Losing my father: Look for the warning signs
“Dad, who is this,” I asked pointing to a recent photo. “That’s you,” my father answered. “Who am I,” I asked. “You’re my daughter.” After what seemed like an eternity, my father looked at me with sheer sadness and pain. “I don’t know your name.” I took his hand. “It’s OK, Pop.”
As we age, our body and brain change. We may have problems with eyesight and hearing, take longer to do things, and begin experiencing occasional memory lapses. Alzheimer’s disease (AD), however, is not normal aging. It is a type of dementia - a progressive, irreversible neurological disease that affects brain functions including language, intellect and spatial orientation.
In the early stages, Alzheimer’s disease develops gradually and is hard to notice. As ordinary, easily excused memory lapses become more frequent, the person with AD loses the ability to learn and remember anything new. They begin forgetting things from week to week, then day to day, and gradually, minute to minute.
To help people recognize the difference between typical age-related changes and what may be early stage AD, the Alzheimer’s Association Cleveland Area Chapter has put together a list of the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Go to www.alz.org/cleveland/ for a more detailed explanation of the warning signs which include:
- Memory changes that disrupt daily life and appear to be growing more frequent;
- Challenges in planning or solving problems, working with numbers or keeping track of monthly bills;
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work or leisure;
- Confusion with time, place, dates, seasons, and the passage of time;
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships;
- Problems with spoken or written words;
- Misplacing or putting things in unusual places and losing the ability to retrace ones steps;
- Decreased or poor judgment when dealing with money, grooming or personal hygiene;
- Withdrawal from work, hobbies or social activities; and
- Changes in mood and personality such as uncharacteristic fears, confusion, suspicion, depression or periods of anxiety.
Sarah Parran, LISW, a professional geriatric care manager with over 20 years experience in geriatric and health care social work, and founder of Senior Care Connections, LLC stresses the need to talk to a doctor as soon as there are concerns about memory loss, thinking skills or behavior in ourselves or a loved one. For more information visit www.seniorcareconnections.net
“Early diagnosis can help a person with dementia and their loved ones determine if the problem really is Alzheimer’s disease,” said Parran.
Geriatric assessments are covered by Medicare and can determine if some of the symptoms are reversible and are being caused by treatable conditions such as drug interaction, metabolic imbalance, thyroid problems, excess use of alcohol, vitamin deficiencies or depression.
“Talking to a physician about your concerns and requesting that a geriatric assessment be done early has many advantages,” said Parran. “It allows the person and their family to seek appropriate treatments and plan for future care.”
Lita Gonzalez, a longtime community volunteer, lives in Cleveland Heights with her husband Mark. Both her daughters are Heights High graduates.