Ten Warning Signs of Alzheimer's Disease
Everyone has difficulty recalling a name or date now and then, but vague and early signs of memory loss that interfere with day to day functioning may be warning signs of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia in which there is a slow decline in reasoning, thinking, memory and judgment. The Alzheimer’s Association has a list of ten warning signs of AD, which may be experienced at different levels or intensity:
Memory loss- the person may forget dates or events, and may repeat the same questions. *Normal, age-related memory changes include forgetting a day, but recalling it later.
Difficulty in planning or solving problems- this includes working with numbers, following instructions step-by-step, or keeping track of monthly bills to be paid. *Typical age-related memory changes may make balancing the checkbook a challenge due to small errors, which are then corrected.
Difficulty completing tasks at leisure, home or work- The person may have difficulty driving in an area that they were once familiar with, or have difficulty playing a game because they can no longer remember the rules or strategy. *In normal aging, we may need help with things like computer or smartphones as we learn a new skill.
Confusion of time and date- The person may understand what is happening in the present, but otherwise becomes confused about the time, date or even the season. They may also become confused about where they are. *In normal aging, you might forget the date, but figure it out in a short time.
Misplacing things- The person is unable to retrace their steps to find lost items. It is also common for them to accuse others of stealing from them or becoming paranoid. *In normal aging, if we misplace an item, we can usually go back and find it by retracing our steps.
Trouble understanding visual and spatial clues- This symptom often affects things like driving as the person is unable to fully comprehend distance, contrasts in color, the space between objects, or has difficulty reading and comprehending the material.
*In normal aging, cataracts can affect the perception of color, or clarity of what they are reading.
Difficulty with speaking or writing- Difficulty in following a conversation, repeating themselves, or not being able finish a thought while speaking is common. The person may also point to an item and identify it by the wrong name. *In normal aging, we may forget a word, but recall it later.
Decreased judgment- We have all heard of the elderly falling for scams. Judgment is likely also impaired when the person no longer gives detail to grooming. *We have all made mistakes or a bad judgment call, so look for a pattern or changes over time.
Withdrawal from work, social activities or hobbies- This can sometimes be due to impairment of remembering people, skills involved with hobbies, or duties at work. *Withdrawal can also be due to anxiety or stress with balancing work and family in persons without memory problems.
Behavior or personality changes- this may be seen as someone who becomes anxious, fearful, suspicious or difficult. *In normal aging, we may become irritated when our routine is interrupted.
If a person exhibits some of these common warning signs, it is important to seek medical care for an evaluation. The diagnosis of dementia or AD is frightening, and yet with an early diagnosis, the patient can plan for when they can no longer make decisions for themselves. The person may be a candidate to be a part of medical research regarding new treatments. Medications are also available to slow down this progressive decline, although it does not cure the dementia. Having an early diagnosis also gives the person time for planning for the future. They can seek advice on financial planning, housing, medical care and make others aware of their wishes (Alzheimer’s Association). The Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) is signed by the patient and doctor, and note the patient’s wishes in regards to end-of-life care, medical care (feeding tubes, ventilators, etc) and CPR. This may give the patient a sense of control while also sharing their wishes with family members, avoiding difficult decisions later on (Coalition, 2017).
Seeing changes in a loved one is very difficult. Look for patterns in actions and behaviors. The loved one may first be in denial, and may even try to cover up their “slip-ups” in memory. Be patient. Be kind. If you feel their symptoms are consistent with this list of warning signs, have the conversation, and help your loved one take action.
Alzheimer’s Association (nd). 10 early warning signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Retrieved from http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_10_signs_of_alzheimers.asp on 4/24/17.
Coalition for Compassionate Care (2017). POLST California. Retrieved from http://capolst.org/ on 4/25/17.