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Know the warning signs about Alzheimer’s

More than two dozen people came to Heritage Hill Senior Community in Weatherly recently to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and its warning signs.

Jennifer Dotzel, community outreach coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association’s state chapter, talked about dementia, which is an umbrella term for a decline in memory and cognitive abilities that interferes with daily life.

The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s, a progressive brain disease that results in the loss of brain cells and function.

Some memory loss, or forgetfulness, she said, is normal as people age.

What to look out for

Dotzel went over the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s, which are a little different than age-related memory loss.

The first is memory loss that disrupts everyday life, such as forgetting important dates or events, or asking the same questions, and reliance on memory aids or family members to handle things, she said.

This isn’t forgetting a name or appointment, and then remembering them later, but someone who always remembers people’s birthdays, now not remembering them.

The second sign is challenges in planning for solving problems, such as following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. It may also take longer to do these things.

Typical age-related change would be making an occasional error with finances or household bills.

The third sign is difficulty completing a familiar task, such as driving to a familiar location, remember the rules of a favorite game or not remembering how to make the sauce for Sunday dinner, she said.

This is different than occasionally needing help with microwave settings or recording a television show.

The fourth sign is confusion with time or place, such as losing track of dates, seasons or the passage of time; as opposed to getting confused about the day of the week and then figuring it out, she said.

The fifth sign is trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships, which leads to trouble with balance or with reading and driving. Balance issues could lead to people shuffling their feet while walking, because they’re afraid of falling, she said.

The sixth sign is new problems with words when speaking or writing, such as trouble following or joining a conversation, or repeating themselves. Someone may struggle with naming a familiar object or use the wrong name.

Misplacing things, and not being able to retrace their steps, is the seventh warning sign. They may also accuse others of stealing, especially as the disease progresses. This is different from losing things from time to time, she said.

Decreased or poor judgment is another sign. They may use poor judgment dealing with money, not pay attention to grooming or cleaning. Someone who used to keep a pristine home now doesn’t, because they don’t remember how, she said.

Withdrawal from work or social activities is yet another sign, as they may no longer be able to relate or follow. They may not go to book club, because they can’t follow and remember, or follow a movie, she said.

The last warning sign is changes in mood and personality. They may be confused, suspicious, fearful, or easily upset at home or when out of their comfort zone.

Early treatment slows progression

Recognizing the signs early is important, because there are medications available that can help if detected early, and as well as resources available, Dotzel said.

She hopes to bring more education and classes to the area, but volunteers to serve as community educators are needed, she said.

Bringing education and awareness is important to her, because she had a loved one who experienced problems, Dotzel said. Her mother was great at math, but then her checkbook was off; and she became clumsy, when she was never clumsy before, she said. Her mother also pushed off things, like going to the doctor’s, or said that she told her doctor something, when she didn’t.

“So, it is important if you do have somebody maybe go with them to the doctor’s for support or to be an advocate,” she said. “Early diagnosis is really key.”

There are opportunities to get into research studies, if detected early, Dotzel said.

Rachel Timm, marketing director at Heritage Hill, said it’s important to hold informational sessions for community awareness and education, and to open a dialog, as it affects so many people.

“It’s important to be educated,” she said, adding that it’s often a difficult and emotional topic for families.

People can get more information about Alzheimer’s by calling 800-272-3900, or visiting alz.org.

Jennifer Dotzel, community outreach coordinator for the Alzheimher's Association, talks about the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's at Heritage Hill Senior Community in Weatherly.
Jennifer Dotzel, community outreach coordinator for the Alzheimer's Association, talks about the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's at Heritage Hill Senior Community in Weatherly. KELLY MONITZ SOCHA/TIMES NEWS