As I typed “Part 10 of 10,” I felt a little like Johnny Carson as Carnac the Magnificent saying, “I hold in my hand the last envelope.” Unlike his audience, I hope my readers aren’t clapping and hurrahing at the end of a long, tedious series.
The last warning sign is changes in mood and personality. All of us, especially as we get older, develop specific ways of doing things, and we sometimes become irritable when a routine is disrupted. Once again, Alzheimer’s may cause people to carry this irritation to extremes:
The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone.
Dad’s personality didn’t change a whole lot with his dementia. He became a crabby, critical old man, but while he had always been a bit on the crabby side, he hid it better when he was younger and saner. People with dementia lose a lot of inhibitions, and although he was a man of few words, when he had something to say, he said it, regardless of where he was or who might hear. For example, he always seemed to notice when extra large people came into a restaurant where we were eating.
“She’s fat!” Since he was hard of hearing, he wasn’t very good at using his inside voice.
“Yes, Dad,” I’d say quietly as I slid down in my seat. “She’s fat, but she’s probably not deaf.”
His personality changes were embarrassing and annoying, but Mom’s were extremely disconcerting at first. She had always been a little fearful, but she became the poster child for paranoia. She locked David out of the house when he went to pick her up for dinner one night, and she accused Dad of getting phone calls and having midnight trysts with a girl he hadn’t seen in 75 years. The neurologist concocted a medication regime that kept the worst of the delusions at bay – better living through modern chemistry as David would say – but she still had her moments. On afternoon I went to the grocery store and left David in charge. He was lying on the couch reading, and Mom and Dad didn’t see him when they came out of their room and headed for the front of the house. They peered out the dining room windows at the empty spot on the driveway where their car usually sat, and David heard Mom start to complain.
“She’s gone off in our car again. She should be here fixing us something to eat instead of out running around. She treats us just awful. She’s probably out with some…MAN!!”
If Alzheimer’s has a bright side, it’s that sometimes bad things are forgotten. As Mom got worse, she forgot her fears and her accusations. Best of all, she forgot her social anxieties, and she became quite a party girl. She enjoyed going to church because she always got lots of hugs; she liked hugs even if she had no idea who was hugging her. She loved parties, she loved party food, and other guests were more than happy to keep her plate full. Her sweet smile and her giggle made her a favorite, even when she couldn’t remember the point of her story or the punch line of her joke. When she passed away, the people who cared for her in the last months of her life sent a card filled with personal notes. Many of them mentioned her ready smile and her sweet spirit. It felt like, in some small way, she had thumbed her nose at Alzheimer’s in the end.
There is a note at the end of this last warning sign: Mood changes with age may also be a sign of some other condition. Consult a doctor if you are seeing any changes.
Thanks for following me through this series as I spoke up for Alzheimer’s in honor of World Alzheimer’s Month. You may wonder why, since there is no cure, it’s important to be aware of the signs of Alzheimer’s. It’s because early diagnosis gives you a chance to seek treatment and plan for your future. Your local Alzheimer’s Association can help. Call them at 1-800-272-3900 or visit them at www.alz.org.