LIMA — Yvonne Miller wants people to see Alzheimer’s as more than a disease of the elderly.
Miller, an enrichment and dementia coordinator for Otterbein St. Marys, watched as Alzheimer’s killed a friend and fellow caretaker at age 50.
The disease also claimed one of Miller’s cousins at age 52, years before most start to look for signs of Alzheimer’s, a degenerative disease that often appears in adults in their early to mid-60s.
Alzheimer’s can take years or even decades to progress from early stages to severe cognitive decline — a gradual decline of the brain that “completely changes a person,” Miller told the Lima Rotary Club on Monday.
Memory loss is one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease, eventually leading to behavioral changes like paranoia, confusion, depression and personality changes as the brain deteriorates.
While forgetting names and appointments is common with age, dementia-related memory loss disrupts daily life by causing a person to quickly forget new information and important dates they previously remembered on their own, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
A person with Alzheimer’s may ask the same question repeatedly, get lost on their way to a familiar place or struggle to follow a favorite recipe, as the disease often causes problems with a person’s ability to make plans, work with numbers and complete familiar tasks, the Alzheimer’s Association said.
The disease is often associated with misplacing things, a trait typical of aging that may portend something more serious if a person cannot retrace their steps or becomes agitated upon finding the lost object in a place they don’t remember.
In some cases, Miller said, this leads the person with Alzheimer’s to accuse others of stealing because they can’t recall being there.
In other cases, Alzheimer’s may cause a person to forget dates or to confuse seasons due to short-term memory loss. But in those instances, it’s best not to argue unless the person poses a threat to themselves or others, Miller said.
Other early signs of the disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Assocation, include trouble reading or judging distance, which can impair driving; repetition or trouble forming familiar words; poor financial judgement; major changes in appearance or hygiene; trouble focusing or understanding a conversation; depression, mood changes and withdrawal from work and social activities.
Comparing the mind to a computer, Miller said it’s common for the mind to slow down as it ages. But with Alzheimer’s, “there no memory there anymore. That’s the difference.”