IT PAYS TO KNOW: Losing Your Mind???

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By JUDD MATSUNAGA

Today, an estimated 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Someone develops it every 68 seconds. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. (Source: Alzheimer’s Association, March 7, 2012)

Some famous people who have had Alzheimer’s include: Winston Churchill, British prime minister; Ronald Reagan, 40th American president; Charlton Heston, Oscar-winning actor; Rita Hayworth, American actress; Sugar Ray Robinson, boxing champion; Charles Bronson,  American actor; and recently, Glen Campbell, country music singer.

With early detection, you can get the maximum benefit from available treatments. You can also explore treatments that may provide some relief of symptoms and help you maintain a level of independence longer. Furthermore, your chances of participating in clinical drug trials that help advance research are increased.

The problem is that the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult to recognize, especially in older people. Why? Because healthy adults do forget things, i.e., there is typical change that is age-related. We all have these memory loss problems from time to time. My parents call them “senior moments.”

Quite often, people with Alzheimer’s disease look physically fine. Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder; there’s no real manifestation that’s physical. Patients who have quite advanced Alzheimer’s disease can still play golf. But you’ve got to help them find their ball because they will forget where they hit it.

Also, other medical conditions can mimic the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. There are nearly 60 different conditions that could end up producing the same set of problems with memory, with orientation, with planning and accomplishing a task, e.g., depression, vitamin deficiencies, strokes, or a wealth of other problems that could cause the same symptoms.

So the question is, “How do you tell the difference between early stages of Alzheimer’s disease from typical age-related memory loss?” The Alzheimer’s Association has published the following “10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s”:

1. Memory Loss That Disrupts Daily Life

One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s is memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; increasingly needing to rely on memory aids (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own.

What’s a typical age-related change?

Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.

2. Challenges in Planning or Solving Problems

Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.

What’s a typical age-related change?

Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.

3. Difficulty Completing Familiar Tasks at Home, at Work or at Leisure

People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game.

What’s a typical age-related change?

Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show.

4. Confusion with Time or Place

People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.

What’s a typical age-related change?

Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.

5. Trouble Understanding Visual Images and Spatial Relationships

For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast, which may cause problems with driving.

What’s a typical age-related change?

Vision changes related to cataracts.

6. New Problems with Words in Speaking or Writing

People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a “watch” a “hand-clock”).

What’s a typical age-related change?

Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.

7. Misplacing Things and Losing the Ability to Retrace Steps

A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time.

What’s a typical age-related change?

Misplacing things from time to time and retracing steps to find them.

8. Decreased or Poor Judgment

People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.

What’s a typical age-related change?

Making a bad decision once in a while.

9. Withdrawal from Work or Social Activities

People with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced.

What’s a typical age-related change?

Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations.

10. Changes in Mood and Personality

The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone.

What’s a typical age-related change?

Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.

If you notice any of the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s in yourself or someone you know, don’t ignore them. Schedule an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor will evaluate your overall health and identify any conditions that could affect how well your mind is working. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist such as a neurologist, psychiatrist or geriatrician.

Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in Estate/Medi-Cal Planning, Probate, Personal Injury and Real Estate Law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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