Spotting Alzheimer's Disease in Your Family

Web Producer: Brad Maglinger

Newswatch anchor Ann Komis says her mother Ruth used to love to laugh and tell stories. Pictures are a reminder of happier times in the former schoolteacher's life.

"This is about the time that the Alzheimer's really began with her about 20 years before she died, but we didn't see the signs," says Komis. "We saw the happy face who loved to be around children and teach kids to read. We didn't notice the forgetfulness and the things we should have noticed."

Ann says her mother would leave her purse in restaurants. She would call the bank four or five times a day to check her balance. Ann isn't sure, but she suspects her mom got lost on the drive home a few times. Geriatrician Dr. Karl Sash says these are all classic symptoms of Alzheimer's.

"Problems with memory. Are they forgetting appointments? Are they forgetting to take medications? Are they forgetting the things that they told you? And then also just as importantly, are they no longer able to perform some of the tasks or jobs that they used to be able to do? Are they losing track of bills? Are they not balancing their checkbook? Are they missing payments? Is there a change in their personality perhaps?" explains Dr. Sash.

Doctors rely heavily on answers to these questions since there is no one test that can detect the tell-tale plaque that builds up in the brains of an Alzheimer's patient.

For Ruth, her Alzheimer's wasn't discovered until three years before her death and during that time, her condition deteriorated rapidly. If it was detected earlier, medication could have helped her mom maintain brain function longer.

"I should have known how to deal with that," Komis says. "I should have gotten her where she needed to be. I should have saved her from this. I know that's selfish and that's not right, but if anybody deserved it, she did. She was so bright and so good, she was the perfect mother."

There will be a memory walk at USI Sunday, October 19, 2003 at 2:00pm. Call the Alzheimer's Association at 812-475-1012 for more information on this event.

Dr. Sash also recommends caregivers read this book: "The 36-Hour Day : A Family Guide to Caring for Persons With Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementing Illnesses, and Memory Loss in Later Life," by Nancy L. Mace & Peter V. Rabins.

Alzheimer's Association Web site