It all happened gradually – so gradually that until it had been going on for months, even years, it was hard to notice. Taken individually, the changes could be explained. Lost keys. Forgotten purse. Trouble with managing a smart phone. Struggling with finding a word on occasion. Each one of those experiences has happened to all of us at some time or another.
However, suddenly, all those things were significant, because more things began to happen, more often.
Someone who had been the most fastidious of people had hair that needed washing. Someone who had always been full of ideas seemed to have lost her interest in others. Someone who knew her city well began to be confused about how to get from one place to another.
When the day came when she tried to write a check and didn’t know how to do it – when she sat at lunch with us and forgot there was food on her plate – we knew.
We knew what we hadn’t wanted to know, that we had written off as depression, as Attention Deficit Disorder, as just growing older – we knew that our friend was facing progressive dementia. Because of her family history, we also knew that this was most likely early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Our friend is fortunate in that she has a caring family who intervened, who helped her make the changes she needed to make. She will be loved and safe. Although she will no longer be in this city, she will be with people who love her.
Others who live alone and/or who have no family are not so fortunate.
We are facing an epidemic of Alzheimer’s and other dementias as our population ages. What I have learned by going through this process with my friend is that it is all too easy to dismiss the visible signs of early dementia because we don’t want to know it is happening. This denial does a disservice to the person who is suffering, because early detection and early use of the medications available that slow the process down are essential to preserving the functional parts of the brain.
This terrible illness that ultimately eradicates the person’s memory and ability to function can be treated (not cured, but treated). If you notice any of these signs, talk to your doctor. Don’t wait; don’t live in denial. If you see a friend struggling, speak up. In the end it serves no one to pretend that all is well.
This link discusses some of the early signs of dementia. It is worth reading. The Alzheimer’s Association is also a wonderful resource and support for caregivers.