Caring Currents

12 Signs You Probably DON'T Have Alzheimer's

Last updated:

May 19, 2009
I love your smile
Image by JAIRO BD used under the creative commons attribution license.

Are you worried that you might have Alzheimer's or another form of dementia? Many a stressed-out caregiver is a bit over-worried. Watching a family member with dementia decline is enough to make anyone secretly fear his or her own occasional memory lapses or confused moments.

Which is why I want to offer a little gentle reassurance this week as the Alzheimer's Association kicks off a renewed emphasis on early detection with a big campaign about its 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's.

I'm all for this campaign. But it's also worth emphasizing the flip side to overloaded caregivers, who are often also in midlife and coping with work and sandwich-generation demands: The statistical odds indicate that you're probably okay. I don't say that to make light of Alzheimer's disease or the horrible fact that early-onset Alzheimer's cases are on the rise. And I would urge anybody nagged by suspicions to get them checked out pronto.

But when you're under a lot of strain, other factors can also play with your mind, such as moving too fast, not getting enough sleep, depression, or plain old worry. The majority of people over age 50 "“ even over 60, 70, or 80 "“ don't have dementia.

So if it makes you feel any better, here are 12 signs that generally don't indicate Alzheimer's:

  • 1. Forgetting a new acquaintance's name. Everybody does it.

  • 2. Forgetting an old acquaintance's name. It's more embarrassing, but everybody does this, too.

  • 3. Remembering in the middle of the night that you forgot to put out tomorrow's trash for pick-up. The fact that you eventually remembered is positive.

  • 4. You caught another mistake when balancing your checkbook. Balancing a checkbook is a complicated task; that you can do most of it flawlessly is a good sign. And slipshod math is common.

  • 5. You can't remember where you parked the car. Unless you always park in the same spot and then forget, occasionally blanking is no big deal, especially in vast lots at a shopping center, hospital, or mall. Possible problem: If you have to write down where you park each and every time.

  • 6. Feeling too blah to attend book group, an activity you usually love. Losing interest in hobbies or a social life is a hallmark of the disease. But wanting to chill alone every so often is, well, human. Take care not to make it a habit; isolating yourself socially is also a red flag for depression, something caregivers are definitely at risk for.

  • 7. Losing your sunglasses "“ again. To misplace is human. To finally find the sunglasses in the refrigerator or the trash, on the other hand, is possible Alzheimer's.

  • 8. Your partner elbows you at a party and says, "Oh please, don't tell that story again." Over the years, couples often build up a trove of anecdotes (how we met, the time we sat next to a movie star on a plane, how we bought our house for a song, the day we learned our son was a genius). Such tales and jokes are often ignited by certain social cues. Knowing you're doing this is different from hearing, "But you just told that story five minutes ago" "“ and not remembering doing so.

  • 9. Not recognizing your own reflection for a second after a new haircut or new glasses. Your brain's still absorbing the new look. More worrisome: Still thinking, after a moment's pause, that the person staring back at you in the mirror is someone else.

  • 10. Forgetting an appointment, or arriving on the wrong day. Big goof, but still. Blame stress, multi-tasking, or maybe needing a better planner system. Don't worry unless this is happening routinely, instead of once in a full blue moon.

  • 11. Feeling old and baffled because you can't figure out how to text message, set up wireless access in your house, or stream video to your TV set (though the 10-year-old kid next door can). I write from experience: Technology moves faster than many a middle-aged mind. And instructions often seem written by non-Englishspeaking tech-heads. Keeping up with progress is different from losing ground --- e.g. no longer being able to follow a recipe or tell a cell phone from a TV remote.

  • 12. Saying stuff like, "that thingamabob" or "you know, that actress who was in that movie"¦". Sounds like typical over-40 conversation to me. Proper words for things do tend to elude people with Alzheimer's but they improvise strangely ("ice on a stick" for popsicle, "hair fork" for comb). But as for peppering your talk with "thingys" and "that's," well for that you're still on pretty solid ground if you can still manage to Google.

Still not sure, whether about yourself or someone you love? Okay. Learn more about [what to watch for if you suspect Alzheimer's] ( Go find out for sure. As the Alzheimer's Association is using CBS TV promos, corporate education programs, and other formats to let us know, early detection puts people on a better coping path.

Or maybe now you have one fewer thing to worry about.