WARNING SIGNS: ONE FRIDAY AFTERNOON
One Friday Afternoon
Mrs. Smith, 65 and physically quite fit, was conducting her usual Friday afternoon routine of grocery shopping for the upcoming weekend. She had woken up early, done her hair, and prepared breakfast for one. Her husband of 45 years had recently passed away, and Mrs. Smith coped with the loss by keeping herself busy. Routines were an important part of managing feelings of loss. She had even begun to sort through paperwork regarding her estate, I won’t live forever, she thought. She had wanted her children to be prepared for anything and understood that her daughter was physically drained as a single mother, a full time career woman, and a worried daughter of recently widowed mom. Poor thing never sleeps, every time I talk to her, she sounds like she had been crying. I will cook something special for her. Mrs. Smith thought.
Mrs. Smith’s daughter, Barb, had indeed felt overwhelmed. She was a recently divorced mother of four, a full time employee, and a caregiver for a disabled brother who resided at her home. To cope with exhaustion, she began drinking. What started as a glass of wine with dinner, escalated to a glass of wine at lunch and heavier liquors on weekends. Prior to her divorce, while her father was alive, Barb prided herself on having control over her life. She worked hard. She made money. Her children received good grades in school and excelled in multiple afterschool activities. As weeks turned into months, after long custody battles, feeling depressed, Barb felt out of control. There is too much going on at the same time. I feel my life slipping from me. Barb frequently thought at night when she couldn’t sleep.
Mrs. Smith had activities that brought her a peace of mind. She was quite active. Seeing her daughter and four grandchildren brought her the most joy. She felt safe knowing she was loved and visited. “Someone is always around,” Mrs. Smith told all her friends at the Senior Center she frequented on Wednesday afternoons for social events. But on this cold, December Friday afternoon, something felt different.
“The kids would be here early tomorrow. Frank has a swim meet so I better pack extra snacks. He is only nine, and already one of the top swimmers in the state.” Mrs. Smith whispered to herself as she unloaded the groceries from her shopping cart onto the register. The young cashier kept asking strange questions. Mrs. Smith found her to be quite rude and irritating. Why do they hire people who can’t speak proper English? I can’t understand a word this woman is saying. Mrs. Smith fumbled with her check book. The print appeared blurry. I need to see my optometrist soon, Mrs. Smith thought as she handed the cashier a credit card. Exiting the store, the shopping cart felt heavier than usual. Mrs. Smith searched for her vehicle. Where did I park? Where did Stan teach me to park? He always insisted on using the same spot. She thought of her husband.
The roads felt slippery that afternoon. There was no snow or rain or ice. They just felt slippery to Mrs. Smith. The steering wheel feels heavy and why do people keep honking their horns at me? Mrs. Smith tried not to pay attention to the crazy drivers on the road. But, the slippery pavement, and fuzzy streets signs frightened her. I can’t wait to get home, she thought.
Unloading groceries was a task she always enjoyed. She chuckled to herself thinking about how much Stan loved to help her stock the fridge. Mrs. Smith placed all the plastic bags on the kitchen counter and began sorting through her food. I think I’ll cook roast beef for tomorrow. Why did I purchase so many boxes of tea? Oh, that silly cashier girl also put two packages of baby formula in my bag? I’ll have to take them back in the morning. Mrs. Smith found herself becoming angry. I’m not a kid to be making needless trips. They should hire more responsible people. Mrs. Smith thought.
The phone in the kitchen rang louder than usual. Mrs. Smith picked up quickly. “Hello sweetie. You wouldn’t believe what happened to me today at the store.” Mrs. Smith said to her daughter on the other line. “Mom! I’m so glad you picked up, I was calling for hours,” her daughter yelled. Mrs. Smith was confused. She always shopped Friday afternoons and she could not have been gone for more than an hour. What time was it? She looked at the clock. “Mom it’s eight in the evening. We cannot come over tomorrow. We were just there two days ago. It’s Monday.” Her daughter replied. Her voice trembled. “Don’t be silly. I am preparing for Frank’s swim meet tomorrow.” There was silence on the other line, “Mother I am coming back to see you. I’ll just take a day off. Please don’t leave. Stan’s swim meet was two days ago. He won. Remember?” The unfamiliar, agitated voice on the other end of the phone replied.
Though fictional, case vignettes, like the one above are common. To someone in early stages of Alzheimer’s the world is experienced as a frightening, confusing place. To family members, especially in family crisis of their own, the disease can lead to anxiety, financial turmoil, and depression. Please review the list of early symptoms of Alzheimer’s below. It is important to keep in mind, that there are many resources for not only people stricken with Alzheimer’s but family members as well. Help and support is there. Feel free to email me for more information on options and resources.
Mood changes: Anger – Agitation – Hyper vigilance – Depressed Mood – Feelings of anxiety and helplessness.
Decreased judgment: Ex. “Mom just gave 2000 dollars to a telemarketer.”
Difficulty managing money.
Blurred vision and disorientation: Time distortion – Difficulty recognizing familiar locations.
Trouble speaking and comprehending language: Difficulty remembering words.
Simple, familiar tasks being experienced as difficult to complete.
Memory loss. Difficulty remember names, dates, and events. Frequently re-asking the same question.
Loss of problem solving ability: Ex. “What do I do with this bill?”
DISCIPLINES THAT HELP
Psychotherapists Specializing in Senior Issues
Geriatric Case Managers (Usually Registered Nurses or Social Workers)
Senior Advocates (Usually Social Workers or Registered Nurses)
Senior Centers and Senior Day Care Centers
Licensed Home Care Providers (Ask about ‘Respite Care’ for families)
Geriatricians (Medical Doctors)