For nearly a year, Jacqueline Marcell tried to get help dealing with her father, a man who had always had a temper but had abruptly become violent at the age of 82. Even after he physically attacked his daughter and was hauled off by the police, he would return to "normal" in front of a doctor or a judge and simply get sent home.
"The biggest thing I wish I'd known is the importance of understanding the ten early signs of Alzheimer's disease," says Marcell, a onetime television executive who became caregiver to her parents in the Bay Area in 1998. "If I had understood the difference between normal aging and those early signs -- that my dad's lifelong negative behavior pattern was getting intermittently distorted with the onset of Alzheimer's -- I would have known not to listen to all the professionals that I came into contact with who said, 'He's just getting old.' I would have known how to find the right doctors who would have done extensive testing -- blood, neurological, memory, CT and PET scans -- to uncover it sooner."
Through the Alzheimer's Association, Marcell was finally directed to a specialist who diagnosed both her parents with early-stage Alzheimer's -- but not before much anguish, more assaults, and lost time. It was her outrage that, even in a metropolitan area, so many doctors didn't suspect Alzheimer's or refer her father to a specialist for evaluation that drove her to write Elder Rage, or Take My Father ... Please! How to Survive Caring for Aging Parents.
"It really takes a specialist to see it in stage I," she says. "I'm talking about in the beginning, when it is very intermittent. Anybody can diagnose it in stage II."
Marcell's advice to other adult children is to know the early signs of Alzheimer's and take action if a parent is showing them. "Demand a referral to a neurologist who specializes in dementia or an MD with a specialty in geriatrics, so that everything can be done to uncover it early. Then you can get medications to slow down the progression of the disease and keep parents in that early stage longer. I don't care if you get a week, a month, a year, a couple of years -- if they're your loved ones and you can keep them more cognitively with it and not needing full-time care as soon, it's huge.