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Caregivers and the Early Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
By Peter Ganther

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Who hasn’t forgotten a name or a phone number before? We’ve all experienced that. Our lives are so full of inside (our own thoughts) and outside (information overload, honking horns, sirens, etc.) stimuli that a single incident of forgetfulness can be forgiven. But what about more frequent and more serious forgetfulness like losing your way home or forgetting to make mortgage payments. If your loved one seems more forgetful than usual or is exhibiting strange behavior, it may be time to get him or her to the doctor for a full diagnostic work-up to determine whether or not he is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). This will rule out any potentially reversible causes of memory loss that may be due to a reaction to medication or depression to name just two reasons. There are others.

You might say, “Why? There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease anyway.” That much is true, but the earlier the diagnosis, the more say your loved one can have in planning for his long-term care. AD affects people in different ways. The way it progresses and the symptoms exhibited are as diverse as people are. Early diagnosis is paramount to your loved one’s safety and their plan of care. It may even make things easier for you.

There are several advantages for a caregiver in the early diagnosis of AD in a loved one. You can improve your understanding of the changes that are—and will—take place in your loved one, and educate your family and friends. You can seek out community resources. You can increase your awareness of AD in general, and of local and national research projects, including clinical trials. You can improve your knowledge on safety issues and on preventative health. You can stay up-to-date on progress being made with possible treatment options. Most importantly you can become actively involved in planning for your loved one’s future whether it be financial, long-term care or end-of –life planning.

Surprisingly long-term memory is usually the least, or the last, part of the brain affected. It’s the memories of recent events that are lost. Remembering names, appointments, phone numbers, and details of a conversation are all examples of this lapse in short-term memory. There is impairment in language skills also. Your loved one may have trouble finding the right word, writing, or understanding what is being said. Another problem is doing anything that involves several steps such as shopping and cooking, taking medicine, managing money and balancing a checkbook.

Other difficult areas are problem solving and decision-making. Especially when it’s an emergency situation, your loved one may not be able to respond quickly. Spatial ability and orientation are affected also. Reading a map or following directions, judging depth perception, and feeling lost in known environments are all symptoms. Changes in behavior and mood can be expected as well. Withdrawal, anxiety, and depression are all possibilities. 

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