As we age, our bodies change and slow down, both mentally and physically. And while it is common to have difficulty remembering names of people, places and other things as we age, what is simply an age-related change or a sign of dementia such as Alzheimer’s?
“Alzheimer’s progresses slowly over several years, and since the early signs can be subtle at first, many people will think these symptoms are simply part of the aging process,” said Brian K. Unwin, M.D., chief of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at Carilion Clinic. “But, the sooner you can recognize the signs of Alzheimer’s and diagnose the disease, the better.”
The Alzheimer’s Association has compiled 10 early signs of the disease to look out for:
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
This includes forgetting recently learned information, important dates and events, asking for the same information over and over and increasingly needing to rely on memory aids.
2. Confusion with time or place.
Does your grandfather often forget where he is or how he got there? Continually losing track of dates, seasons and the passage of time are key indicators of Alzheimer’s.
3. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
Some people might begin to have trouble reading, judging distances and determining color or contrast.
4. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work or leisure.
Driving to a familiar location or completing everyday tasks at work might become more challenging if someone is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
5. Challenges in planning or solving problems.
This can include difficulty developing and following a plan or working with numbers. For example, your mother might start having trouble following a recipe that she makes all of the time.
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing.
Trouble following or joining a conversation is another early sign. This can include stopping in the middle of a conversation and having no idea how to continue or having problems finding the right word. Calling a "watch" a "hand-clock," for example.
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace your steps.
Things might start ending up in unusual places or lost more frequently. Oftentimes, people with Alzheimer’s might start accusing others of stealing their belongings.
8. Decreased or poor judgment.
Two of the most common examples of this early sign are exhibiting poor judgment when dealing with money and/or paying less attention to grooming and cleanliness.
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities.
Those dealing with Alzheimer's may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports, because they are having trouble keeping up or can’t remember how to complete a beloved hobby.
10. Changes in mood and personality.
People with Alzheimer's tend to become upset more easily and will become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious more often.
“Those suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s may experience only a few of these signs and in varying degrees, but if you notice any of them you should get checked out by your doctor as soon as possible,” explained Dr. Unwin. “With early detection, you can get the maximum benefit from available treatments and you can also start to plan ahead, if needed.”
An early diagnosis allows you to take part in decisions about any future care that may be needed, such as living options, financial and legal matters and end-of-life wishes.
“Although current treatments cannot cure Alzheimer's or stop the disease from progressing, they can temporarily slow the effects of the disease, improving quality of life,” added Dr. Unwin.
If you have any questions about Alzheimer’s, don’t put it off. Talk to your doctor today.