Serene Karplus, Nederland. We all do that. Walk into a room and forget why we went there. Misplace keys. Forget an appointment. Confuse whether today is Tuesday or Wednesday. Forget a recipe or phone number we’ve used dozens of times. Most of us, however, given some time to reflect on it, can figure out the solution to most of these little puzzles.
Alzheimer’s and other dementias are diseases, not a natural progression of aging. In Alzheimer’s disease, high levels of certain proteins inside and outside brain cells make it hard for brain cells to stay healthy and to communicate with each other. It is a physical, neurological problem that affects our ability to function.
Shown below are the “10 Warning Signs and Symptoms” as described by the Alzheimer’s Association that alert us to concerns that we may need medical help. Each affected individual may experience one or more of these signs in different degrees.
1) Memory loss that disrupts daily life. Especially forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; increasingly needing to rely on memory aids or family members for things they used to handle on their own. What’s a typical age-related change? Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.
2) Challenges in planning or solving problems. People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. What’s a typical age-related change? Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.
3) Difficulty completing familiar tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game. What’s a typical age-related change? Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show.
4) Confusion with time or place. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there. What’s a typical age-related change? Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.
5) Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast. What’s a typical age-related change? Vision changes related to cataracts.
6) New problems with words in speaking or writing. People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a “watch” a “hand-clock”). What’s a typical age-related change? Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.
7) Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. People with Alzheimer’s may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. What’s a typical age-related change? Misplacing things from time to time and retracing steps to find them.
8) Decreased or poor judgment. People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.
What’s a typical age-related change? Making a bad decision once in a while.
9) Withdrawal from work or social activities. A person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced. What’s a typical age-related change? Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations.
10) Changes in mood and personality. People with Alzheimer’s can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset. What’s a typical age-related change? Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.
June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month. Let’s each look for simple things we can do to support our brain health this month: exercise regularly, drink plenty of water and eat for nutrition instead of comfort and habit, challenge our minds with reading and puzzles, and commit to frequent social activities. Attending twice weekly social lunches and monthly dinners and breakfasts, such as those shown below, are great ways to make connections needed for improved overall and brain health.
All adults are welcome at all Mountain MidLife and Nederland Area Seniors events, attended mostly by folks over age 50. Everyone is invited to all meals at the Nederland Community Center. Please call two days ahead for lunch reservations (a week ahead for dinners and breakfasts if possible) to 303-258-0799. Missed the deadline? Call anyway. Costs listed show first the over-age-60 requested anonymous contribution, then the under-age-60. Please note that all over age 60 are welcome regardless of ability to contribute financially.
Originally published in the June 15, 2017 print edition of The Mountain-Ear.)