Ignoring Alzheimer's?

06/15/2009 - Questions and Answers

Ignoring Alzheimer's?

By: Novoviva webmaster



My parents have reached their mid-80s and are slowing down considerably. Is it common for one elderly person to ignore the possibility of Alzheimer's in their spouse?



First, we'd like to say that there is no "norm" for behavior at any specific age, and it's quite normal to be "slowing down" in the mid-80s, as all life is a constant progression from birth to death. You don't mention any specific symptoms, but it is quite usual for an elderly spouse to be oblivious of any mental deterioration in their partner. Often, simply because the change may be gradual and the couple are together all the time, any change happens so slowly that it's accepted without question. Also, the security of the partner's company is cherished, so 'turning a blind eye' means no drastic change to cope with!

It's important to realize that sometimes older people have emotional problems that can be mistaken for dementia. Feeling sad, lonely, worried, or bored may be more common for older people facing, or being in Long Term Care, or coping with the death of a spouse, relative, or friend. Adapting to these changes leaves some people feeling confused or forgetful. Emotional problems can be eased by supportive friends and family, or by professional help from a doctor or counselor.

The early warning signs of Alzheimer's are:

Problems of memory, particularly recent or short-term memory; these are common early in the course of the disease. For example, the individual may repeatedly forget to turn off the stove or cannot recall which of the morning's medicines were taken.

Mild personality changes, such as less spontaneity or a sense of apathy, or a tendency to withdraw from social interactions; these can occur early in the illness.

Diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is usually made on the basis of a patient's symptoms and mental abilities. To obtain as much information as possible, the doctor will undertake a process of "history taking", during which they will talk to the patient, and probably also to someone else who knows the patient well, such as a family member or friend. There may also be a more formal assessment of a patient's physical and mental condition and needs. It's often difficult to make a conclusive diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. Various other illnesses, such as depression, a thyroid problem, a vitamin deficiency, or Parkinson's disease, can cause similar symptoms. A full physical examination and various tests, including blood tests and perhaps a brain scan, can help rule out some of the other possibilities. If tests fail to show any other reason for a person's symptoms, a doctor will often make a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. Sometimes, the diagnosis is made only after observing how a patient's condition develops over a period of several months."

There's a "7-minute screening test" that consists of 4 sets of questions that focus on orientation, memory, visio-spatial skills and expressive language. These are the areas most likely to reveal deficiencies in Alzheimer's disease.

Although the patient requires much care and support, it is extremely important for the caregiver to receive just as much understanding and support as the patient. The huge task and responsibility can be quite overwhelming if this is not acknowledged. The effects on the family can be many and varied, some of them being stress and confusion, and, as time goes by, guilt and anger. It's important to realize your own emotional vulnerability and to have someone to talk things over with. In particular, your own space and interests must not be lost. There is some useful advice on our website in the Caregiver's Health Center (left menu).

Related Links
Facts about Dementia
Alzheimer's Association

Created on: 12/12/2005
Reviewed on: 06/15/2009

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