Dad is Acting Really Strange

Q. My father has been acting rather strange, lately, and something is definitely not right. It’s not just that he is forgetting things. His memory seems intact, for the most part, although there have been a couple instances of concern. It’s the unusual behaviors that he is exhibiting that worry me and my mom the most.

For instance, the other day, we got a call from the security room at CVS. Dad stole six packs of gum, sticking them in his pockets. He used to be in law enforcement, and it is completely unlike him to do anything dishonest or unlawful, so we were shocked, to say the least. Another time, he forgot what a key was for and couldn’t figure out how to get into the house. He was pounding at the door, although he had his keys in his pocket the whole time. In addition, my mom says that he has been eating a lot more than normal, but he doesn’t seem to be gaining weight. He downed a meal yesterday that was supposed to be for the entire family.

I can’t imagine what could be going on with dad. He has a family history of Alzheimer’s. Could these odd behaviors have anything to do with it? I thought Alzheimer’s was just about forgetting things. Could it be the beginning of Alzheimer’s, or could it be something else? Thanks for any guidance you can provide.

A. We all have those scares when we lose our keys or forget names/dates and think it may be something more.  In fact, alongside cancer, Alzheimer’s is the most feared disease in the USA.

While there currently is no cure for Alzheimer’s, it is still important to know some of the early signs of Alzheimer’s, because some of them may not be what you think.

Of course, the most common sign of Alzheimer’s is memory loss that disrupts daily life. And, it can take many forms. Some people experience confusion with time or place, difficulty planning, challenges with words, and/or poor judgment, among many other cognitive symptoms. But there are other less-obvious early signs that could tip you off that something’s up before Alzheimer’s progresses that far.

These are some of the surprising symptoms that may warn of the   Alzheimer’s—and they don’t all involve memory problems:

·         Stealing or other law-breaking activity: People’s executive function—their ability to make decisions—can be affected by Alzheimer’s, which may explain why they become unable to discern right from wrong.

·         Frequent falling: A study of 125 older adults asked subjects to keep track of how often, over an eight-month time period, they fell or tripped. When researchers looked at the brain scans of those who fell most frequently, they saw a correlation between falls and the early onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. If you or someone you love is falling frequently, tell your doctor. It may be an indicator of a cognitive problem.

·         Forgetting the function of objects: Can’t remember where you put your keys or cell phone? This happens to many of us, and it’s usually not a problem. Buy, if you can’t remember what a cellphone is for, or where food you are cooking is supposed to go, then you might be facing the first signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia.

·         Sudden speech impairment: Speech is another part of the brain that is commonly affected even in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.  Signs of speech impairment include having difficulty finding words, rambling, or use of convoluted language and long-winded explanations in order to explain things because he/she cannot find the “right words.”.   Your loved one may also use substitute words which are either related (“tile game” instead of “Scrabble”) or words that sound similar (“bright” instead of “write”).

·         Unfocused staring: With Alzheimer’s, your brain becomes unfocused. Staring in a detached way may be an early sign of so-called “tangles” in your brain.

·         Forgetting how to do basic tasks, such as using the TV remote: Someone with early Alzheimer’s may have forgotten how to perform basic tasks such as dressing themselves or using electronic devices. Most often, this develops gradually, but in some cases this can be quite abrupt.  It may be first evident in illegible handwriting, difficulty buttoning or fastening of clothing, or having difficulties with a TV remote.  

·         Eating inappropriate things or too much food: Some people actually eat inanimate objects or inedible items, such as paper, prior to their diagnosis, though researchers don’t know why. But since Alzheimer’s and dementia affect the brain’s memory, it may be because their brain receives hunger signals, but can’t discern how to react to them. Before the onset of Alzheimer’s, patients also tend to eat more—about 500 calories more per day—than their aging counterparts. And still, they tend to lose weight. Researchers feel that the change is likely metabolic.

·         Inability to recognize sarcasm: If you fail to recognize sarcasm, or take it very literally and seriously, it may be a sign of atrophy in your brain. (We all miss it from time to time, of course, but if you consistently “don’t get it,” it could be a problem.) With Alzheimer’s, the brain’s posterior hippocampus is affected, which is where short-term memory is stored, and where one would sort out such things as sarcasm.

·         Depression: If someone has never suffered from clinical depression in the course of their lives but develops it later in life (after age 50), it could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s. This doesn’t necessarily mean if you’re diagnosed with depression in older age, that you will develop Alzheimer’s or other cognitive decline, but it does raise the possibility that you might. One study showed that people who suffered from depression after age 50 were three times more likely to develop an Alzheimer’s-related disease.

These symptoms may signal Alzheimer’s Disease, but they may be the signs of other underlying conditions. Alzheimer’s is a debilitating disease that has significant mental and physical effects.  By properly diagnosing it, caregivers and Alzheimer’s patients are in a better position to be cared for in an appropriate manner.  And for those who don’t have it, diagnosis can ease lurking fears in the hearts of individuals and families alike.  

A trained neurologist can usually diagnose Alzheimer’s or other dementias. See your doctor if you have concerning signs so that you can begin treatment. It may turn out that these symptoms are a sign of something else. But sharing them with a physician is the best thing you can do. 

If You Suspect Your Loved One Could Have Alzheimer’s  

Doctors can accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s or symptoms of one of the other forms of dementia in 90% of cases. If your father appears to be losing mental abilities to a degree that interferes with daily activities and social interactions, you should probably consult a doctor right away.

As you can imagine, persons with Alzheimer’s disease and their families face special legal and financial needs. Controlling the high costs of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, and navigating the emotionally and physically demanding requirements of caregiving, require the assistance of a highly skilled and specialized expert in the field of Alzheimer’s Planning.

At The Farr Law Firm, we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones.  We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. Please call us as soon as possible to make an appointment for a consultation:

Fairfax Alzheimer’s Planning: 703-691-1888

Fredericksburg Alzheimer’s Planning: 540-479-1435

Rockville Alzheimer’s Planning: 301-519-8041

DC Alzheimer’s Planning: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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