What Are the Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?

One of the first things my mother noticed about my father’s behavior in the early days of what we would later understand was early-onset Alzheimer’s was that he hid things. Cash. His wallet. Sometimes his keys.

My mother would usually be able to find these things again, but eventually his wallet disappeared and never turned up. It became my mother’s running “joke” — it’s helpful to find humor in these circumstances when you can — that one day after she and my Dad were gone, I would find that wallet and solve the mystery.

I never did.

The instinct to hide valuable items is often driven by a sense of paranoia, a fear that possessions might be lost or taken away if not hidden.

We were blessed that Daddy was a kind and peaceful man, but many caregivers know that an Alzheimer’s loved one can have a quick mood swing, easily becoming angry or stubborn.

There may also be an increasing inability to find the right word in a sentence. You might hear someone with Alzheimer’s search for a particular name, noun or verb and then pull up one that sounds similar or starts with the same letter.

In the early stages, they might also realize that they’re struggling and get frustrated. Later they are not as self-aware.

General dementia can also cause word confusion and memory loss so these symptoms alone may not signal that your loved one has Alzheimer’s.

After my father’s passing, my mother was diagnosed with dementia. Their behavior was different. My father ultimately lost all ability to communicate while my mother was quiet but could convey her thoughts somewhat coherently even at the end.

The other significant distinction to me was the change in my father’s visage — his eyes took on a particular cast, especially in the later stages, and his face seemed to shrivel and his lips roll inward.

I may be wrong, and I hope I am, but this is what I see when I look at the current U.S. President, Joe Biden.

If you look at footage of President Biden from even his days as Vice President, you can see a distinct difference in his face. To my eye, it’s not just a matter of aging.

President Biden also misses words, and his thoughts get scrambled. He often mutters in the middle of a sentence. And then he speaks clearly again. But it’s his face and his inwardly shrinking eyes that make the difference to me.

Daddy had balance issues as we have seen with President Biden. Daddy never fell or needed a walker, but he sometimes got caught up in his feet or tottered as he stood.

A final significant characteristic of Alzheimer’s is that truth wins. In life we typically moderate our more visceral thoughts and behaviors to be good members of our tribes. But as Alzheimer’s disease progresses, the veneer disappears, and our loved one’s “real” thoughts come out, bringing joy or pain.

In the late stages of his disease, Daddy disappeared into himself, almost like he was inhabiting another world. He was a happy man in life, and he smiled until the end.

I just wish he could have told us what it was that made him smile.

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