If You Forget, Does It Mean Alzheimer’s?

Recently, I couldn’t recall the first name of someone I’d known for years. It didn’t take more than a few seconds for me to grab it, but why did it take even that long? I should have known it instantly. It scares me that I didn’t because my mother has Alzheimer’s disease. If I inherited her blue eyes, maybe I’ll also inherit her Alzheimer’s.

An estimated 5.4 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease.

  • 200, 000 people with Alzheimer’s disease are under the age of 65
  • 5.2 million are 65 and older
  • About 2.3 million are 85 and older

When you hit 65 you’ve got a 13% chance of developing it and if you’re fortunate enough to reach 85, which I plan to do, it’s nearly 50 – 50. On that happy note, let’s get back to me worrying about inheriting Alzheimer’s from my mother.

According to the National Institute on Aging, most cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s, which occurs in people between age 30 and 60, are inherited. Alzheimer’s that develops after age 60 is probably caused by a combination of factors that includes genetics, environment, and lifestyle. There is also growing evidence that if one of your parents has it, you’re at greater risk of inheriting it from your mother than your father. Not what I wanted to hear, but rather than continue to be scared, I’ve decide to learn as much as I can about the disease. It will help me do a better job of caring for my mother and I might discover some things I can do to help myself.

This week I spent an entire day immersed in learning at a workshop called Caring for a Loved One With Dementia. It was presented by Darlene Field, who is an Alzheimer care consultant, and sponsored by Advantage Home Care and Bay Square at Yarmouth. By the time the workshop ended, I was exhausted and my own brain was filled to capacity.   Partly because it helps me to write things down and partly because I think it’s too useful to keep to myself, I’m going to do a series of posts that share some of the more important things I learned from Darlene. First up, when you should or shouldn’t worry about forgetfulness.

It is normal says Darlene, if occasionally

  • you forget names or appointments
  • the information is right on the “tip of your tongue”
  • you forget where you put your keys or glasses

Normal forgetfulness does not seriously interfere with your work or everyday activities.

It could be a warning sign for Alzheimer’s if you or your loved one experiences:

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Decreased or poor judgment
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Changes in mood and personality

The Alzheimer’s Association goes into more depth about the 10 warning signs in its handout Know the 10 Signs.

If you have questions or are worried about any of the warning signs, you should make an appointment to see your doctor.

As you could see from the list, memory loss is only one symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. Together, they are all symptoms of dementia — a syndrome in which information comes into the brain but doesn’t get stored. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, but by no means the only one. With Darlene’s help, I’ll explain more in my next post.