FAIRFIELD, Conn. — Mary Underwood says a common misconception about dementia is that it is a “memory disease.” But what many people don’t know is that Alzheimer’s affects the way your brain functions, impairing your ability to participate in many of the activities you did before.
It can make tasks like a short car ride to pick up groceries dangerous.
“Saying, ‘My mom knows how to get to and from church so she can drive,’ is a problem,” said the director of memory care services at Maplewood Senior Living Communities in Fairfield County. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that your depth perception is impaired, as is your ability to make decisions and anticipate actions."
Underwood says certain memory loss is a part of aging. Forgetting what song the bride and groom danced to at a wedding you recently went to is probably not cause for concern. But not remembering you were at the wedding in the first place might be.
When that happens, Underwood suggests caregivers take a trip to the family doctor since forgetfulness may be caused by illnesses like thyroid disease or depression. The trick is not to let the symptoms persist for too long before taking action.
“Even if the condition is not something fixable, having dementia doesn’t mean you can’t make some of your own decisions, like who is going to serve as power of attorney and whose name will be put on bank accounts,” she said.
An Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis does not have to mean your loved one is lost, though. At Maplewood Communities, Underwood has taken her residents shopping around Christmas time and to watch basketball games at Fairfield University. She even writes poetry with them.
“In a population where so many people don’t see the positive, I have the ability to give them wonderful moments and to see their possibilities rather than their limitations,” Underwood said.