Don’t sweat a little wear and tear

One of the Bainbridge Island Senior Community Center’s busiest groups is its Well-Being Committee, and one of that group’s most popular programs is the Aging Well monthly lecture series it presents the third Wednesday of each month.

November’s lecture dealt with the challenges of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease versus the less severe memory problems that may come with aging. In other words, what’s normal and what’s not?

One of the many useful handouts audience members received included a checklist of common symptoms to help one recognize signs of Alzheimer’s disease. I became concerned as I read it, knowing that many of the 10 items listed sounded like faults of mine.

Misplacing things? I can never find what I need, when I need it, even if I’ve just put it down (though I’ve always suspected the presence of invisible gremlins who hide the items from me just to be mean and it isn’t my fault).

Difficulty performing familiar tasks? I sit down at this computer every day, and it still messes up what I type, or accuses me (in passive voice) of performing an illegal act and therefore it will have to shut down.

Poor or decreased judgment? I’ve been accused of poor judgment my whole life. In fact, I’ve had all of the above problems all of my remembered life. Can someone show signs of Alzheimer’s disease at age three? I asked about this.

Imagine my relief when the speaker said the key was whether these symptoms indicated a changed behavior. This is something we all need to bear in mind. You need not worry about losing the car keys if you have always been prone to misplacing them.

Here are 10 of the common symptoms that can help you recognize signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Remember, they should represent changed behaviors.

Memory loss, difficulty performing familiar tasks, problems with language, disorientation to time and place, poor or decreased judgment, problems with abstract thinking, misplacing things, changes in mood or behavior, changes in personality and loss of initiative.

Some of the above items may give you concern, such as memory loss. But this can also just be a sign of normal aging. The brain, like all the other parts of our body, can show signs of wear.

Remember when you could hop, skip and jump way up high and run like the wind? Care to try it today? Do you really believe you can match your best running time from when you ran high school track?

How can you tell the difference between signs of normal aging and those of Alzheimer’s disease? Here are some examples, as explained in the handouts from our Aging Well lecture.

Alzheimer’s: Forgetting whole experiences. Normal aging: Forgetting part of an experience.

Alzheimer’s: Rarely able to remember later. Normal aging: Often able to remember later. (Think of those pesky words that won’t show up when you need them, and then come back when you don’t.)

Alzheimer’s: Gradually unable to follow written/spoken directions. Normal aging: Usually able to follow written/spoken directions.

Alzheimer’s: Gradually unable to use notes as reminders. Normal aging: Usually able to use notes as reminders. (Assuming, unlike me, you remember to look at them.)

Alzheimer’s: Gradually unable to care for oneself. Normal aging: Usually able to care for oneself.

This is a brief summary of some of the information provided by the Seattle offices of the Alzheimer’s Association for our November Aging Well lecture. If any of the information I’ve covered here gives you concern about yourself or a loved one, you should speak to your family physician. There are tests they can give to a patient to evaluate his or her cognitive abilities. Early detection of Alzheimer’s can help in slowing the progression of the disease.

Questions can also be addressed to the Alzheimer’s Association by calling (206) 363-5500, or (800) 848-7097. Their website is also worth a visit at www.alzwa.org. Their Seattle address is 12721 30th Ave. NE #101, Seattle, WA 98125.

I hope this column has been useful to you and perhaps removed some nagging questions from your mind. Now you can stop worrying when you occasionally forget why you came into a room or what you planned to say. (If it’s occasional, it’s normal.)

Aging Well topics cover a wide range of subjects to help us live healthy, engaged and independent lives. Lectures are the third Wednesday of each month at 9 a.m. in the Kallgren Room of the Bainbridge Island Senior Community Center. The lectures are free and always informative. Come join us.

Marcia Rudoff

writes the monthly

Senior Outlook for the Bainbridge Island Senior Community Center.

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