Alzheimer’s: Signs Along the Way

My dear readers, I think it’s about time to meet up for another cup of coffee and a chat. I thought we could talk about a question I am often asked.

What signs did you see that made you suspect that your mom was experiencing memory loss?

One place to start when gathering information about Alzheimer’s is the aptly named Alzheimer’s Association. You can click here for their Top 10 list of signs, but here’s my list of signs we noticed along the way:

  • Repeating stories multiple times at the dinner table.
  • Piles of stuff all over the house – very unusual since she was normally very tidy. The guest room bed was covered with several inches of mail and miscellaneous paperwork.
  • Finding everyday objects in odd places: her cane propped up against the fridge on her countertop; her purse in the fridge; keys under her pillow; toothpaste and toothbrush on top of her dresser; odd stuff in her purse…like banana peels wrapped like mummies.

Mummy-wrapped banana peel from Momma’s purse

  • Asking the same question over and over again.
  • A very messy calendar with lots of ‘White Out’ covering myriad mistakes (and her complaining that someone else was writing on her calendar).
  • Mom had always been a list-maker and would usually keep her lists in an organized notebook. Now, her lists were everywhere! You could find her notes to self on the backs of envelopes and snatches of paper; in multiple notesbooks or legal pads; in the margins of her calendar, etc.
  • Missed hair appointments. Her weekly hair appointment had been her habit for decades – it wasn’t like her to miss one.
  • Everyone loses their keys from time to time – believe me, I know! But the key hunt became a daily routine (sometimes several times a day) because she would hide them where they’d be safe.

Our solution to the hidden keys problem was to attach a “tile” which would allow us to use an app on our phones to find them. (Click here for info)

  • Ordering multiple sets of checkbooks; we counted five separate sets of checks for one account.
  • Hiding her checkbooks.
  • Unbalanced checkbooks and a dining room table littered with bank statements with notes of confusion written on each one.
  • Over-purchasing other items too: toilet paper, ballpoint pens, Kleenex boxes, dishwasher soap, spiral bound notebooks, and legal pads.
  • Repeating stories. Oh, I think I already said that.
  • Phone calls from neighbors reporting unusual behavior, including a concern over momma being outside ALL day in pretty much the same spot. And another with concerns about her driving.
  • A diminished desire to attend church or get together with her friends.
  • Hidden stashes of food – especially cookies and chips. We would also find partially eaten food here and there around the house. It made me nervous to think she might pick up spoiled food and begin eating it again.
  • Multiple cans of Coke begun, but not finished.
Momma can’t remember she already has a can of soda open.
  • Unflushed toilets. Mom had always been VERY particular about remembering to flush toilets.
  • Inordinate amounts of junk mail.
  • She somehow got suckered into two vehicle protection plans and two sewer and waterline protection plans. Unfortunately, she never used them because she didn’t realize she had them.
  • She kept renewing her magazines, even if she had YEARS left on the subscriptions.  
  • Losing large sums of cash. She once took $1,500 out of the bank for a vacation I was taking her on, but lost the money somewhere between the bank and home. We never did find that money, and her credit cards were in the same wallet.
  • Hiding valuables and claiming they were stolen.
  • Growing frustration with using a telephone or a once-familiar remote control.
  • When dining in a restaurant, she was no longer able to calculate a tip. Mom had always been an adventurous eater who was always game for trying a new restaurant. Whenever I would visit, she began going to the same restaurant and ordering the same thing each time. Or, without opening the menu, she would say, “I’ll have what she is having.”
  • Eating an entire carton of ice-cream in one sitting (we started buying it in pints and half-pints).

Most of these changes were subtle, but they began to add up. Somewhere in the middle of all of these changes, I knew in my heart it was time for me to make sure I invited myself to my mother’s next doctor’s appointment. I knew that he and I were going to have to become allies in my mom’s future care, so I stopped by her physician’s office and dropped off a copy of my power of attorney for healthcare paperwork so that they could be scanned into her record. I also wrote a letter to her primary care physician outlining my concerns. Now we could begin the process of me being in the loop related to care discussions and decisions. It was a hard step, but a necessary one.

Well, it looks like my cup of coffee is on empty and I did all the talking. Sorry about that. If I may ask, if someone you love has Alzheimer’s, what were some of the signs YOU noticed in your loved one?

Spreadsheets (and other scary things)

Math has never been my strong suit. My earliest memory of my aversion to mathematics goes back to grade school. Details are fuzzy, but flash cards and standing with chalk in hand at a blackboard with snickering classmates behind me were involved in the torture. No amount of remedial help or after supper tutoring from my dad could erase the ill feeling of dread and fear whenever our teacher would stand in front of the class with a stack of paper and ask us to put our books away and take a pencil out of our desks. I can still picture her walking up and down each row of evenly spaced desks, placing a sheet of paper face-down on our desks, instructing us not to turn it over until she gave us permission. The only thing pleasant about the dreaded math quiz experience was the strangely pleasing pungent aroma of the alcohol (spirits) on the fresh, purple-inked quiz paper freshly printed on a “spirit-processed” Ditto machine (now I’m really dating myself).

“Ditto” ad and resulting sample of the purple-inked math quiz…obviously not my paper.

I dreaded getting my paper back after my teacher graded it too. That purple ink on the page would more often than not be accompanied by numerous red check-marks next to each wrong answer. Oftentimes, right next to the grade at the top of the paper, there would be a little note from the teacher that said “See Me” or something like that. It was embarrassing to never quite “get it” when everyone else around me (so it seemed) was catching on just fine.

In marriage, opposites often attract. My husband enjoys math. It’s probably not an exaggeration of facts to say that

playing with numbers brings him great satisfaction. On a related note, he truly enjoys spreadsheets. Creating them. Updating them. Analyzing them. Sharing them. He’s the type of guy that looks at pieces of information and says with a smile, “Hey, let’s build a spreadsheet for that!”

While I struggle with remembering which credit card to use in each purchasing situation, drag my feet at keeping spreadsheets updated, struggle with understanding investment principles, and chafe at always being asked for receipts for updating those spreadsheets, I can be thankful my husband is strong in those areas. His love of managing details means we can pull up a piece of needed information with a moment’s notice when caring for my mom and brother. It means he is a natural choice to be their financial power of attorney (a job I very willingly relinquish). It means our own budget is always balanced. Our retirement investments always well-tended and growing. Our bank account never lacking. Our vehicle and home maintenance always scheduled at appropriate times. Our emergency fund always available. Our taxes always done on time and without error. Our giving always done wisely and with generosity.
For this man, I give thanks to God.