Peter Heath

Alzheimer's Disease continued - everyday tasks

Another startling symptom to a person not familiar with the condition is the difficulty an Alzheimer's sufferer might have with performing an everyday task, like using the phone, or opening a gate with the remote, or indeed, using a cooker. The memory of the process required to perform simple everyday tasks like these might well be completely erased. As you can imagine, following a recipe, even though it's a step by step procedure would also be challenging, and may prove to be just too difficult and too frustrating.

The decline of visuospatial skills, like judging distances (useful in climbing stairs or getting in and out of the bath), or parking a car can suddenly become evident and the result can be devastating. Other judgement criteria might also be affected and sufferers might dress quite inappropriately for prevailing conditions and may also become completely unaware of the time of day, or in fact, even which day it is.

Orienteering might well become too confusing to even contemplate, and quite often sufferers will lose their way in surroundings that were once quite familiar. I am well acquainted with a sufferer who will sometimes ask which way to turn when walking out of the front gate on route to the garage, although the distance is a just a few metres and he has lived in the same location some 30 years.

I think it's reasonable to expect personality changes in a person whose cognitive skills are severely impaired and Alzheimer's sufferers will present personality changes as the disease progresses. The difficulty with recognizing and interpreting danger signals may well become evident, and anxiety may present itself without any logical cause. Clearly, this would be exacerbated where memory problems are becoming more and more frustrating and intolerance or lack of understanding from others can also contribute.

However, on a more positive note, many sufferers hang onto skills learned and stored deep within the brain as procedural memories in earlier years, like playing the piano, dancing, painting or golf. Individuals can gain great pleasure from using these almost automatic talents.