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Springfield's Alzheimer's Advocates Encourage Families To Have Tough Conversations Early

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File photo, Horia Varlan
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(Photo credit: Horia Varlen, via Flickr)

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness month.  The local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association is encouraging families to have some tough conversations—and to have them earlier, as opposed to later. 

 

First, a refresher: Dementia is a general term that describes a group of symptoms associated with memory loss. Alzheimer’s Disease is a form of dementia that disrupts the nervous system.

There are many warning signs that someone may have Alzheimer’s. A few of these signs are things like memory loss that disrupts daily life, confusion about time and places, or even just changes in mood or personality.

The full ten signs are listed below:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing 
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
  • Changes in mood and personality

Mark Applegate’s mother has dementia. He shares his family’s experience online in hopes of bridging the gap between generations. 
He says one of the most important things is catching the signs early.

When his mother began showing some of the early signs, his family just blamed it on old age. But one day, Mark’s sister asked their mother a question that, he said, had an obvious answer.

“My sister said to her, ‘Well do you remember what my name is?’ And she smiled and said, ‘Of course I know what your name is.’ And she said, ‘Well, what is it?’” Applegate said.

Their mother couldn’t answer, and they then knew the problem was something more than just aging.

Having a conversation with a family member who may be showing those early warning signs could be awkward. But experts say it is necessary for helping them.

Rob Hulstra works for the Alzheimer’s Association in Springfield. He says when approaching the conversation, it’s best not to treat it as an intervention. Instead, he suggests asking helpful questions.

“Are you doing okay? You know, normally you’re right on time with paying this bill or an appointment or several other things or finding your way home. Is there something on your mind? Are you okay?” Hulstra said.

Hulstra said it’s also important to let them know it’s okay to talk—and that it’s important to reach out to doctors and experts early for advice.

Locally, resources for families can be found online at www.alz.org or by phone, 24 hours a day, by calling 1-800-272-3900.