Those who develop Alzheimer`s disease almost always begin their journey into dementia living competently as independent adults. They don`t give their competence or independence much thought -- it`s easy to take for granted.
Competence and independence are fundamental to people`s concepts of self. How do you feel when someone questions your competence at any task? Now imagine how you would feel if a loved one -- often one of your children -- began questioning your ability to take care of your own affairs. It`s a wrenching process -- one that rarely brings out the best in anyone.
Initially, the affected individual almost always dismisses any questions about competence as ridiculous: "I can take care of myself. Leave me alone. I`m fine, just a little absent-minded, that`s all."
The key at this stage is to communicate your feelings of love and concern as you urge the person to have a complete medical evaluation. Although Alzheimer`s disease accounts for 50% to 60% of dementing illness, about half of suspected dementias are not Alzheimer`s, and many of them are treatable. "Of course you`re fine, Mom. But you`ve said yourself that your absent-mindedness is bothering you. It`s probably some minor thing your doctor can treat, and then you`ll be back to your old self again. Want me to make an appointment for you?"
Eventually, loved ones insist that the affected person have a medical evaluation. Don`t expect the person to go quietly.
When the diagnosis is early-stage Alzheimer`s, life suddenly changes for the affected individual and for the entire family. Barring any miraculous treatment breakthroughs, the future holds only the grim certainty of mental deterioration, loss of independence, and eventually, total dependence on others.
A journey into Alzheimer`s disease brings many losses, but frequently, the early ones are the hardest because affected individuals still have enough cognitive function to understand -- and feel horrified by -- what`s befallen them. Early losses are also very hard on caregivers because they`re still getting used to the diagnosis and the wrenching reality of a future consumed by increasing caregiving.
Over time, as the illness progresses, attachments to former surroundings fade.