Feb 26, 2018

Early Stage Alzheimer’s Perspective

It isn't easy to identify early stage Alzheimer's. It is easy to rationalize their behaviors by simply believing they are getting old.

Looking back on what was actually happening with a person living with early stage Alzheimer's is always eye opening.
By Elaine C Pereira
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Having lived my mother’s journey through Alzheimer’s, I completely understand why families struggle to process their loved one’s intermittent odd behaviors characteristic of the early stages of dementia.

The onset of Alzheimer’s is insidious; a verbal outburst, occasional illogical idea, a strange albeit brief break from reality woven into an otherwise normal daily life.

Looking back, I honestly don’t know how I rationalized my mother’s (Betty Ward) increasingly irrational behaviors. I lumped everything together as “goofy” as if it were endearing, rather than the red flag indicators of Mom’s mind being steadily ravaged by Alzheimer’s insatiable appetite for brain cells.

My mother’s first significant break from reality occurred in February 2005 just two months after her son, my brother, died from cancer. Mom flew from Michigan to my cousin Mike’s home in Sedona, Arizona for a family memorial.

From I Will Never Forget: I was barely in the door when Mike took me aside and whispered, “Aunt Betty thinks she’s at (home). She asked this morning where her room was!” She’s packed her bags, unpacked them and repacked them, he added.

I attributed Mom’s confusion to grief; she had buried both her son in December and her husband (my dad) in April, 2004.

What I failed to recognize however, was that no matter how catastrophic was her emotional pain, she shouldn’t be looking for her apartment in Mike’s house. Mom shouldn’t forget that she flew three hours across two time-zones, leaving the cold white snow for warm sunny Sedona.

By striking contrast, only a month later, my mother flawlessly reviewed with me every aspect of her estate. Effortlessly she detailed annuities, pre- and post-tax IRAs, stock holdings, her will. She was brilliant!

I was stunned. Her articulate financial narrative fueled my denial and reaffirmed that Sedona was just a stress induced fluke. Wrong!

It’s easy for the adult children of a parent demonstrating some nebulous, inconsistent behavioral alterations, to chalk it all up to old age.

Some changes are appropriate as people get older such as hearing loss, increasing medical issues, less energy, etc. If they still drive, likely there’s less night driving and a smaller geographic radius. Typically, age related decline is steady and not alarming unless triggered by a significant health or accident crises.

Warning Signs

Although it’s frustrating when your parent misplaces their keys again, it’s really disconcerting when they don’t know what they are for.

Illogical thinking renders illogical remarks. My mother was giddy when she professed she had discovered that Sudoku puzzles had multiple solutions! She had a Master’s Degree in education and had taught high school math/calculus.

Suspicion and paranoia are not part of normal aging. Pay attention to accusations: stealing belongings – “seven dollars-worth of stamps”, a nail file, brown pants – or indicting others for plotting conspiracies!

Short term memory difficulties – repeating the same question occurs because one can’t remember the answer. Getting lost in familiar environments.

Don’t dismiss early oddities as an innocuous characteristic of aging.

Step out of your denial and into their reality to provide a safer, more stable environment. If your loved one with dementia doesn’t know what their keys are for they shouldn’t have them, especially the keys to the car!

I Will Never Forget

Elaine C Pereira, is the Award Winning author of the Best Selling memoir, I will Never Forget: A Daughter's Story of Her Mother's Arduous and Humorous Journey Through Dementia.

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