Two of the Most Recognizable Changes in a Person with Dementia

By Teresa Black

As Alzheimer’s progresses two of the most recognizable changes occurring are 1) new problems with words in speaking and writing and, 2) misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.

The first of these two signs exhibits itself as problems with speech which includes talking as well as understanding what’s being said. Initially it may be simply having trouble finding words, especially nouns that identify common objects. For instance friends and family may notice a loved one is unable to ask for more coffee. Instead they point and ask for another cup of “that stuff” (coffee).

Problems with words can also be seen with someone who starts to withdraw from conversations or during social outings. The person with dementia begins to struggle with understanding what is being said. It becomes too hard to follow whatever it is the group is discussing. When asked a question, putting an answer together with words in a way that makes sense is simply too difficult. This might be why a loved one repeats the same questions over and over. They just don’t understand what’s being asked and can’t formulate an answer. As a result, the person gradually goes from being a participant to spectator. The change can be so gradual that it is often missed by the casual observer.

Reading and writing can also be a challenge. Reading the same line over and over again without comprehension, taking all morning to read one story in the newspaper or being unable to finish a novel are all indications of new problems. Leaving sticky note reminders may work for some period of time for the person with the disease but eventually it becomes clear they can no longer read what’s been posted. Additionally handwriting may change and eventually be illegible. It can be startling when even a signature becomes unrecognizable.

Another of the 10 Warning Signs is the inability to retrace your steps when you’ve misplaced something. Many of us walk into a room and say to ourselves “now what did I come in here for?” After a minute or two we’ll remember the reason. Or we’ve put our car keys down and can’t remember where. The difference between us and someone with Alzheimer’s is that ability to think through where we’ve been and what we’ve done allowing us to locate those misplaced keys.

While there are typical changes that occur as we age, knowing the 10 Warning Signs can help rule out what is typical and what isn’t. If you are worried about more than one change in yourself or someone you know, see your doctor. The Alzheimer’s Association can help. Call 800-272.3900.

Teresa Black has served as the Western Colorado Regional Director for the Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter since 2009. The office is in Grand Junction, and supports individuals and families throughout a nine-county area serving Mesa, Montrose, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Delta, Garfield, Gunnison, Pitkin and Lake counties. Teresa holds a Bachelor’s degree from Colorado Christian University and a Master’s from Colorado Mesa University.

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