People can become a little forgetful as they get older. How do you know if your parent is experiencing normal aging or if it is something more serious, like Alzheimer’s? One rule of thumb is that Alzheimer’s is not when your dad forgets where he put his keys. Alzheimer’s is when he forgets the purpose for which we use keys. This article can help you if you are pondering: I think my dad has Alzheimer’s - what should I look for in his behavior?
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are 10 early indications of Alzheimer’s:
- 1. Memory loss disruptive of daily life. Alzheimer’s makes it challenging for your parent to remember information he learned recently. He may tell you baseball statistics from 30 years ago, but forget whether he had breakfast today. Do not worry if your dad occasionally forgets a name or an appointment, as long as he remembers them later. Be concerned, if he must ask for the same information often.
- 2. Difficulty with planning or problem solving. Making mistakes sometimes with tasks, like balancing a checkbook, can be typical with aging. Being unable to accomplish routine tasks, like paying regular bills or making a favorite meal can be an early sign of Alzheimer’s.
- Struggling with accustomed tasks. If your dad can no longer remember how to drive to a place he has gone often before, or cannot do routine tasks on the job, or fumbles through how to do a leisure activity he has enjoyed for years, he may have early Alzheimer’s. No worries, though, if he needs help sometimes with electronic gadgets. That is entirely reasonable.
- Time, seasons and places. Brief confusion about what day of the week it is should be no cause for concern. If your parent cannot grasp the current season, does not know where he is or cannot remember how he got there, take note.
- Depth perception and vision. With Alzheimer’s can come changes in perception of depth, color or contrast. Vision changes from cataracts, however, are not related to Alzheimer’s.
- Vocabulary and conversations. People of any age can struggle to find the exact word they want occasionally. This is not a sign of Alzheimer’s. But if your parent calls things by the wrong word, for example calling a “hat” a “head sock,” it can be an indication of Alzheimer’s. Difficulty following and appropriately participating in conversations can also indicate Alzheimer’s.
- Putting things in unusual places. It is normal aging to occasionally lose or misplace things but eventually find them by retracing your steps. It is not normal aging, however, to put the cat in the refrigerator or to be unable to retrace your steps when you misplace something.
- Changes in judgment. We all make bad decisions occasionally, but if your parent is using bad judgment, such as losing a lot of money to scammers, there may be reason for concern. Another hallmark of Alzheimer’s is when your parent’s grooming or hygiene slips. This symptom may also be a sign of depression.
- Social withdrawal. When people are struggling just to keep up, they may decide it is not worth the effort, or they may be embarrassed. People with early Alzheimer’s may avoid social activities they used to enjoy. Be aware, though, that many seniors who do not have Alzheimer’s cut back on social or family events, just because they are tired.
- Personality and mood changes. This symptom is problematic because being a little irritable occasionally can just be normal aging. When your parent is uncomfortable from arthritis, diabetes, heart problems or the other maladies that plague us as we age, he may be less than cheerful. This behavior is not a sign of Alzheimer’s. Extreme or sudden changes in mood or personality should, however, be noted.
We know you want the best for your aging parents. Protect them from people who would take advantage of their vulnerability. Talk to an elder law attorney in your area, because the laws that affect seniors are different in every state.
Alzheimer’s Association. “10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s.” (accessed August 2, 2017) http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_10_signs_of_alzheimers.asp