzheimer's.

These people, her best girlfriends, saw and interacted with her every day. They didn't see any problem. The didn't see any signs of Alzheimer's disease.

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Here are some things I learned after I moved to Delray Beach to care for Dotty. Interestingly, I learned all of this after I had already been here for over 2 years.

My mother and her four best friends use to go to lunch to celebrate their birthdays. They would also go to lunch before holidays like Christmas.

One day, long after my mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, her best friend said the group was going out to lunch. I told her friend, Josephine, I would pay for my mother. Her best friend then told me, we stopped inviting your mother to lunch a couple of years ago.

She explained that when it was time to pay my mother would complain about the amount she had to pay. For many years they used the same accounting rule, divide the bill by 4.

My mother's behavior was so disconcerting to the girls at these luncheons that they stopped inviting her. I asked, did my mother ever say anything about not being invited? Josephine said, no.

Things just proceeded on. I guess my mother didn't miss the luncheons because she didn't remember they had the girlfriend birthday luncheons.

You would think she would have been angry. Or at least asked why. She had being doing those luncheons with that group for over a decade.

She didn't say anything to them, and she didn't say anything to my sister or me.

Behavior change and memory loss can be very subtle in the early stages of dementia.

No one ever thought that my mother's change in behavior when it was time to pay the bill was an early sign of dementia. As far as I can tell then didn't think anything. I guess they concluded she was a pain in the butt and stopped inviting her.

Here is another thing I learned years after it happened, and years after I came to Delray to take care of my mother.

My mother drove her car over a concrete abutment and through a great big hedge. She landed on a lawn between two trees. She managed to shimmy her car between the trees, over the sidewalk, back across a second lawn, back on to the parking lot, and back into her parking space.

No one saw this as a sign of dementia, or a sign that she might be incapable of driving safely. She drove for at least two more years before I had her license revoked.

What was the reaction of my mother's neighbors and friends? They thought it was funny and very impressed by mother's ability to get her car through the trees, around the hedges, over a second lawn, and back into her parking spot.

I don't want you to misunderstand me at this point. If I had been told what had happened and determined that my mother was safe and uninjured, I would have concluded like everyone else that this was a  very funny story. And yes, I would have been mightily impressed by my mother's ability to get her car back into her parking spot.

Dementia sneaks in, the early changes are very subtle. If you are not already looking for these changes you will probably conclude what most people conclude -- s/he is getting old.

By the way, the condominium association had to replace the hedges my mother destroyed with her car. I was her emergency contact -- they never called me. My mother never received a bill.

At the time, my mother was living alone, doing all her grocery shopping, driving herself to bingo at night in the dark (twice a week), and cooking her meals (mostly frozen food dinners, another thing I learned after I was already on the scene in Delray).

My mother was doing her thing and no one noticed any important change.

Maybe they would have been concerned if they found out my mother was buying the same lottery tickets 2 or 3 times day. I learned that one first hand after I had come on to the scene.

What is the answer to the question -- What Was the First Sign of Alzheimer's Disease in Your Case?

As it turns out 288 readers from around the world have answered this question on the Alzheimer's Reading Room.

Go here and look in the comments section to learn what they learned. You might want to share the article.

What Was the First Sign of Alzheimer's Disease in Your Case?

Bob DeMarco is the Founder and Editor of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR). Bob is a recognized influencer, speaker, and expert in the Alzheimer's and Dementia Community Worldwide. The ARR Knowledge Base contains more than 4,900 articles. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.

You are reading original content +Bob DeMarco , the Alzheimer's Reading Room