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The Practical Caregiver:
Is It Alzheimer's?

Most people become a little more forgetful as they grow older and find it more difficult to recall facts and faces. But with statistics showing that half the people over age 85 will develop Alzheimer's disease, it's only natural that caregivers worry about their loved one, especially if they seem more forgetful than usual.

There is a distinct difference between memory loss that occurs naturally as we grow older and the changes in reasoning displayed by someone with Alzheimer's. For instance, it's normal to occasionally forget the PIN number on your ATM card or where you parked your car. Forgetting what an ATM card does or what kind of car you own is not. It's normal to miscount your pocket change when paying your bill at the grocery store, but trying to purchase a cartful of groceries with a one dollar bill is not.

Crossing the Line

The dilemma for caregivers is that there is no clear-cut line between normal memory changes and the very first warning signs of Alzheimer's disease. There are some behaviors that, when taken together, might cause concern. You might become worried if your loved one exhibits a combination of these symptoms:

The importance of these symptoms is underscored if they are accompanied by other changes, such as weight loss, loss of appetite, gait instability, and loss of bladder control.

Taking Action

If you're worried that your loved one may be developing Alzheimer's disease, don't be alarmed. Memory problems can be caused by depression and anxiety, medications, and thyroid irregularities as well as Alzheimer's. At the same time, don't hesitate to call and make an appointment with your loved one's physician. Be prepared to answer the questions your doctor is likely to ask:

The tests that physicians now use to assess the presence of Alzheimer's are much more extensive and accurate than they were in the past—so ask your doctor for a comprehensive neuropsychological test, rather than a brief screening. Even if your loved one has Alzheimer's, a comprehensive exam will give you the insight you need to make the adjustments that will improve their quality of life now and to make plans for a future that gives your loved one the support they need.

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