When a person is beginning to show signs of Alzheimer's, that person and their loved ones are usually in denial. They may make excuses for, or try to explain away, the symptoms.
Alzheimer's is, above all, an insidious disease. Its symptoms typically begin so mildly and progress so slowly that it's easy to deny them until one day there may be a 'defining incident;' an incident so bizarre, so far out, so outlandish that not even the spouse, child or other loved one can ignore it.
Years may pass between the person's earliest occasional confusion and the 'defining incident.' And during those years, the person may annoy or even anger loved ones by being late, forgetting things, being short tempered and confused, and a whole host of other troublesome behaviors. The following is a case in point.
Ed, my beloved Romanian life partner, had been showing signs of mild confusion for some time. At first it had been little things like forgetting his wallet when going to Kroger's and leaving his headlights on when parking at the mall.
Twice he'd gotten lost coming to my house. Both times he'd gone to nearby houses and asked to use the phone to call me to come get him. Thank God he remembered my phone number.
And twice he'd called me early in the morning to report he'd been up all night searching for something he'd lost. Once it was his passport; the other time, his safe deposit box key. He never did find either.
Then he started mixing up proper nouns, referring to 'Kroger's as 'Stover's and the 'Medical Arts Building' as 'the 5/3 Bank.' And he'd confuse the names of people and places. He'd started calling ABC's George Stephanopoulos 'George Popadopoulos.' Even though the two names were quite similar, he never would have made that mistake before.
After that, he began forgetting to turn off the coffee maker and stove. Little things we all do occasionally, but they were happening to him far more often than to the average person.
He routinely forgot the names of common objects Once he called his eyeglasses 'com-poo-ters' and referred to his hands as 'elbows.' He didn't recognize his favorite talk show hosts' names and then he even started forgetting where he'd put everyday items such as, unbelievably, his clothes.
Sometimes he spoke Romanian to me, and that although he knew I didn't understand a word of it. But I still didn't connect the dots. Even when he was found driving on the wrong side of the road one night, I just viewed it as a temporary and isolated area of dysfunction -- not a sign of early Alzheimer's. Little did I know that it was just a matter of time until he wouldn't even remember he owned a car.
Then one evening Ed called me in a panic because he couldn't find his scissors.
"Go look in your kitchen," I suggested. That's where he kept them.
"Kitchen? What's a kitchen? I don't have a kitchen."
A lightning bolt seemed to hit me. This can't be happening. He can't be this confused.
"You know, Ed. Where your stove is."
He didn't know 'stove' any more than he knew 'kitchen.'
"Your kitchen, Ed. Where your refrigerator is."
"Oh, you're right," he finally said. "How silly of me. I do have a kitchen." Then he added, but it only has clothes and shoes in it."
"No, Ed. That's your closet. I'm talking about your kitchen."
After a while I got off the phone, never able to help him find his kitchen, let alone the scissors he'd been looking for when he first called.
My hands were shaking, my vision blurred as I finally came face to face with the tragic truth. Ed was developing Alzheimer's.
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of the uplifting book, Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy. Her website (www.ComeBackEarlyToday.com) has a wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers.
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