Recognizing the signs of Alzheimer's in loved ones

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SARASOTA, Fla. - The latest statistics of Alzheimer’s indicate that every 67 seconds, someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer's disease. More than five million Americans are already living with it, and the Azheimer’s Association reports there are more than 17,500 cases in Sarasota County.

Forgetting a familiar face, where you parked your car, or the name of a good friend may be plain old memory loss, but they may also be early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

“This disease takes not only, in my particular case my wife away, but a friend…someone I've known for 47 years.” John Schmidt’s wife suffers from dementia. “She doesn't even know who I am half the time, and that gets you right down to the core.”

Joe Plank says this is when he knew his wife, now deceased, first showed signs of Alzheimer's disease. “When she would keep referring to her mother as if she were, her mother was still alive.”

Warning signs of dementia are often written off by friends and family as plain old memory loss. “The diagnosis that makes things easier is called mild cognitive impairment. Actually one of the good things about that is it's kind of unpredictable; we can't be sure those people will go on to get Alzheimer's,” says Dr. Bruce Robinson at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

Intuition may be a red flag when it comes to Alzheimer's disease, as was the case for Jenny Hime. “I think in the beginning, there wasn't anything I could say that was real specific other than it just wasn't my usual mom.”

But now, two years later, “it's definitely progressed to the point where she is forgetting some names, she tells the same stories over and over again.”

What bothers her the most is the personality change she says she feels is her mom’s response to the disease. “My mother had a very friendly open personality, and she got very angry.”

Early tracking of the disease can make progression smoother for all involved. “So it's nice to be able to say, this is what we see, this is what's not safe, this is what is safe.”

All dementias are not on the same time clock. “You could do okay for a good long time, so let's just take it a year at a time.”

Bob Harris says he didn’t recognize early signs of his wife’s disease. “She was working, and all of a sudden she couldn’t get along with her principal, and things started developing.”

His wife, a registered nurse and teacher, was diagnosed five years later when she displayed more symptoms. “She became a lot more erratic…and couldn’t deal with herself and couldn’t be away from me.”

Jane Johnson reluctantly recognized early signs of dementia in her husband when driving in familiar territory. “He started to consult maps and atlases to go places that in a prior life he could have done without even thinking about it.”

This was her ‘a-ha’ moment. “I had to accept, what I think, I had been denying, which was that he was in a dementia.”

There is no one test to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. Instead doctors make medical decisions based on symptoms and the course of the disease. At this time, there is no cure.