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 essential 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. She 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 checkbook. The print appeared blurry. I soon need to see my optometrist, Mrs. Smith thought, as she handed the cashier a credit card. As she exited the store, her 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, rain, or ice. They just felt slick 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 street 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 with a trembling voice.
“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 typical. To someone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, the world is frightening and confusing. To family members, especially if the family is coping with a crisis of its own, the disease can lead to anxiety, financial turmoil, and depression. Please review the list of early symptoms of Alzheimer’s below. It is crucial to keep in mind that there are many resources for not only people who have developed Alzheimer’s but also family members. Help and support services are 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 and difficulty with managing money: Ex. “Mom just gave 2000 dollars to a telemarketer.”
Blurred vision and disorientation:
Time distortion – Difficulty recognizing familiar locations.
Trouble speaking and comprehending language: Difficulty remembering words.
Simple, familiar tasks are experienced as challenging to complete.
Memory loss. Difficulty remembering 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)*