by Karen Knerem, Licensed Social Worker and Owner of Resource Connections for Older Adults
President Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month in 1983. Unfortunately, the number of families facing an Alzheimer’s diagnosis continues to grow. Over 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s and 15 million American’s provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementias according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Many individuals that have Alzheimer’s or dementia are cared for by their family members. November has also been designated National Family Caregivers Month. In an effort to bring light to both of these topics, we are providing some identification tips for family caregivers if they suspect their loved one has Alzheimer’s or dementia.
As the holiday season approaches, families gather together to celebrate a variety of traditions. This is a time when you may notice a change in your loved one and wonder if it is normal forgetfulness or something more. Early detection and diagnosis gives the individual and their family a chance to seek treatment and plan for the future. Keep in mind memory loss issues do not automatically mean that a loved one has Alzheimer’s or dementia. An evaluation by his or her doctor can help properly identify the diagnosis.
Because Alzheimer’s and dementia affects the brain, physical changes in your loved one may not be as evident in the early stages of the disease. Some physical changes that may later occur include disorientation, difficulty speaking, swallowing, or walking. This can make it more difficult to identify initially as a caretaker. It can challenge the caretaker’s patience and understanding. It is easy to forget the behaviors exhibited are a result of the disease, and not because he or she is choosing to act a certain way.
There are things you can look for to help determine if it’s time to see a doctor. Everyone makes bad decisions occasionally, but if you are seeing a pattern of poor judgment and decision making, that may be a red flag. One example might be having trouble managing a budget that he or she used to organize. Similarly, merely having difficulty finding a word is not the same as having difficulty conversing or forming meaningful sentences.
Some other early warning signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia include:
• Memory loss that disrupts daily life
• Challenges in planning or solving problems
• Difficulty completing familiar tasks
• Confusion with time or place
• Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
• New problems with words in speaking or writing
• Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
• Decreased or poor judgment
• Withdrawal from work or social activities
• Changes in mood and personality
Your doctor can help you determine what is normal aging and what might be something more significant. We want to recognize and thank all family caregivers for the love and support that you give. If you are a caregiver caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, know that the Alzheimer’s Association has a 24/7 Helpline at 1(800) 272-3900.
About the Author:
Karen Knerem is a licensed social worker and owner of Resource Connections for Older Adults.
Resource Connections for Older Adults, LLC’s mission is to improve the lives of older adults by; listening to their needs, locating resources to meet their needs, clearly explain their options and put their chosen plan in place with Respect, Integrity, and Compassion.
Resource Connections for Older Adults, LLC
P O Box 474, Sharon Center OH 44274
Karen Knerem LSW (216) 496-3092