May 182009

Since the release of Still Alice, I’ve had the privilege of talking to a lot of audiences about Alzheimer’s. One of the most common questions people ask me is:

“When I can’t find my keys, how do I know if that’s normal forgetting or a symptom of Alzheimer’s?”

My quick and dirty answers are usually something like:

“Well, when you find your keys, are they on the table or in the refrigerator?”


“We all have trouble finding where we put our keys. It’s worrisome if you find your keys and then can’t remember what you’re supposed to do with them.”

Forgetting keys, names, how to get somewhere, how to do something–How do we know when it’s normal and when it’s Alzheimer’s?

The Alzheimer’s Association has put together the 10 Warning Signs List.

They also provide this phone number if you’d like to talk to someone about your concerns: 877 IS IT ALZ

My friend Kris recently shared one of her early warning signs (warning sign #4) with me:

My biggest tell-tale sign was when I’d gone shopping with my husband, and we went to a Best Buy store. I was looking at some CDs, and my husband had gone off somewhere else, and I looked up from the CDs, and I didn’t know where I was or how I had gotten there. It’s kind of hard to be in a Best Buy store and not know you’re in a Best Buy store, you know, with all the Best Buy signs everywhere. The only way I can describe it, and it’s so funny because in your book it was like this, it’s like an out of body experience.

I remember going out of the store to look at my surroundings, and I looked at the sign, but I couldn’t read that it was Best Buy. I saw the sign, but I couldn’t put together that I was at the Best Buy store. So I remember sitting down on the steps in front of the store and thinking, ‘Well, I got here somehow, I’m just going to have to figure out how I got here.’

I sat there for a while and then went back in the store, and I recognized my husband. And I thought, ‘OK. I got here with him, I’m still not sure where I am, but I got here with him and I’m okay because I know I can get home with him.’ And I didn’t say anything to him. I just followed him out to the car, got in the car, went home, and that night I still could not remember where I had been.

I didn’t want to alarm my husband about it, so just jokingly I said to him, ‘You know, I know we went out today, but I can’t remember where we went.’

He said, ‘We went to Best Buy.’

And I said, ‘Oh, yeah.’

How old were you?


When I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I was relieved because now I knew there was a name to it. I know there’s no cure, and it broke my heart, but by the same token, now I knew what I was dealing with and that I wasn’t crazy.

Lisa Genova, Ph.D., author of Still Alice,

  7 Responses to “When is it normal and when is it Alzheimer’s?”

  1. Wow! I can't believe that she is 46 and couldn't remember where she was shopping. So, scary!! I am 37 and have moments of not remembering where I put things from the same day. It's frustrating but I have Alzheimer's in my family and I am now taking action trying to live a healthier life so I can either prevent Alzheimer's or at least prolong it. thanks for this story.Krista My blog is

  2. Sometimes, it's really hard to believe that Alzheimer's can slowly rob a person of his/her mental dexterity at a quite early age. I mean, 46 years is not yet "that old". Episodes such as this can be scary. Just think of the dangerous possibilities that could have happened. When AD starts,there's no stopping it. Sooner or later, it's effects will take over. The best we can do is to make sure that our dear family member with Alzheimer's disease gets the best health care possible. His/her health and wellness now becomes our responsibility.

  3. Kris's story is frightening. My mom, who recently passed away from ALZ, said she pulled her car into the driveway one day and couldn't remember how to open the garage door. She sat there for a while thinking, until it dawned on her. Now I wish she had been more open with us kids about her difficulties. It's pains me to think she may have suffered in silence for even one minute.

  4. That really is a scary story! I can only imagine that happening to my mother, who is 45. She does have moments where she forgets what's going on, but I really hope its not Alzheimer's.

  5. u hve got 2 b kiding how close to my life can this be? help?

  6. We saw signs with my mother when she was in her early 50's. It's very scary but I think we all need to remember that we need to enjoy life to the fullest and that the disease is not the person. <a href="” target=”_blank”>

  7. I and my sister are seeing somesigns with our mother now we seen subtle signs ten yrs ago… she is now 69 . getting her to go to the doctor is the hard part. and heaven help us if it is alzhiemer.. because growing up she always said if there was anythin serous going on she would just disapear… so wewalk on tip toesaround mom scart that , that iswhat she will do.. any sugestions.

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