Could it be Alzheimer's? What to do when you suspect the worst



Do you remember how funny many of us thought it was when scenes in Mother and Son showed such things as the tea pot turning up in the fridge and the milk in the oven?  It isn’t so funny when you find the same things happening in your Mother’s kitchen. Could it possibly be the signs of Alzheimer’s? Possibly not – haven’t you found your keys in very funny spots? OK, we reassure ourselves that we only put them there because that was the first place we went to when we came home.

However, for me it was an indicator of the future. The first thing I did was to find out a bit about this alarming situation. What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting up to 70% of all people with dementia. Read that bit again – it is not 70% of people but 70% of people with dementia. It was first recorded in 1907 by Dr Alois Alzheimer. For the next 60 years it was considered a rare condition that afflicted people under the age of 65. It was not until the 1970s that Dr Robert Katzman declared (rather boldly at the time) that senile dementia and Alzheimer’s disease were the same condition and that neither were a normal part of ageing.

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In the early stages the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can be very subtle. However, it often begins with lapses in memory and difficulty in finding the right words for everyday objects. The rate of progression of the disease varies from person to person.

What could you do if you think your Mum or Dad has Alzheimer’s? I do not profess to be an expert but let me make suggestions based on my experience. I would suggest you watch the situation for a little while and don’t jump to conclusions at the first sign of something that looks suspiciously like the challenge of Alzheimer’s. You have to gently persuade the person you are concerned about that it may be best to have a check-up. Put yourself in their position and consider how you would feel if your son or daughter started taking over your life without your permission. Getting that check-up may not be necessary if the person you are concerned about has begun to forget to take medication or to take too much medication because it may lead to short term hospitalisation! Ask their GP what they think and then ask for a referral to a specialist. It is probably time to also consider an ACAT assessment.

The most important things to do will be to ensure that the person you are concerned about is safe, comfortable and content. Here are some things you could do to make their life easier. Prepare an A4 sheet with the photographs and names of people who are likely to call, laminate it and have it near the phone. If you know how to do tables on your computer it is a very easy format to use to create this list. Don’t worry if you can’t use tables; just put it on your list of things to consider doing.

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Create a Memory Book

When you create a memory book make the book tell a story. The book can be created using either portrait or landscape as the page setup. Make several as they will also be useful for anyone who comes to provide care because it will help them carry on a meaningful conversation.

Select the theme of your Memory Book. It might be a family birthday party. Select appropriate photographs and put them on one side of your page and then on the opposite side write something about the photo. If you don’t have family photographs on your computer you can use prints – you may have to cut them to fit the space available. Put it on you wish list to learn how to use a digital camera and them you will be able to use your own photographs.

Make your book about 10 pages long. It will last better if you laminate the pages.

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Prepare a collage of photos

I also found it of great comfort to prepare a very large collage of family photographs and mount them in a frame and have it on the wall across from where they usually sit. It was as if the family was with them all the time.

Select an aged care facility carefully

At a later stage carefully select an aged care facility which suits them and where they will be happy. In the beginning you will probably have to answer many times their questions such as why am I here, I want to go home. Your answers need to be truthful but very gently and with time, I found it took about 6 months, they will be content. Even if they don’t remember your name they will still be glad to see you.

Did you know that a lovely plant Dianthus “Memories” has just been released to support Dementia Research? Dianthus “Memories” has perfumed pure white blooms and shares many of the characteristics of the modern dianthus plant including long flowering, sturdy stems and dry tolerance. It has been bred by Plants Management Australia with $1 from the sale of each plant going to Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Research Foundation.

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Dianthus “Memories” sounds lovely, I think I’ll buy a few as gifts but keep at least one for myself.

Check a reputable website such as to find out more details about Alzheimer’s. There is also a national dementia helpline at 1800 100 500.


Does a loved one suffer from Alzheimer’s? What were the warning signs? Share your advice and support below.