10 warning signs Alzheimer’s awareness can ease struggle

Elaine Stumpo Enlarge photo

Elaine Stumpo

Most of us have at one time or another walked into a room and said, “Now what did I come in here for?” When was the last time you misplaced your cellphone or your car keys? While those of us without memory loss can retrace our steps most of the time and figure out where we were last, where we may have laid down our keys or that we left our phone in the car, people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can’t.

There are age-related changes happening to our bodies but Alzheimer’s is not one of them. How can you know the difference? First ask yourself, “Is this something new for me?” For someone who has always been bit scatterbrained, losing the second cellphone in a year may not be a new occurrence. If you’ve never been good at balancing your checkbook, struggling with that task is probably not one of the warning signs. But if you were a crackerjack accountant all your life and now find yourself frustrated about simple math, it may be time to see a doctor.

When we hear the word “Alzheimer’s” most of us think only of memory loss. That’s the most commonly known of the 10 warning signs. However, Alzheimer’s is more than simply forgetting where we put the keys or the name of that movie star we saw last week at the theater.

Some memory-related changes are common as we age, but that may just mean it takes us a little longer to recall a fact or figure. Those of us without Alzheimer’s can dig into the files locked away in our memory and eventually, sometimes at 2 a.m., that name or fact will pop to the surface. For someone with Alzheimer’s disease, that memory is no longer retrievable. The connections between brain cells have been permanently damaged by the disease

Memory-related changes because of Alzheimer’s impact daily life in a number of ways. The steps that those of us without Alzheimer’s follow automatically to make dinner, do the laundry, wash the dishes, manage the household accounts and bills, even provide child care, can simply become too complex. These are things we’ve done our whole lives. We grew up helping around the house, went out on our own into the world to do these same things for ourselves and now may have a family to care for. Alzheimer’s disease changes all that.

This month, the Alzheimer’s Association is launching a campaign to increase awareness for the 10 warning signs. Early detection of Alzheimer’s – the sixth leading cause of death – can make the difference in whether you are in control of decisions made about your life in the months and years to come. Medications are most effective early in the disease. Talking to friends, family and even your community while you still have command of language skills will help dispel myths about the disease and break down long held stigmas. You can also choose to advocate at state and federal levels of government to increase research funding, create quality standards of care and support those who provide care for a loved one at home. And based on your ability to match criteria in local studies, you can participate in clinical trials. Through clinical trials you may have access to not-yet-approved treatment medications but you can also feel a sense of accomplishment knowing you contributed to an increased understanding of the disease which may lead to answers for future generations at risk for Alzheimer’s.

Someone you know needs to know the 10 warning Signs. You can help us gain momentum for the campaign by liking us on Facebook, reposting the 10 warning signs and following us on Twitter. Later this month, as we detail each of the 10 warning signs in our new blog, we’re also going to hold a photo contest on Facebook. Each photo will illustrate one of the 10 warning signs as they were experienced by someone with the disease – a boss who first noticed the symptoms or a loved one who thought there were significant changes occurring long before a diagnosis.

Stay tuned and help us share the message that this Main Street disease will affect every one of us unless new treatments and eventually a cure are found.

For more information about the 10 warning signs or to talk with a trained counselor about your concerns 24/7, call (800) 272-3900. Our local office, which serves Archuleta, La Plata, Montezuma, San Juan, San Miguel, Dolores, Mineral, Hinsdale and Ouray counties, can be reached at 259-0122.

Elaine Stumpo is the regional Director of Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado. Reach her at 259-0122.

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Cliff Vancura/ Durango Herald