It’s a condition that slowly robs its victims of their memories, their personalities, their very sense of daily life. It also takes a physical and emotional toll on the family members and friends of patients. There is no cure for it, and little can be done to halt its progress.
As more and more baby-boomers enter their golden years, the spectre of possibly developing Alzheimer’s disease may cast a cloud over the future, but is not a foregone conclusion. As Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County members heard recently, typical age-related changes do not necessarily mean a person has Alzheimer’s.
Dan Phillips, of the Southwest Georgia office of the national Alzheimer’s Association, pointed out for club members some differences between Alzheimer’s and typical age-related issues. For instance:
A person may experience an age-related vision change due to cataracts. However, there are certain vision problems that could be a sign of Alzheimer’s, including difficulty reading, judging distance, determining color or contrast, or perception problems (such as seeing someone else in the mirror).
Older people sometimes have trouble finding the right word. An Alzheimer’s patient, though, may have trouble following or joining a conversation; may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue; may repeat themselves; struggle with vocabulary; have problems finding the right word; or call things by the wrong name.
Phillips noted that typically older people may misplace things occasionally, like the TV remote. With Alzheimer’s, the patient will often put things in unusual places (like car keys in the refrigerator); lose things, be unable to retrace their steps to find things, or even accuse others of stealing items.
Older people sometimes feel weary of work, family, and social obligations. The Alzheimer’s sufferer may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects, or sports: have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or completing a favorite hobby activity; or avoid social situations because of the changes they have experienced.
Another not-unusual age related change is developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted. A person with Alzheimer’s could experience change in mood and personality and become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful, or anxious.
A person experiencing age-related change may get confused about what day of the week it is but figure it out later. The Alzheimer’s patient can lose track of dates, seasons, and the passage of time; have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately; or forget where they are and/or how they got there.
An elderly person (or for that matter some younger adults) might occasionally need help with the settings on a microwave or using a VCR, a DVD player, or other electronics. With Alzheimer’s, a person may have trouble completing daily tasks, driving to a familiar location, managing a budget, or remembering the rules of a favorite game.
Sometimes older people forget names or appointments but remember them later. Common early symptoms of Alzheimer’s can include forgetting recently-learned information, forgetting important dates or events, and asking the same question over and over.
Anyone can make an occasional error when balancing a checkbook. A person with Alzheimer’s will often experience changes in their ability to follow a plan, work with numbers, follow a familiar recipe, or keep track of monthly bills.
Phillips emphasized that early detection of Alzheimer’s is important because mild cognitive impairment may be manageable and Alzheimer’s prevented in some persons. Help is available, he said, 24 hours a day, seven days a week for patients and caregivers by calling toll-free 1-800-272-3900, and more information can be found on-line at www.alz.org.
Phillips encouraged Kiwanians and other community members to participate in the 2011 Albany Walk to End Alzheimer’s, slated for Saturday, October 15. The three-mile walk will start at Riverfront Park downtown, with registration at 9 a.m. and the actual event at 10 a.m. For more information, call or e-mail the Southwest Georgia regional office of the Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia chapter, at 229.388.8219 or Dan.Phillips@alz.org.
A highlight of the Kiwanis meeting was the presentation of a check from the club to Phillips to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association in the amount of $500.