Signs and Symptoms of Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease

IMG_9195.JPGYou cannot find your keys.  It could happen to anyone. Happens to me often. It happens to someone else I know all the time (but I’m not naming names).

You forget where you parked your car.  Happens to me if I’m along for the ride. Or the driver.

Life is stressful, harried, and  most of the time we have a lot on our minds and just aren’t paying attention.   A common occurrence. No big deal.

It’s January and you are sitting at the kitchen table and staring out the window as the snow falls gently on the ground and try as hard as you might, you cannot remember what season it is. ‘Spring?’ you think.  ‘Does it snow in the spring?  For heaven’s sake girl, it doesn’t snow in the spring.  Fall then – it must be fall.  It’s cold in the fall.  That’s it.’

That’s a sign to take seriously that you or a loved one may be experiencing the early onset of Alzheimers.  The inability to recognize or track dates or seasons is one of the first symptoms of early onset Alzheimer’s disease, which occurs in 5 to 10% of people under the age of 65.  It is not uncommon to see people in their 50’s with signs of early onset Alzheimer’s (EOA), but like Parkinson’s disease – not impossible.

A lack of motivation or sticking to a task can be mistaken at work as laziness when, in fact, EOA could very well be the culprit.  Instead of being properly diagnosed as an EOA patient, the individual suffering with symptoms in which they have no control over may result in being dismissed from a good job, associated with mental problems, or other consequences and/or misjudgments.  Relationships (especially the loss of intimacy) may also begin to deteriorate when one or both parties do not understand the connection to something greater at fault.

While losing your keys once in a while or forgetting where you parked your car can be absolutely normal, misplacing things consistently and not being able to retrace your steps to find them could be a sign of EOA.  Making a bad decision from time to time, missing a payment once a year on utilities, and forgetting a word to describe what you are trying to say – all normal.  However, continually having poor decision making abilities, having a hard time holding or having a conversation, or the inability to manage your budget – these are big players in early onset Alzheimer’s and need to not only be taken seriously, but action should be taken for a diagnosis as to why these symptoms are occurring.
Alzheimer’s does not happen overnight, regardless of age.  It takes different degrees of progression, depending on each individual.  A person of any age will experience a few to several symptoms.  Common symptoms are:

  • forgetting information learned recently
  • asking to repeat information over and over again
  • inability to remember without help (notes, family members intervention, etc)
  • trouble following familiar recipes
  • lack of or difficulty in concentration
  • difficulty doing familiar tasks (heating in a microwave, TV controls, etc)
  • taking a walk and losing your way
  • visual images are confusing (difficulty in reading and judging distance)
  • difficulty speaking or being part of a conversation due to forgetfulness when trying to form words
  • misplacing items and inability to retrace steps (not uncommon to accuse others of stealing)
  • judgment decreases in regards to handling money
  • personal hygiene may suffer
  • removal of one’s self from normal activities; becomes more introverted
  • mood and personality changes may occur (suspicious, depressed, etc)

It is important to remember that a person may be experiencing some of these symptoms and not have any connection to having EOA.  A proper diagnosis needs to be made by a knowledgeable physician.  It is also important to remember that if diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, a person may only experience a few of the symptoms listed above while another, several.  Just like Parkinson’s disease and most every other disease, each person is unique and the disease is unique to each person, although similar in many ways.  The best advice when determining whether you or someone you love may be experiencing EOA is to see a physician.

 

Dystonia and Bear Hugs

imageDystonia.

A neurological movement disorder that deals with sustained muscle contractions, causing twisting and repetitive movements or abnormal postures and can be a part of having Parkinson’s disease.

Symptoms of dystonia can include disturbed sleep patterns, tiredness, depression, poor concentration, change in vision, and more.  Normal activities can be more difficult to carry out.  Dystonia mimics other diseases as well, making it extremely important to not self-diagnose.  Neurologists and Movement Disorder Specialists are physicians specializing in various areas such as dystonia and Parkinson’s Disease, with the ability to clearly differentiate (although sometimes difficult in doing so, depending on how the disease manifests its symptoms) the similarities of diseases with commonalities such as these.

As well as the experiencing the symptoms listed above, dystonia tends to lend itself to continuous pain, cramping and muscle spasms. Because of the areas that can be affected, penmanship may become altered, dropping items becomes common, turning pages becomes a struggle.  The list can go on.

Focal dystonias are the most common types of dystonia are known as focal dystonias.  Another – Cervical dystonia – affects the neck muscles, whereas blepharospasm dystonia is known to affect the muscles around the eyes.  When the jaw and tongue muscles are affected, it is known as oromandibular dystonia.  The voice can be affected, causing a ‘crackling’ sound and is known as spasmodic dysphonia. When a patient suffers from both blepharospasmodic contractions and oromandibular dystonia, it is referred to as cranial dystonia, also known as Meige’s syndrome.

imageWhile some cases can worsen over time, some can almost be mild in their degree of symptoms and their affects on the body. Many drug treatments have been successful in managing symptoms, but recent treatments using botox have proven extremely successful for 3-6 months when injected into the affected areas.  Many PD treatments, including deep brain stimulation, are used for treating dystonia and are quite promising in helping the patient to cope with the disease.

What may seem like an odd treatment may actually be one of the best received and most helpful… a big hug. It has been proven that when encased in a tight ‘bear hug’ the tension and tightening of the contracted muscles are often released when squeezed tightly.

There aren’t many diseases (if any, that I am aware of!) that respond to such a simple, welcomed treatment. So – the next time you’re struggling with stiffness, spasms, and pain associated with having Parkinson’s disease and/or dystonia, ask a loved one to give you a tight bear hug and hold you for a few minutes.  You’ll  not only feel better physically but in every other way as well and so will they.  There is healing in a hug – for everyone involved.

Sleeping With the Enemy

Artwork by Sherri Woodbridge Copyright 2011
Artwork by Sherri Woodbridge
Copyright 2011

My first few years with Parkinson’s were crazy. Trying to get the timing of the drugs right, the dosages, the amounts, dealing with side effects. Looking back, I think one of the most frustrating aspects to the drugs was how sleepy they made me.  But because of the Parkinson’s itself, when everyone else was laying their head on soft pillows at night, dozing into blissful moments of deep sleep and already dreaming dreams, I  was chatting online with a new friend who also found herself in my shoes – unable to sleep in the wee hours of the night and morning because we had Parkinson’s disease.

When you think of PD, you usually picture someone shaking, but there’s more to it than that. Like wreaking havoc with your – what was once known as – sleep pattern. Ah, what we wouldn’t give to be able to sleep like a baby again, but that is actually what we do. We sleep like babies. Up and down all through the night, sometimes awaking from bad dreams, sometimes too hot from night sweats, sometimes awaking in fear due to nightmares from the drugs we take.

What to do, what to do.

Here are  a few suggestions to making sleep more attainable. Everyone’s different, so what works for some, may not work for all.

  1.  Put on relaxing music. Quietly, as everyone else is sleeping, remember? My daughter can only fall asleep with her ear plugs in and listening to music as she tries to fall asleep.
  2. Read a book. Preferably a boring one.
  3.  Make sure you’ve taken your medications. If I miss my evening dose, I am almost always guaranteed to have battle with the restless leg syndrome monster and that guarantees me at least an hour and a half more of not being able to sleep.
  4. There is a plethora of sleeping aides on the drug store shelf. Some recommend one over the other, but it comes down to what works best for you, if they’re giong to be helpful at all. It’s a good idea to run it by your doctor first before adding more drug substances to your mix.
  5. Essential oils are the rage and there is actually a mixture for sleeping that my daughter introduced me to that you rub on your feet. Her oil rep made her own mixture so you’d have to contact a Doterra rep or someone who knows essential oils.
  6. Many people are going for other remedies which I cannot recommend given I haven’t and don’t intend to try them, but they swear by their effectiveness (one  being medical marajuana).
  7. Melatonin seems to be a very popular sleep aid for people who find it difficult to sleep and is natural.
  8. Sleep-time tea, Nighty-nite tea… There are also many teas to relax  and  help you get to sleep. Check your grocer’s shelves.
  9. A technique that I have found that works for me is, as I am laying in bed (and maybe oddly enough, I can only fall asleep in one position) I intentionally make my body relax and then begin to pray. It works 100% of the time.

What is your suggestion on sleeping with the enemy – Parkinson’s disease?