Is it Alzheimer’s or just forgetfulness?
Let’s talk about it
by Bonnie Sandler, S.W.
We all have moments of forgetfulness, often lightheartedly referred to as senior moments. Leaving a shopping mall, we are unable to remember where we parked our car. We know that we drove to the mall and that we parked the car somewhere. We backtrack our steps to figure out which door we walked through.
I don’t know of anyone who has not misplaced their keys at least once.
When we think back to what jacket we were wearing last, we know where to look. We are using logic. This is not indicative of a memory problem. The time to be concerned is when we leave the mall and don ’t know where we are or why we’re carrying shopping bags. A popular Alzheimer’s awareness ad shows keys in a sugar bowl. Those of us without cognitive impairment are unlikely to place keys in a sugar bowl.
A movie was released this month called Away From Her, starring Julie Christie as a woman in her 60s diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. The first scene shows Fiona with her husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent) washing the dishes after sharing dinner. Everything appears normal. Then Fiona takes the fry pan and puts it in the freezer. Their faces tell us they know something is wrong. We then see that the kitchen cupboards are labeled with their contents.
The movie touches on the subjects of love, marriage, devotion, memory and the loss and hardships that Alzheimer ’s Disease brings to a family. John Griffith gives it 4.5 stars, describing it as “Remarkable. A deeply moving film.”
Families touched by AD/RD may find some of the content unrealistic. But there is much to relate to: the loneliness of caregiving; the uncertainty of what each moment, each day will bring; relationship issues that will never be resolved since the memory of one person no longer exists; the pain of hearing hurtful comments from your spouse when you are doing everything to care for her; the loss of a future together; having to make the wrenching decision of residential care; watching your partner leave you slowly and feeling helpless to bring her back; being married without a spouse; losing your intimate relationship; the pain of seeing her pain.
The losses are slow, progressive and overwhelming. At the beginning, we see Fiona reading The 36 Hour Day, the book we mentioned last month. She wants to understand her illness and is taking an active role in planning for her care. Her husband Grant would prefer not to believe what is happening to his wife. He finds excuses for her behaviour. After all, “she’s always been a bit different,” he explains. He fills in her blanks for as long as he can. He is fighting the diagnosis, wanting to believe in her good days.
Many of us are fearful that we have the beginnings of Alzheimer’s when we have forgetful moments, especially those of us who have loved ones with this illness. Studies show that it takes an average of four years until diagnosis. Memory problems, personality and mood changes, difficulty managing familiar tasks, the loss of words, are just some of the early signs of Alzheimer ’s. A proper medical diagnosis is needed and other possible causes need to be ruled out.
For example, depression or a reaction to certain medications could produce similar symptoms. An early diagnosis could allow for the individual affected by Alzheimer ’s to be involved in decisions for their care. Medication can be prescribed at an early stage. Activities, both cognitive and physical, although always important, are crucial at this time.
Some forgetfulness is normal. Each time you misplace your keys, or forget where you parked your car, or your cell phone number, know that it is not a sign of Alzheimer ’s Disease. However, if you or someone close to you shows the beginning signs mentioned earlier, be pro-active in obtaining medical attention.
Bonnie Sandler is a private social worker specializing in professional services for seniors.