Worries about Alzheimer’s require honest conversation

Q: I have noticed lately that the crystal clear memory that sparkled so many years in my wife’s aura of talents is starting to fade a bit. She forgets where she puts her glasses, she missed at least two appointments with our family doctor and she can never remember when the grandchildren are scheduled for visits.

I am concerned, as is our oldest daughter, who was visiting with her family last week. My problem is that I do not know how to deal with this thing.

I don’t want to say or do something that will discourage my wife but I am not sure that we can keep going as we are now. What do you suggest?

A: My guess is that you need to spend a little more time talking to your wife rather than about her. Talking to your oldest daughter is not helpful for your wife. Talking directly to your wife might be.

Don’t let the culture of fear that seems to pervade the dynamic of Alzheimer’s disease scare you away from an honest conversation with her.

While it is true that one of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease is the loss of memory, it is not necessarily true that a loss of memory means that a person has Alzheimer’s disease. Elderly people forget for any number of reasons. Sometimes they forget because they are trying to remember too much. The don’t need to recall all 16 phone numbers of their grandchildren, but they might try, and they might also fail in the process. Sometimes elderly people forget because their whole neurological system is slowing down.

Strange, isn’t it? We don’t expect elderly men and women to run and jog with the same dexterity they had 30 or 40 years ago but we still expect them to problem solve with the same speed they needed when they were in the process of raising their children. They have slowed down neurologically.

The point is that you and your wife are not going to resolve her problem with memory unless you, first, talk about it, and, secondly, do something about it.

You and your wife can open this thing by making an appointment with your family physician. Your doctor can check out your wife and if she has concerns about Alzheimer’s disease she can refer her to a specialist for consultation (neurologist, geriatric psychiatrist or geriatrist). They cannot “fix” Alzheimer’s disease but they can recommend medication and other treatments that may slow it down.

If your family doctor is not concerned about Alzheimer’s she can still recommend various treatment programs that will help your wife retain her memory skills. One of the most common is called Look- Snap-Connect.

If you want to remember something, look at it with all of your senses — visual, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Snap a picture of it with the little camera buried in your brain. Connect everything in your head by making up a short story. For example, to recall the words carrot, TV and stone, make up a story with a picture in your head such as, “the orange carrot looked pink on the TV show after a stone hit it.” Isn’t that absurd and fun?

The truth of the matter is that you and your wife can have some fun, irrespective of whether or not your wife has Alzheimer’s disease, helping both of you retain your memory skills by doing look-snap-connect with each other regularly.

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