What dies 'alert' mean?

agnespuffinMarch 21, 2012

Very often, posters will come here about their problems and mention that "he/she is still alert." Therefore, dementia is not a problem.

Alertness is not the problem. They can still be alert, carry on a conversation, keep track of the money, bank book, etc. BUT, somewhere along the way, they have lost a sense of logical thought, common sense and decision making. And that is the problem...not lack of alertness. That's when they can get to cause problems.

When your loved one starts to do things that are really not the sort of thing that a clear thinking person would do, you should start watching more closely. It may be a few years, but that's a danger sign. It's an alert, but muddled mind.

I have used my mother as an example many times. She was an intellegent, alert person, but there were many weird things. For example, she was the head of a big accounting department...intellegent, right? OK, one day she went out an bought a case (yes, a big box) of toilet bowl deodorizers. Brought them back to the office and gave them out to her employees. Yes, things were beginning to go wrong, but she was still "alert" That was not the action of a rational person.

That year, she gave me two bras for Christmas. One was a 32-A and the other was a 40-D. She couldn't see what the problem was...they were adjustable. She showed me how to move the thingie on the straps so they would fit.. Alert, Yes. Common sense? No. She also had a pair of my shoes from when I was about three years old, silver plated and gave them to my oldest son to take to college. She said he could use them to put pencils in. Not your usual sensible thing to give a boy going off to college.

I could go on and on about this...she was capable of ordering her husband's medication...and then she hid it. When she went to a NH, we found bottles and bottles of pills and liquids hidden all over the house.. She even put them in places where she would need a chair to climb up on. Alert? Yes.

So, forget about your loved one being "alert." Dementia could still be starting. The sooner you recognise the problem, the easier it will be to cope with it.

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Very well said, Agnes. Would you mind copying your post to the dementia thread (and bumping it?)
Thanks for an excellent contribution.


    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 7:20PM
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I agree, an excellent post. The key is your line, "...somewhere along the way, they have lost a sense of logical thought, common sense and decision making." The inability to reason, to understand logical consequences of actions -- that's the real problem. I thought at first that my mom was just getting crotchety and stubborn in her old age. It took me a while and several strange incidents similar to what you described to understand that she was moving into dementia.

One particularly memorable event was after she had a procedure done on her knees. Both the doctor and I went over the schedule for taking her newly prescribed painkiller so she wouldn't feel any discomfort once the anesthesia wore off. The next morning when I went to visit her, she was moaning in agony. I asked if she had taken her medication. She said she didn't because she was convinced it was making her knees hurt.

I could go on with many such examples. But the bottom line was that she could function, remember, communicate, etc. And at times, especially around others, she was perfectly lucid. But her ability to reason and to understand was slipping. That's when I realized she was dealing with something more than the quirks of old age.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2012 at 5:36PM
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Excellent posting. I never thought of elders being that way--alert, but not using common sense. Thank you,

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 3:06PM
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"I never thought of elders being that way...."

Except for those who work with it or have been trained in the environment, it's typically something that's new to all of us.

With the coming/going of dementia symptoms, they look just like they always have but you're never sure what you're dealing with moment-to-moment until you interact in some way. Many people are able to adjust to it easily; many others never can. It's an interesting circumstance in the lives of those who must deal with it. Caregivers often find it hard to put the sadness and/or frustration away and just deal with what there is.

I was able to do it for dad and, now, mom but I wouldn't have it to bring to a stranger. Thankfully, there are those who can.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 3:46PM
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For some, the ability to use Reason is impaired. Here again, let me use my kin to explain. My aunt, asked a neighborhood boy to rake her leaves. He wanted $15.00. Really cheap for the size of the yard. Well, she decided that she couldn't afford that kind of money. So she paid nearly $1000.00 to have a beautiful huge oak tree cut down.

Then, she crashed into another car, almost totaled it. Messed her own up too. Paid for it all out of pocket, $$$$$$$ because she was afraid that if she let the insurance company know that she had had an accident, they would increase her premiums and she felt she couldn't afford it. This really put a hole in her bank account.

So, you can see that they still might be able to manage money as far as paying bills, etc. they may make terrible decisions as to what is a sensible thing to do.

I think that this loss of reasoning is one reason that the elderly fall for so many of these get-rich-quick schemes. They just can't make good decisions.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 5:20PM
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Most people would classify my MIL as "alert" and "responsive", assuming they spoke loud enough for her to hear them, LOL.

But twice in the past five days, she has mistaken my car key for the home alarm system fob. Note they are different colors and shapes, and she HAS an identical alarm system fob of her own, which she uses every day.

She thinks I'm outside (I garden a lot), and instead of walking back to get her own alarm fob, she uses my key set, which I leave by the front door. But twice now, she has pressed the car alarm button, setting off that god-awful noise which annoys everyone around.

She has lost the ability to tell a round black key fob from a square bright blue alarm fob - despite the fact she has the exact same type of square bright blue alarm fob, and can identify it if you ask her what it is.

Dementia means she can't compare her fob to mine, and tell the difference between my two fobs, even though those are the only items on my key chain.

You can't get any simpler, visually...but even that defeats her nowadays. As little as a year ago, she would have been able to tell the difference, but no longer.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 12:38PM
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Jkom, you bring up a really good point. It's hard to understand that our loved ones who suffer from any form of dementia, are on a downward spiral. Unlike children who can learn and master new skills, the dementia sufferer "unlearns" skills they may have exercised just a couple of months ago. You gave the key fob example. My mother did the same thing with the answering machine she had successfully used for several years. Over a period of months, she could no longer use it. Yet she was still able to carry on conversations and she certainly knew and recognized her family and close friends.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2012 at 3:34PM
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My mother is very alert but does things she would never have done in the past. I had a police officer come to my house because my mom had been stealing yard decorations from other peoples yards. She claimed that they had belonged to a friend who was no longer living there and that the friend would have wanted her to have the things.

She was also taking her trash out at night and dumping it up and down the road. The fact that she did it after dark says that she knows it's not right but she said it fed the wild animals. So, I was having to make periodic trips to clean up the neighborhood. Solved that issue by going to the recycle center on a daily basis.

I live next door to her so I sit and watch every night as she steps out onto the porch with the car fob, going out every 15 minutes or so to make sure the car is locked. The lights go off and on, for several hours as she double checks.

She was also hoarding food, but we've managed to get that under control. One of our biggest problems is her hiding things. I can spend hours a week looking for her lipstick, tylenol, money... the list is endless.

But many times her old friends could sit down and have a conversation with her and never know anything was wrong.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2012 at 12:00AM
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In the medical field there is a phrase "Alert and well oriented." Oriented means the person knows who they are, where they are and the approximate time. If you ask my hubby, he says it's simple, he knows his name and address but he'll say it's 1982 or 2003, or some such nonsense. He had several minor car accidents, including running over a neighbor's lawn and breaking off sprinklers. I no longer let him drive. He's really angry. He says he wants to go to a grocery store "You know the one on the north-south street" but doesn't know the name of the store or the street it's on.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 7:07AM
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