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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Dr. Donohue: Identifying Alzheimer’s disease

Paul G. Donohue, M.d. North America Syndicate

Dear Dr. Donohue: On TV, a commentator said Alzheimer’s disease is known as the disease of the four A’s. What are those four A’s? — M.C.

Answer: I don’t know. I’m pretty sure they were devised either by that commentator or by someone whom he heard speak. They’re not a universally used way to identify this illness. I can give you a list of the more common Alzheimer’s symptoms, and, by stretching things, I can come up with three A’s.

Loss of memory is a prominent symptom, and most Alzheimer’s patients don’t realize how bad their memory is. The “A” word here would be “amnesia.” In addition, people with this condition have trouble with abstract thinking — a second “A” word. An example of abstract thinking is maneuvering numbers, as you’d do in balancing your checkbook.

Difficulty with language is another sign. Such difficulties include constantly using the wrong words or forgetting the meaning of simple words. By really stretching things, this could be called “aphasia,” a third “A.”

Another sign of Alzheimer’s is the inability to do routine tasks, things that people do without giving them a second thought, like dressing. Poor judgment is yet another sign. On a cold day, an Alzheimer’s patient might go out with only a T-shirt. Alzheimer’s makes it hard for people to get their bearings; they become lost even in surroundings that should be familiar.

On misplacing something like their keys, Alzheimer’s patients often look for them in outlandish places, like the refrigerator. They have rapid swings in their mood. Frequently, they suffer an about-face in their personality. A pleasant, friendly person becomes suspicious of everyone and acts in a gruff, abrasive manner.

If any reader knows M.C.’s four A’s, please write.


Dear Dr. Donohue: Every summer when I go to my cottage, I get swimmer’s ear. I’ve been told I get it because I don’t get all the water out of my ears after swimming. How do I keep from getting it this year? — R.N.

Answer: You avoid it by getting all the water out of your ears after swimming. Have you tried rolling up an edge of a washcloth and gently inserting into your ear to wick water out of the ear canal?

Make a solution of equal parts rubbing alcohol and white vinegar. Put a drop or two in each ear canal after swimming and let them stay there for two minutes. Then tilt the head to drain the drops out of the canal. The solution keeps the ear canal at the right acidity and stops the growth of bacteria and fungi that are responsible for swimmer’s ear. The evaporating alcohol dries the ear canal.

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