Living Life When the Diagnosis is Alzheimer’s

At the Alzheimer’s Association we often hear from families that their first reaction after a diagnosis is one of relief, because now they finally know what they are dealing with. However, what follows shortly after is a profound sense of loss at what’s to come as the disease progresses.

What many people don’t understand is that while this disease steals so much of the person known and loved by friends and family, changes can happen relatively slowly. Speech, for instance, begins to deteriorate with a person initially having trouble finding nouns and eventually, they may be unable to put sentences together.  Following step-by-step instructions or a recipe may get increasingly difficult. Balance may be impacted so falling down and dropping and spilling things may occur more often. In addition, the ability to use good judgment to make decisions may begin to decrease. That doesn’t mean life can’t be enjoyed, or trips can’t be taken or new adventures can’t be planned. Simple adjustments may just need to be made to the way you’ve always done things.

While the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease are progressive, there is still a great deal of life to live after a diagnosis. What activities do you or a loved one continue to enjoy?
While the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are progressive, there is still a great deal of life to live after a diagnosis.

One man, who thoroughly enjoyed cooking in his beautifully-equipped kitchen, enlisted his wife’s help. They removed all the sharp knives, labeled drawers and moved things around so he could easily find what he needed. Then they simplified recipes and used the ones still most familiar to him so he could continue doing what he loved. Another couple who loved to dance was worried the wife’s balance problems would mean they had to stop. In fact, her dancing feet remembered all the right steps.  And yet another family switched to croquet instead of golf and now the grandchildren get out on the course with grandpa, giving them a wonderful new way to play and interact together.

Alzheimer’s is a fatal disease but it doesn’t have to bring life to a screeching halt. You can still do what you enjoy, maybe just a little differently. In fact slowing things down a bit and allowing additional time for an activity creates a more comfortable and enjoyable environment for someone with dementia . Figure out what kinds of activities are available in your area and adapt them when you can. If you enjoy visiting local museums, find out if there are hours when the crowds are smaller and whether there are docents who are trained for groups with special needs. The Denver Art Museum has a program specifically for those with dementia called Art and About that is coordinated with the Alzheimer’s Association.  Tours are offered each time a new exhibit comes to town. Walking trails designed for the sight impaired offer a unique way to follow guided walkways when balance and direction are issues for a friend or family member with dementia. If you’ve always loved to camp, try an RV instead of a tent.  A pop up camper or RV makes things easier on the care partner. More time can be spent enjoying the out of doors than on the set up, cooking and cleaning up involved with tent camping. If gardening is a special hobby, create a special bin for equipment and help mom find it each time she wants to putter with her roses. And try large-print playing cards to keep dad winning at the Bridge table. Keeping your friend or loved one busy, active, engaged and socializing may mean the disease progresses just a little bit slower. Regardless of the activity or the hobby, the real benefit is that by looking for ways to keep someone you love doing what they love, you have been given the gift of time with them to treasure.

To learn about the 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s or for ways to keep a loved one active and content go to or call 800.272.3900

What activities do you or a loved one continue to enjoy?
What activities do you or a loved one continue to enjoy?

Know the 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s

The last two of the 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s include withdrawal from work or social activities and changes in mood and personality. These two signs go hand in hand. As the person with Alzheimer’s is increasing unable to hold a conversation, follow a favorite sports team or participate in a much loved hobby, it may be hard to determine if signs of depression and mood swings are a result of the isolation or the disease.

For someone who is an avid baseball fan, this sign might be visible with confusion about the rules or trouble remembering who the star pitcher is. Involvement in hobbies might become harder and eventually impossible to continue enjoying. Missed meetings at work or an inability to stay on task, on budget and meet deadlines might be new occurrences for someone used to receiving accolades for performance.  Withdrawal from these activities may be a sign that continuing to be social, deal with the stress of a job or follow the steps required for a hobby are just too difficult.

In addition to the sign of withdrawing from work and social activities, changes to mood and personality are important to watch for. We all sometimes feel sad, anxious or depressed; however, someone with Alzheimer’s will have a more dramatic and sometimes an unexpected  reaction to what’s going on around them. Loud noises, large crowds, and unfamiliar surroundings can trigger anxiety, fear, anger and also increase the risk for wandering in order to get away from noise and people. In addition to mood and personality changes, Alzheimer’s also leads to confusion, suspicion, as well as being fearful and anxious. Family and friends report seeing significant changes in someone who was always cheerful and happy. The change can be very dramatic and unexpected with the person becoming angry and even aggressive. Sometimes that aggression is directed toward someone else. The opposite can also be true of a parent, aunt or uncle who has been characterized as grumpy or even mean all of their life, and now as Alzheimer’s progresses they appear docile, sweet and uncharacteristically loving.

The key to recognizing many of the 10 Warning Signs is the change seen by family and friends, however, if you have concerns about experiencing these signs yourself, your best first step is to see your doctor. Putting the whole picture together can be a challenge even for a healthcare professional and will require a series of tests and exams. While doctors can now be 90% accurate with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, your own recognition of new trouble you’re having as well as what friends and family are telling you can help complete the puzzle and give you a chance to seek treatment and plan for your own future.

Please visit our Web site to learn more about the disease, the programs we offer you and your family, links to ongoing research and clinical trials that you might find interesting, and our Helpline to call or email for additional information. You are not alone.


Linda Mitchell,
Alzheimer’s Association
President and CEO

Decreased or Poor Judgment

One of the 10 Warning Signs of great concern to adult children of those with Alzheimer’s is the decrease in judgment apparent as the disease progresses.

This warning sign is more obvious if someone has always been really frugal and especially careful with their finances. Watch for sudden increases in spending or giving large sums of money away to perfect strangers who call or happen by the house. The key is whether this is unusual behavior and if so the risks should be discussed, not only related to financial issues but the personal risk of inviting a stranger into the house could be of concern as well.

Poor judgment isn’t limited to financial issues however. Decision making in general is affected and may include things like not wearing weather appropriate clothing, the inability to determine when it’s safe to cross a busy street, going for a walk alone or even being unable to choose from a large menu.

While sometimes all of us feel as if we’ve made a bad choice or misplaced trust in someone we shouldn’t, a person experiencing the eighth of the 10 Warning Signs will be unable to make decisions at all and the pattern of using poor judgment will only increase.

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.

Linda Bloom,  MS, MBA has worked as Regional Director for the Southern Colorado office of the Alzheimer’s Association for the past two years serving 18 counties in the southeastern part of the state.

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.

Difficulty Completing Familiar Tasks & Confusion with Time and Place

Many of us have a one time or another had trouble setting the Tivo, the timing on the microwave or figuring out which remote turns on the television. For someone with Alzheimer’s, difficulty completing familiar tasks is one of the 10 Warning Signs.

When someone is struggling with day to day activities like driving to the grocery store just down the street, completing routine activities at work or following the rules of a much loved card or board game it’s important to not only take notice but begin to look more closely at what else has become difficult.

Another indication someone may be struggling with Alzheimer’s is whether they lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately so making plans for the next day, week or month becomes confusing. Knowing in winter that wearing a coat, hat and boots is the best way to stay warm or that a heavy coat worn for a walk in mid July might be unbearable no longer makes sense.Many of us reminisce about the passage of time.  We often comment about how much kids have grown or joke about grey hair that has appeared on the heads of friends and classmates. Someone with Alzheimer’s can be frozen in time with past memories and may even mistake a grown child for a sibling or a grandchild who has grown up to resemble a deceased brother. There are typical changes to our memory as we age so putting the whole picture together is important and learning the symptoms of dementia can help a person understand the differences.

If you are seeing more than one change in yourself or someone you know, talk with them about the 10 Warning Signs and what they might be experiencing themselves. The Alzheimer’s Association can help. Call 800-272.3900.

Emmalie Conner is the Northern Colorado Regional Director of the Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter.  The office in Fort Collins serves Larimer, Jackson, Routt and Grand Counties.  Emmalie has lived in Fort Collins for 39 years and has worked for the Alzheimer’s Association for 9 years. She holds a Masters Degree in speech pathology.

Warning Sign of Alzheimer’s: Challenges in Planning and Solving Problems

The 10 warning signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s are a good tool for determining when you should be concerned about changes you are seeing in yourself of someone you love. Every individual may experience one or more of these signs in different degrees and often in a different order. For some the first signs may be memory changes, while for others it could be the challenges of planning and solving problems.

Every day we are faced with tasks that require us to makes sense out of our world. Some tasks appear pretty simple like making macaroni and cheese for dinner. For someone with Alzheimer’s that kind of planning is too complex. Think about how you might plan to make this simple meal. Get out the noodles, fill a pan with water, turn on the stove, wait for the water to boil, add the noodles, drain the noodles after finding a strainer, finding milk, cheese and butter to add in the right measurement and stirring it all together. For someone who is experiencing Alzheimer’s disease leaving out one of those steps would not be unusual but it would make for an odd dish if the step forgotten was to add the noodles. Other ways the second warning sign is exhibited might be forgetting how to dial the phone, missing appointments, inability to pack a suitcase with the right clothes for the place you are visiting or forgetting to pay the bills when you’ve always been a stickler for getting things done on time.

Not only will someone with this warning sign experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers, they may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.

Making occasional errors when balancing your bank account is a typical age-related change in our ability, but if you increasingly confused about doing simple math or doing things around your home or at work that used to be easy for you, it may be time to see your doctor. To learn about the other 10 warning Signs click here. You can also call or email our 24/7 helpline 800.272.3900.

Elaine Stumpo is the Regional Director for the Alzheimer’s Association in Durango, Colorado. She has been with Association for 13 years and serves the nine counties of Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, San Juan, San Miguel, Mineral, Ouray and Hinsdale.