Is it Alzheimer's ... or just old age?
This is the question that causes so much anxiety and confusion to many aging people and to their friends and families. There comes a time when family members want to become involved in determining exactly what is happening and what is going to be faced going forward.
The symptoms of memory loss are now known to most families but there are other, more vague behaviours which, when recognized, will make the probable diagnosis much clearer.
- Concentration upon a specific subject: “I have to have this phone repaired, it is not working right.” “I have to get all these papers sorted out.” These are early, repetitive verbalizations that may not sound untoward but, once apparent, are key signs to watch.
- A loss of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies, social interaction, self care, appearance. “Clingy” behaviour —“when will you be back?”
- Diminishing ability to “process” new information or to complete routine tasks such as making a favourite dish, paying the phone bill, taking pills on schedule.
- Unexpected, “inappropriate” comments or action, misinterpretation of conversation, occasional displays of paranoid thinking.
All of these changes in routine behaviour may be fleeting and not of great concern, but when it is apparent that they are constant, perhaps increasing in frequency and intensity, it is time to begin a planning process. At this point there is not a dramatic need for a rapid solution but, it is an ideal time to gather information about all the options available to chart a calm and safe progression to the years ahead.
Three very important steps toward a plan are:
- requesting a thorough medical exam with referral to a geriatrician and other specialists as recommended,
- ensuring that Power of Attorney, Representation Agreement and Directives are in place, along with the Will. A review of the complete financial situation is most helpful to family members.
- arranging an assessment by the Health Authority to establish eligibility for various levels of assistance or care which may be needed at a later date.
(For an older person exhibiting the frightening signs of confusion and memory loss, the kindest, most effective and most reassuring help a family or close friends can offer is to open a loving conversation, eliciting that per- son’s real preferences for their future life style.)