Question: I have two octogenarian friends who always have had a positive outlook on life. I’ve enjoyed their company.  Recently, they seem emotionally fragile.  They misinterpret my conversations, resist help from me, forget the time I would pick them up for an event and have become argumentative over trivialities – often claiming no one is listening.  Are these signs of early Alzheimer’s disease or just part of normal aging?   Please help me understand so I can continue my friendships with them. 

Answer: It is wonderful you care enough to figure out how to maintain your friendships given your friends’ recent behaviors.  The cause is difficult to determine.  They may be suffering from hearing loss, side effects from medication, depression, inadequate nutrition, lack of focus because of stress and more.

What might be useful is to distinguish behaviors of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) form normal aging as published by the Alzheimer’s Association.  Here are 10 warning signs.

Memory Loss: This is one of the most common signs of early onset of AD.   Typically, one forgets recently learned information, forgets more frequently and cannot recall the information at a later time.

Normal aging: Occasionally forgetting names or appointments.

Difficulty performing tasks which are familiar: Individuals often forget the steps needed to accomplish simple tasks such as washing one’s hands, placing a telephone call or steps to prepare a meal.

Normal aging:  Occasionally forgetting why you walked into a room, what you were looking for in the refrigerator and what you were going to say.

Language problems:
Sometimes the speech of AD victims is difficult to understand.  They may forget simple words or substitute unusual words.   When looking for their toothbrush, they might say, “Where’s that thing I use to clean my teeth?”

Normal aging:  Having difficulty, on occasion, finding the right word.

Not knowing where you are and what time it is: AD victims can get lost in their own neighborhood.  They may forget how they got there and not know how to return.

Normal aging:  Forgetting the day of the week or where you were going.

Poor judgment: AD victims may lack good judgment about money, giving lots of it away.  They may also exercise bad judgment in dressing.  On a warm day they may wear layers of wool; on a cold day they may wear shorts and sandals.

Normal aging: Making an occasional bad decision.

Difficulty with abstract thinking:
Someone with the disease has great difficulty with complex mental tasks.  The person may forget what numbers are, how they can be used or forget how to count change.

Normal aging:  Being able to balance a checkbook, that is,  if you could do it in prior years.

Misplacing things:
A person with AD may put things in odd places.  For example, the individual may place a wristwatch in the refrigerator or a dishtowel in the piano bench.

Normal aging:   Temporarily misplacing one’s keys, wallet or eyeglasses.

Mood and behavior changes: A person with AD may show abrupt and rapid mood swings from being calm to crying and the rage for no apparent reason.

Normal aging:   Occasionally feeling down, moody or sad.

Personality changes:
Those with dementia often have dramatic changes in their personality.  They may be confused, suspicious and fearful, and suddenly become extremely dependent on a family member.

Normal aging:   Some peoples’ personalities change slightly with age and often with good reason because of health or external events.

Losing initiative: The individual may become passive, sleeping a lot, watching endless hours of television and not wanting to do anything.

Normal aging:  Feeling weary and tired of obligations from work, family and community.

Now, let’s talk about your relationship with your friends.   Assume they are not suffering from dementia and speak with them as you would normally.  Consider talking about the change you have noticed in your relationship. Ask if you have done anything to upset them.   If the conversation does not seem satisfactory, ask them how they are feeling.

Based on their answers, suggest they might consider getting a geriatric assessment from a professional specializing in older adults.  That professional might be their family doctor, a geriatrician, social worker or psychologist.   With an evaluation, the cause of the behavioral change can likely be determined and often treated.

Best wishes in continuing your friendship and helping your friends live the best life possible.  You are not only a friend to them but a valuable resource.

© Helen Dennis 2010, all rights reserved.

 

Question: I have two octogenarian friends who always have had a positive outlook on life. I’ve enjoyed their company.  Recently, they seem emotionally fragile.  They misinterpret my conversations, resist help from me, forget the time I would pick them up for an event and have become argumentative over trivialities – often claiming no one is listening.  Are these signs of early Alzheimer’s disease or just part of normal aging?   Please help me understand so I can continue my friendships with them. 

Answer: It is wonderful you care enough to figure out how to maintain your friendships given your friends’ recent behaviors.  The cause is difficult to determine.  They may be suffering from hearing loss, side effects from medication, depression, inadequate nutrition, lack of focus because of stress and more.

What might be useful is to distinguish behaviors of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) form normal aging as published by the Alzheimer’s Association.  Here are 10 warning signs.

Memory Loss: This is one of the most common signs of early onset of AD.   Typically, one forgets recently learned information, forgets more frequently and cannot recall the information at a later time.

Normal aging: Occasionally forgetting names or appointments.

Difficulty performing tasks which are familiar: Individuals often forget the steps needed to accomplish simple tasks such as washing one’s hands, placing a telephone call or steps to prepare a meal.

Normal aging:  Occasionally forgetting why you walked into a room, what you were looking for in the refrigerator and what you were going to say.

Language problems:
Sometimes the speech of AD victims is difficult to understand.  They may forget simple words or substitute unusual words.   When looking for their toothbrush, they might say, “Where’s that thing I use to clean my teeth?”

Normal aging:  Having difficulty, on occasion, finding the right word.

Not knowing where you are and what time it is: AD victims can get lost in their own neighborhood.  They may forget how they got there and not know how to return.

Normal aging:  Forgetting the day of the week or where you were going.

Poor judgment: AD victims may lack good judgment about money, giving lots of it away.  They may also exercise bad judgment in dressing.  On a warm day they may wear layers of wool; on a cold day they may wear shorts and sandals.

Normal aging: Making an occasional bad decision.

Difficulty with abstract thinking:
Someone with the disease has great difficulty with complex mental tasks.  The person may forget what numbers are, how they can be used or forget how to count change.

Normal aging:  Being able to balance a checkbook, that is,  if you could do it in prior years.

Misplacing things:
A person with AD may put things in odd places.  For example, the individual may place a wristwatch in the refrigerator or a dishtowel in the piano bench.

Normal aging:   Temporarily misplacing one’s keys, wallet or eyeglasses.

Mood and behavior changes: A person with AD may show abrupt and rapid mood swings from being calm to crying and the rage for no apparent reason.

Normal aging:   Occasionally feeling down, moody or sad.

Personality changes:
Those with dementia often have dramatic changes in their personality.  They may be confused, suspicious and fearful, and suddenly become extremely dependent on a family member.

Normal aging:   Some peoples’ personalities change slightly with age and often with good reason because of health or external events.

Losing initiative: The individual may become passive, sleeping a lot, watching endless hours of television and not wanting to do anything.

Normal aging:  Feeling weary and tired of obligations from work, family and community.

Now, let’s talk about your relationship with your friends.   Assume they are not suffering from dementia and speak with them as you would normally.  Consider talking about the change you have noticed in your relationship. Ask if you have done anything to upset them.   If the conversation does not seem satisfactory, ask them how they are feeling.

Based on their answers, suggest they might consider getting a geriatric assessment from a professional specializing in older adults.  That professional might be their family doctor, a geriatrician, social worker or psychologist.   With an evaluation, the cause of the behavioral change can likely be determined and often treated.

Best wishes in continuing your friendship and helping your friends live the best life possible.  You are not only a friend to them but a valuable resource.

© Helen Dennis 2010, all rights reserved.