The Alzheimer’s Association has created a list of 10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The list includes some items that are fairly well known such as misplacing items and having increased difficulty in retracing steps to locate the lost items and changes in mood or personality. Others include new problems with words and language or challenges in planning or solving problems. They may also experience trouble understanding visual images or spacial relationships and display problems completing familiar tasks. You can find the complete list on the Alzheimer’s Associations website at http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_10_signs_of_alzheimers.asp#signs.

One classic method of coping with memory loss is of course, the “Post-it Note” strategy. Watch for increased notes throughout the home with tips and reminders. While many of us use this method to keep our busy schedules in order, the person with early memory loss may give you some clues to the progression of their problems if you notice that their use of notes is increasing. Another method of managing a fading memory is the use of ambiguity. As memory issues increase, your loved one may begin to speak in more general terms, never really committing to many details in a conversation. They may avoid using names and when recounting the events of the day or an activity, their dialogue is very non-specific and vague. If this is the case, you can gently press for specifics and details throughout the conversation. Try to do this in a way that is not confrontational. You can ask questions in a manner that shows interest in the event and details without calling attention to the fact that the lack of detail may be intentional. It is best not to make a big deal out of it if they are unable to “fill in the blanks” in the conversation. Simply add this observation to any other signs you have noted and then work with others in the support network to determine next steps.

Take advantage of the opportunity to check in with others who are also at the gathering. It can be very beneficial to get the perspective of someone who sees your loved one more frequently or less frequently than you. We all see things a bit differently or have access to different interactions and conversations, so our combined experiences and perspectives can give insight to the bigger picture. If you see signs that cause concern, take time as a family to plan some further evaluation and consider seeking medical attention. Include your loved one in the conversation to the extent that they are willing and able. Early detection and diagnosis can actually be a very empowering process for the person with early memory loss, giving them time to adjust to changes and be an active part of their plan of action.

Submitted by Janelle Johnson, Memory Care Specialist