Coping with Your Symptoms
Knowledge is power. If you know what to expect as you live with AD, you can cope better with symptoms as they develop.
You may forget people's names or what something is called. Your memory of the past may be just fine, but you have trouble recalling things that happened recently — even earlier today. Memory problems are a common symptom of AD. Consider these tried and tested recommendations from others who've learned to cope with these common problems:
Make a book of important information, such as your name, address, and emergency contact information. Use it to keep track of people's names and contact information. Keep a list of your appointments. Use the book to write down thoughts, ideas, and memories you want to hold on to.
Put sticky notes around the house when you need to remember things.
Leave written reminders to yourself like, “Turn off the stove” or “Unplug the iron.” Be sure you have an automatic shut-off feature on the appliances you use most often, especially the ones that can cause harm if left unattended.
Label cupboards and drawers with words or pictures of their contents.
Place important phone numbers in large print next to the phone.
Tack up a schedule of things you do daily. Include meal times, exercise, and medication times.
If it helps, have someone call to remind you of important things that you need to do at certain times during the day, like meal times, medication times, and appointments.
Label photos of people you see often.
Keep track of phone messages with voice mail or an answering machine.
Use whatever memory aids work: a pocket notepad, personal digital assistant, wristwatch alarm, or voice recorder can help you remember what you have to do or keep track of information.
Because you are dealing with a brain disease, it's essential that you limit your risk for falls and accidents. Ask your doctor to review your medications to see if any might affect your balance. Always use a seat belt in a vehicle, and be a careful pedestrian. Put on protective head gear if you bicycle or engage in sports.
AD affects language as well as memory. You may start talking to someone and forget what you're talking about when you're halfway through a sentence. You might forget words and names.
Remember to take your time. Take a break if something is too difficult. And keep on talking! People who socialize even once a day preserve their memories longer than those who don't, studies say.
What can I do if I keep losing things?
Put things you tend to lose a lot in the same spot. Choose a place for glasses, keys, your hearing aids, and anything you're prone to misplacing. Always put them in that spot when you're not using them.
You may have trouble keeping track of days of the week and time. You may find yourself going to a lunch date a day early or late, or forget where you said you would meet someone. You might go for a walk on a glorious day and find you're lost. The following suggestions will help you deal with these issues:
Cross off days on the calendar to keep track of time.
Take someone with you when you go out.
Keep a map with you or use a GPS device.
Don't be afraid to ask for help. If you explain to others that you have a memory problem and need assistance, they are almost certain to give you a hand.
Spatial Perception Problems
AD affects physical coordination and your sense of distance between things. You might have trouble climbing stairs because you misjudge their height. You may also find yourself bumping into familiar objects in your home. Some people have trouble getting out of cars or putting on a coat. Allow yourself the time to do the things you need to do, and don't feel rushed or let other people rush you.
Talk to yourself. Say words out loud. Saying “I've turned off the oven” as you shut it off will give you an extra verbal reminder when you later try to recall whether you left it on. Repeating names when you're introduced to someone has the same effect.
You might look straight at a cell phone and forget what it's used for, or hand a cashier your wallet when you meant to give him dollar bills. You may “lose” things in the drawers and cupboards of your home. Take your time. Take breaks. Try not to get upset.
Problems with Reasoning and Judgment
AD sometimes affects common sense about things like what clothing is appropriate for the day and season. It can cause absent -mindedness and mishaps; some people find they regularly do things like lock themselves out of the house. Others find they are bothered all day by a problem they forget to discuss, then later that problem turns into an obsession.
Most problems have solutions. Have someone help you sort through your closets and drawers, or ask a family member to do it. Leave a set of house keys with a neighbor you trust. Schedule chats with family, friends, or someone in your community each day. Keep a list of things you want to discuss.
Why ask someone with memory loss to use a calendar? Because it helps proactive patients function and feel better.
“Training yourself to use a calendar is kind of like driving a stick shift or typing on a computer keyboard,” says Sherrie Hanna, a program coordinator at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where researchers are studying the effectiveness of memory training workshops and tools. “You don't think about all the motions involved in the process. You don't say to yourself, ‘Okay, now I'm going to depress the clutch with my left foot and move the shifter with my right hand.’ You just do it.”
“Just doing it” helps proactive patients with early-stage memory loss hang on to a sense of independence and accomplishment. Patients in Hanna's six-week workshops learn to use monthly pocket calendars to write down scheduled events, daily “to-do-today” lists, and anything else that strikes them as important, from the weather to a phone number to the fact that grapes are on sale this week.
“Writing something down in a calendar helps it stick in your memory,” Hanna says. “Saying it out loud as you're writing it down also can help cement it in your memory.” Using colors, pictures, and other sensory aids can help even more.
Hanna encourages people to check their calendars twice a day. “Three times is even better. We also tell them to check things off right when they do it. So even if they don't remember doing something — if it's checked off, they must have done it.”
In the early stages of memory loss, “many people feel the control slipping out of their fingers,” she says. Having information on hand gives people a sense of responsibility and control over day-to-day life.