Wednesday, June 1, 2011

When is it Normal and When is it Alzheimer's?

Since the release of Still Alice, I’ve had the privilege of talking to a lot of audiences about Alzheimer’s. One of the most common questions people ask me is:

“When I can’t find my keys, how do I know if that’s normal forgetting or a symptom of Alzheimer’s?”

My quick and dirty answers are usually something like:

“Well, when you find your keys, are they on the table or in the refrigerator?”


“We all have trouble finding where we put our keys. It’s worrisome if you find your keys and then can’t remember what you’re supposed to do with them.”

Forgetting keys, names, how to get somewhere, how to do something–How do we know when it’s normal and when it’s Alzheimer’s?

The Alzheimer’s Association has put together the 10 Warning Signs List.

They also provide this phone number if you’d like to talk to someone about your concerns: 877 IS IT ALZ

My friend Kris recently shared one of her early warning signs (warning sign #4) with me:

My biggest tell-tale sign was when I’d gone shopping with my husband, and we went to a Best Buy store. I was looking at some CDs, and my husband had gone off somewhere else, and I looked up from the CDs, and I didn’t know where I was or how I had gotten there. It’s kind of hard to be in a Best Buy store and not know you’re in a Best Buy store, you know, with all the Best Buy signs everywhere. The only way I can describe it, and it’s so funny because in your book it was like this, it’s like an out of body experience.

I remember going out of the store to look at my surroundings, and I looked at the sign, but I couldn’t read that it was Best Buy. I saw the sign, but I couldn’t put together that I was at the Best Buy store. So I remember sitting down on the steps in front of the store and thinking, ‘Well, I got here somehow, I’m just going to have to figure out how I got here.’

I sat there for a while and then went back in the store, and I recognized my husband. And I thought, ‘OK. I got here with him, I’m still not sure where I am, but I got here with him and I’m okay because I know I can get home with him.’ And I didn’t say anything to him. I just followed him out to the car, got in the car, went home, and that night I still could not remember where I had been.

I didn’t want to alarm my husband about it, so just jokingly I said to him, ‘You know, I know we went out today, but I can’t remember where we went.’

He said, ‘We went to Best Buy.’

And I said, ‘Oh, yeah.’

How old were you?


When I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I was relieved because now I knew there was a name to it. I know there’s no cure, and it broke my heart, but by the same token, now I knew what I was dealing with and that I wasn’t crazy.


Anonymous said...

The experience at Best Buy sounds kind of scary. I can't imagine being somewhere and not knowing where I was or how I got there.

Susanbright said...

I just finished listening to Still Alice and absolutely loved it. I laughed and cried my way through the book and hope to talk my book club into reading it. A hard sell as we are all in our 50' and this book hits very close to home.I just wrote a review on my blog if you want to check it out!

Ashley Daniel said...

Great article!! It's always important to be able to recognize the warning signs of dementia and Alzheimer's:

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