Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementia-related conditions are a growing concern as more and more people are being diagnosed and suffering the effects of these incurable illnesses. Alzheimer’s Disease affects each person differently and it can be difficult to spot the signs of the disease in the early stages. However, by knowing and recognizing the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, we can be better positioned to deal with symptoms and seek help to lessen or delay the effects of the disease. Nicolette Vasco from the Alzheimer’s Association shared these 10 warning signs we should all be on the look-out for:
- Memory Loss that disrupts daily life – Forgetting names, dates, or why we came into a room happens to all of us, but within time, we usually remember what we forgot. However, forgetting important dates, names, or events such as a child’s name or when someone was married, may be indicative of dementia. It is also important to look out for repeatedly asking the same questions or a sudden introduction of memory aids (reminder notes) to assist in tasks that were formerly managed with ease, such as how to start a dishwasher.
- Challenges in planning or problem solving -While we all make mistakes balancing a checkbook or get distracted in the middle of doing something, we usually can fix those issues. However, having trouble repeatedly following basic instructions, such as following a recipe, or taking a long time to complete basic tasks may indicate in a change in cognitive function.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks – While we all occasionally need help with new technologies or finding new locations, difficulty with completing familiar tasks or finding familiar locations can be an indication of Alzheimer’s. For example, forgetting where a person’s church is located or forgetting the rules of favorite game can be a sign of more significant cognitive problems.
- Confusion with time or place – We all experience forgetting what day it is, but we are able to figure out the correct day quickly. Someone suffering from dementia can lose track of time, both short term and long term, or where they are and how they got there. A common occurrence is the ability to remember decades old information, but unable to remember what they ate for breakfast that day or who they saw a week ago at bingo.
- Trouble understanding visual images and spacial relationships – While visual deterioration is common with getting older, people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia have difficultly perceiving things visually rather than simply seeing them. This can manifest in having difficulty with balance while walking because their depth perception or peripheral vision is impaired or they may have trouble judging distance when trying to step into a bathtub.
- New problems with words in speaking or writing – While we all have difficulties finding the right word, someone suffering from early stages of Alzheimer’s may start showing problems joining or following a conversation. They may repeat themselves, struggle with vocabulary, or stop in the middle of conversation and be unsure as to how to continue.
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps – While we all misplace things, we are usually able to retrace our steps and figure out where something is or why we put it there. Someone suffering from dementia will not only forget where they placed something, but also be unable to retrace their steps. They will have difficultly remembering what they did in the lead up to or after placing an object and may even start accusing others of stealing or moving items.
- Decreased or poor judgement – We all make mistakes from time to time, but someone suffering from dementia may start using poor judgement with money, like following through with scam phone calls, or neglect personal grooming and cleanliness.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities – There are times where we all want to skip a family event. However, someone with Alzheimer’s may start to completely remove themselves from any social situation because they are unable to recognize people or hold conversations. They may also stop engaging in favorite activities or organizations because they forget how to properly play a game or do some sort of activity.
- Changes in mood and personality – As we get older, we often settle into a routine and may get frustrated if that routine is disrupted. However, people suffering from dementia can take this to the extreme where any slight deviation from a routine can cause them to act out aggressively (verbally or physically) because they are unfamiliar with a new place or order of events. Additionally, someone may become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful, or anxious at simple things that would not normally bother someone.
Someone suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s does not have to exhibit all 10 warning signs. Each person will experience different difficulties and changes so it is important to pay attention to any odd shift in behavior or practices. Consult with others who interact with the person to see if they notice the same or different things you do and if necessary, seek out medical help from psychologist, geriatrician, or neurologist for further evaluation. If you suspect someone is suffering from memory related concerns resulting from any form of dementia, follow these 10 steps:
- What changes in memory, thinking, or behavior do you see?
- What else is going on in that person’s life?
- Learn about the signs and benefits of early diagnosis.
- Has anyone else noticed the change(s)?
- Who should have the conversation to discuss concerns?
- What is the best time and place to have the conversation?
- What will you or the person having the conversation say?
- Offer to go with the person to the doctor.
- If needed, have multiple conversations.
- Turn to the Alzheimer’s Association for information and support.
For more information about Alzheimer’s, including support groups, care, or early detection, please visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s website or call their hotline 24/7 at 1-800-272-3900. For a copy of the presentation, please visit https://www.njstatelib.org/assets/10WarningSignsofAlzheimersPresentation.pdf. For a copy of the Memory Test Handout, please visit https://www.njstatelib.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Memory-Test-Handout.pdf.