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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Clues to What Is Normal: Ten Warning Signs

For the past few days, I’ve been immersed in reading mystery stories for an anthology. A good mystery writer sprinkles clues throughout the entire story and then at the end it all makes sense. Sometimes you slap your head and believe you should have figured it out, and other times, you are completely surprised. It depends on the skill of the storyteller and how attentive you are.

I guess our greatest mystery in life is life itself. It seems that clues pop up every day in our relationships and our health. If we ignore those clues, or just don’t “get it” life can move forward while we are oblivious to what is happening.

Most of us fear the unknown. No matter how dire the diagnosis or prognosis, we realize that we have two choices: give up and be miserable, or live life to the fullest choosing quality over quantity if necessary.

Almost every disease has warning signs—and have you noticed that it is usually ten? Alzheimer’s is one that has narrowed the multitude of clues to a manageable ten. I’ve taken a look at the ten to see what the clues have to tell me.

The number one warning sign of Alzheimer’s is memory loss that disrupts daily life. We all forget things. Last month I showed up at the hair salon for my appointment a few minutes early so I sat down and started reading a magazine. My hairdresser came back from lunch and began to leaf through the appointment book. “Linda, I have your appointment down for tomorrow,” she said. Sure enough, I checked my calendar and there it was, same time, same place, wrong day. That interrupted that day a little for her and me, but it isn’t a warning sign of Alzheimer’s. Occasionally forgetting appointments is normal. Whew!

 The second warning sign is challenges in planning or solving problems. I had a nightmare about this a few nights ago. I dreamed I was taking a test and it used two words in questions that I didn’t recognize. How was I supposed to answer a question if I didn’t understand the words? Well, when I awoke in the middle of the night, I Googled paradigm (pattern) and esoteric (cryptic). The strange thing is that although I couldn’t place the meaning immediately, they made sense when I inserted them into the problems. With Alzheimer’s words and numbers may not make sense which can make solving a problem impossible.

Sign three is difficulty completing familiar tasks. I run into this often when I need a password or user name to pay a bill online. Part of the reason is that to get to the familiar task, I am using a new method. This is normal unless I forget that I need to pay bills.

The fourth sign is confusion with time or place. Since I’m retired, the days and months seem to swirl together. So sometimes I admit to being a little vague about the day of the week. Thank goodness, my granddaughter plays volleyball so monitoring her schedule helps me keep track of the days and the date. Oh, and the place. It really helps to show up at the correct gym.

The fifth sign is understanding visual images and spatial relationships. This includes reading and judging distance, both of which can affect driving. We won’t talk about me getting too close to the curb and scratching my fancy wheels—twice.

Number six: problems with words in speaking or writing. A person with Alzheimer’s might have trouble finding the right word…okay, so we all have that trouble from time to time. Sometimes, I’ll be leafing through my mental dictionary and can’t seem to come up with the correct word to express an idea. My mental Google is offline, the “page cannot be found” or is “not available at this time.” Sometimes it comes to me. Sometimes not. Still, considered to be normal.

The seventh sign is misplacing things and not being able to retrace steps. Let’s just say that I’ve had to call my cell phone everyday this week to locate the darn thing. I can’t remember where I left it. As long as I can remember the number, I’m considering that a normal sign of aging.

Number eight is poor judgment. My judgment is normally pretty good, but sometimes I’ll buy both pair of shoes rather than having to choose. Just saying!

The ninth sign is withdrawal from work or social activities. I withdrew from work permanently when I retired at the beginning of the year. I need to withdraw from a few social activities just because I like to stay at home once in a while. After all, there’s a new season of The Voice to watch.

The tenth sign is changes in mood and personality—becoming fearful, depressed, confused, etc. Okay, I take ownership of being irritable from time to time, but, hey, that falls within normal range.

After reviewing the ten clues, I consider myself to be as normal as I’ve ever been. Life is a challenge for each of us, but as long as we use our strengths to compensate for our weaknesses, we’ll get by. Whatever the clues say is wrong with us, we always have the ability to opt for quality over quantity.

copyright © October 2014 by L.S. Fisher

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