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What You Need To Know About Alzheimer's

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More than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer's Disease, but recognizing it can be difficult at first as commentator Pamela Ice found out.

The thing I most dreaded about my mother’s aging was that she might become physically infirm.  Mother is gregarious and I knew that if she could not get up and around, she would be unhappy, and so would everyone around her. So my sisters and I were prepared for Mother’s physical deterioration. Her mother and one of her brothers had suffered strokes. So we discussed where she would live if Mother had a stroke and could not tell us her preferences and made a plan.  Luckily, there has been no stroke.  But what hit us harder than what we planned for is something that was not even on our radar: Alzheimer’s disease.

It never occurred to my sisters or me that Mother might become mentally impaired. Not only did we not prepare for the possibility of Alzheimer’s dementia, we were slow to recognize the symptoms because we lived hundreds of miles from her home in Nevada AND because we really did not know all the symptoms.

As with any disease, early detection is critical, so knowing what to look for is paramount.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are ten signs that the disease may be taking hold, the first of which is the one most of us are familiar with:  memory loss that disrupts daily life.  But people with Alzheimer’s also may have trouble making plans and/or following a plan to its conclusion.  Another symptom is forgetting important dates or the rules to a favorite pastime; for example, my mother can no longer play bridge, a game she loves and played for over 45 years.  Difficulty concentrating and therefore taking much longer to complete tasks is yet another sign of the disease.  People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble remembering their current location or how they got there. They may put things in unusual places and then accuse trusted people of stealing the misplaced items.  They often make poor decisions, especially about money; and they may reveal too much personal information to strangers or people they only know casually.  None of these are signs of normal aging.

Because we were so far away, and because Alzheimer’s sufferers are quite good at hiding their symptoms, it took my family years to realize my mother was losing ground.  By the time we did, she was probably in the middle stages of this seven-stage disease. Fortunately we had planned for the possibility Mother might be unable to live on her own some day, so she now lives with my sister in Michigan.

Alzheimer’s, the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, cannot be prevented, cured or slowed .It is a dreadful disease for which it is hard to plan until it strikes. But you can be somewhat prepared:  get and keep your financial affairs in order, create a “living will” or durable power of attorney for health care, check out the Alzheimer’s Association website to learn the symptoms of Alzheimer’s so it can be diagnosed early.   Plainly and simply, be vigilant for the sake of your loved ones and yourself.

Pamela Ice, an Oak Cliff resident, is a writer anda professor of English at North Lake College in Irving.