Yesterday I began a series of posts about the warning signs of Alzheimer’s based on an article by the Alzheimer’s Association. The first warning sign was “memory changes that disrupt daily life,” and the second is “challenges in planning or solving problems.” The article went on to explain what kind of challenges might be involved:
Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.
Some of you might be thinking Oh no!! I left the pinch of salt out of the zucchini bread last week or I chased that $2 error around my checkbook for a week before I found it. That’s not the kind of challenges we’re talking about. Those problems can be chalked up to normal aging or absent-mindedness. I saw some of the challenges to be concerned about in Mom not long after I recognized her “looping” manner of conversation.
Mom was always an excellent cook but a nervous hostess. Her social anxieties made her worry about everything from planning the menu all the way through the clearing of the table after her guests were stuffed to maximum capacity. She shouldn’t have worried, because everything she made was delicious. But as Alzheimer’s began to intrude into her kitchen, I began to notice lapses: her dump cake had spots of dry cake mix that had been missed by the butter; her pecan pie, which was usually to die for, stuck to the pan; her roast was dry and tough. Then she began having trouble getting the meal on the table at all. Many evenings, after seeing her confusion and frustration, I stepped in to apply the finishing touches and bring order to the chaos. Finally, it got to the point where she gave up altogether.
“We can have Christmas at my house if you’ll do the cooking,” she said more than once.
She used her arthritic hands as an excuse, but we both knew there was more to the challenge than twisted fingers.
Even though Dad was diagnosed with vascular dementia rather than Alzheimer’s, he exhibited some of the warning signs, especially in the financial area. At one point in his life, Dad was the bookkeeper for a lumber company. I’m sure he did an excellent job, because he kept meticulous records of his own finances. He had a notebook in which he recorded every expense, and his bank statement was balanced to the penny the day it arrived. But as the plaque built up in his blood vessels, this began to change. When I dropped in on them at lunch time, I began to see piles of unpaid bills, unbalanced statements, and unfiled paperwork on the coffee table. And when they moved in with me, I watched him stare blankly at a bank statement for an hour at a time before giving up and putting it down.
He didn’t give up control of his finances as easily as Mom gave up control of her kitchen. I gradually assumed management of his checkbook, at first tactfully asking if he would like me to write a check for his signature or pay a bill for him. After a while, I stopped showing him the bills at all. Instead, I paid them on-line and entered the transaction into his checkbook. At first he asked questions, but eventually, he gave up the challenge and left it completely to me. We were one step further along in our journey into Alzheimer’s and dementia.
For more information about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, contact the Alzheimer’s Association at 800.272.3900 or www.alz.org.