2008-11-12 / Seniors

Senior Moments: When To Worry And What To Do

Dear Savvy Senior,

My overly dramatic mother is convinced my 72-year-old dad has early stage Alzheimer's disease. He has gotten more scattered and forgetful in recent years and is a little more irritable, but I don't think it's anything serious. My question is: what are the signs of Alzheimer's and what resources are available to help me learn more?

Prudent Daughter

Dear Prudent:

Lots of seniors, like your mother, worry about memory lapses or confusion as they get older, fearing it may be the first signs of Alzheimer's disease or some other type of dementia. But the reality is few seniors (less than 14 percent of those over age 70) ever develop Alzheimer's. Here are some warning signs that can help you spot a potential problem, and some resources that can help if you do.

What's Not Normal?

Everyone experiences forgetfulness, confusion and irritability from time to time, but it doesn't necessarily mean we're developing Alzheimer's disease. Or does it? Knowing the early warning signs is a good first step in recognizing the difference between normal age-related memory loss and a more serious problem. To help you evaluate your dad's condition, here's a checklist of questions to ask yourself:

• Does he often repeat himself or ask the same questions over and over?

• Is he more forgetful, or is he having trouble with short-term memory?

• Does he need reminders to do things like chores, shopping or taking medicine?

• Does he forget appointments, family occasions or holidays?

• Does he seem sad or down in the dumps more often than in the past?

• Has he started having trouble doing calculations, managing finances or balancing the checkbook?

• Has he lost interest in hobbies, reading, attending church or other social activities?

• Has he become more irritable, agitated or suspicious than usual?

• Are you concerned about his driving, for example, getting lost or driving unsafely?

• Does he have trouble finding the words he wants to say, finishing sentences or naming people or things?

Even if your dad is experiencing some problems, it doesn't necessarily mean he has Alzheimer's. Many memory problems and mood changes are brought on by other factors like stress, depression, side effects of medications, vitamin deficiencies and more. And by treating these conditions he can reduce or eliminate the problem.

What to Do

After going through the checklist, if you're still concerned about your dad's mental health, get him in to see his doctor for a thorough medical examination. The doctor may then refer him to a neurologist, psychiatrist, psychologist or geriatrician who specializes in diagnosing and treating memory loss or Alzheimer's disease.

Finding Help

The single best resource to help you learn more and find help is the Alzheimer's Association. They offer lots of news and information on their Web site (www.alz.org), along with a 24-hour help line (800-272-3900) that provides assistance and referrals to local resources that can help you locate medical professionals, caregiving resources, support groups and more.

Another great resource to tap is the Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center. Created by the National Institute on Aging, at www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers or 800-438- 4380. There you can ask specific questions about Alzheimer's disease, locate clinical trials and order free publications, including "What Happens Next?", a new booklet by and for people with early-stage Alzheimer's.

You also need to know about National Memory Screening Day sponsored by the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, coming up on November 18. This could be a good time to have your dad tested and it's free. To locate a screening site near you (there are around 2,000 nationwide), visit www.nationalmemoryscreening.org or call 866-232-8484.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to "The NBC Today Show" and author of The Savvy Senior books.

The Gazette does not endorse the contents of The Savvy Senior. Check with professionals about the contents of this column.

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