Last November, I got a frantic call from one of my friends. “Jo, the strangest thing happened today. My mom drove to our house for Thanksgiving dinner around noon, stayed until 5 p.m. and then drove home. She is 84 years old, so she always calls us when she gets home. Well, she didn’t call and didn’t answer the phone. Ultimately we called the police, and they couldn’t find her either. She arrived back at our house around 8 p.m. asking if it was time for dinner!”
I was just about to start asking questions about how long my friend’s mom had been experiencing memory loss when my friend offered her own diagnosis and said, “I guess we have to get her new glasses and suggest she not drive at night!”
Sometimes we look memory loss in the face and just don’t see it. Maybe we are afraid. Maybe we don’t want to know. Maybe we are denying the fact that Alzheimer’s disease could happen to someone we love. Whatever the motive, we have to take off our blinders and understand what’s truly happening and how we can make it better.
Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias usually start subtly. A couple of bills don’t get paid. Medicines don’t get refilled. Unexplained “dings” on the car start showing up. Sometimes memory doesn’t change, but behavior does. For example, an extroverted person begins to socially withdraw and the family misperceives them as depressed. Most commonly, however, a patient begins to repeat themselves and ask the same questions over and over, such as “What time do we have to leave for the doctor’s?”
If you’re saying to yourself, “Oh my, that’s my mom,” you are not alone. Memory problems that are severe enough to be diagnosed as dementia occur in 15 percent of people over the age of 75. And, 25 percent of women ages 35 to 50 are providing care for their parent or loved one. So, my advice is to get help if you think you need it.
Register here for my upcoming online chat on Wednesday, August 22 at noon, where I will answer your questions in a chat room setting on memory loss. You can also submit your questions before the chat even starts. While you won’t receive primary medical advice, you will get some guidance on where to start looking for answers and treatment. You also may be able to get plugged into doctors, nurse practitioners, social workers and others specializing in the care of older adults to help you navigate this road.