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Dealing With Alzheimer's Disease Memory Loss

How to Cope With Memory Loss in the Early Stages of Alzheimer's Disease
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

For John MacInnes, the beginnings of Alzheimer’s disease were startling. The retired executive and former pastor in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., first realized something was wrong as he was delivering a PowerPoint presentation to a community group. “Then in mid-sentence, I had problems,” he says. “I had a well-rehearsed script in front of me, but I couldn’t get the words right, couldn’t get them out. That kind of shook me up.”

Memory loss and impaired thinking are hallmark symptoms of this disease. But MacInnes was fortunate in one respect. He was diagnosed at an early stage, which enabled him to take steps to cope with memory loss, organize his daily life, and plan for his future by making his express wishes known to loved ones who can carry them out.

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Shortly after that unsettling presentation, MacInnes, who was 80 years old at the time, consulted his doctor. He was having trouble managing multiple tasks, something he had always been able to do well. He also became confused while driving in new areas. After being evaluated, he learned that he had Alzheimer’s, a progressive brain disease that destroys brain cells and causes memory loss, confusion, thinking problems, and personality changes.

Like many who receive an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, MacInnes felt fear and sadness. “I went through that struggle for several weeks, feeling sorry for myself and asking why did this have to happen to me? In the middle of that, I wrote myself a little poem -- something I had never done before -- and I titled it, ‘ALZ Is Not About Me.’ Looking back, that’s probably the point when I began to concentrate on leaving self-pity behind me and focusing on learning more about Alzheimer’s.”

As he writes in his poem, “My shining days may be dimming, for sure, but life for me is not done/May God grant me peace, whatever those sunset days may bring.”

Despite his new attitude, the gradual loss of independence has been frustrating, says MacInnes, now 82. For example, he can no longer drive long distances, but must limit himself to short drives to familiar places.

Alzheimer’s Memory Loss

In the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, patients have mild decline in mental functioning. For example, they may read something but retain very little of the information. Or family, friends, and co-workers may notice that they struggle to recall words or names.

In mid-stage Alzheimer’s, major memory and thinking problems emerge. People may forget important information, such as their address or phone number, and they may become confused about their whereabouts.

In the severe or late stages, some patients become agitated, depressed, or have hallucinations. They lose their ability to speak and control movement and become incapable of responding to their surroundings. People can live from three to 20 years with Alzheimer’s, but on average, they die four to six years after diagnosis.

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