For millions of older Americans – roughly one in nine seniors – Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias play a prevalent role in daily life. As the baby boomer generation reaches seniority, expect Alzheimer’s numbers to escalate. For both seniors and their families, remaining vigilant for the warning signs and symptoms of this chronic disease is paramount. Although no cure exists at the moment, treatments can slow the progression of the disease and maintain quality of life for as long as possible. The following ten warning signs as described by the Alzheimer’s Association do not provide a diagnosis; rather, they serve as a reason to schedule a doctor’s appointment.
1. Memory loss disrupts daily life.
A common trait of Alzheimer’s, memory loss includes all kinds of forgetfulness. Losing track of important dates and events, asking others to repeat the same information, increasing usage of sticky-notes or other memory aides, and most importantly, forgetting information immediately after learning it indicate a significant problem. However, it is typical to forget names or appointments at an older age, but remember them later.
2. Challenges with math and problem-solving.
For some Alzheimer’s patients, developing and following through on plans may grow difficult. In particular, working with numbers, balancing a checkbook, following familiar recipes, or keeping up on bills may take more time and require more concentration. As people get older they tend to make more occasional mathematical errors, but persistent problems may indicate Alzheimer’s.
3. Trouble with familiar tasks.
Following a daily routine can become difficult for someone with Alzheimer’s. Having trouble remembering the road to work, remembering the rules to a favorite game, or remembering when to walk the dog can all indicate a memory-related issue.
4. Confusion with a time or place.
Losing awareness of dates, seasons, the day of the week, and time in general is common amongst those with Alzheimer’s. In particular, many patients have difficulty remembering where they are and how they got there. However, if someone forgets that it’s a Tuesday but remembers later on, he or she may be experiencing a common part of aging.
5. Difficulty understanding distance and spatial relationships.
Vision problems such as trouble with reading, determining color, or judging distance can indicate Alzheimer’s. These symptoms can be especially problematic for driving, and should be dealt with promptly for safety reasons.
6. Speech and literacy problems.
Having trouble following a conversation, choosing the right vocabulary, and calling things by their correct names can all indicate serious memory problems. Repeating the same statement, stopping mid-conversation and struggling to continue are also common problems associated with the disease.
7. Misplacing objects and having trouble retracing one’s steps.
A person who has Alzheimer’s may put a spoon in the fork drawer, put pencils in a bin meant only for pens, and otherwise store objects in unusual places. Losing things, being unable to retrace their steps to find those same possessions, and even accusing others of stealing those items are all common occurrences. Furthermore, these behaviors tend to become more frequent over time, making it all the more important to plan for them by using extra labels on drawers and other memory aides dispersed around the house.
8. Poor Judgment
Changes in judgment and decision-making go hand in hand with Alzheimer’s. Making faulty decisions with money, ignoring hygiene, and even dressing for the wrong weather can be warning signs. Making a bad decision on occasion is normal, but a perpetual chain of poor decisions indicates greater problems.
9. Social isolation.
For someone with Alzheimer’s, keeping up with hobbies, work, and social activities becomes difficult. Remembering how to do certain tasks, combined with the changes they have experienced, may also lead to social isolation. While feeling weary of obligations is normal, serious withdrawal should not be dismissed as simply a brief retreat.
10. Shifting mood.
Getting confused, depressed, suspicious, anxious, or fearful may also be signs of Alzheimer’s. Mood and personality changes may also affect friends, co-workers, and family. Troubled by confusion and other problems, patients are far more likely to get upset. Everyone gets irritable at times, but significant mood changes should not be taken lightly.
If you notice any of these warning signs in yourself or a family member, don’t dismiss them. Set an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible. The earlier Alzheimer’s is detected, the more help you can get from treatments. Treatments may provide some relief of symptoms and allow for a prolonged period of independence.