What You Should Know About the Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
Education & Research Although cases of Alzheimer’s differ, experts identify common warning signs of the disease estimated to affect more than 5 million Americans. Here’s what to watch for.
Many of us or our loved ones struggle with memory lapses, confusion and forgetfulness. Is it just aging? Dementia? Possibly Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is often difficult to distinguish from other issues, but determining if you or someone you are close to has early signs can make a big difference in quality of life. In most cases, symptoms first appear in the mid-60s and gradually increase and become more persistent. About 1 in 9 people over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s – two-thirds are women.
Keep an eye out for these indicators from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA):
Memory loss, especially of recent events, names, placement of objects and other new information
Confusion concerning time and place
Difficulty accomplishing familiar actions, including daily chores such as brushing teeth or getting dressed
Poor judgment in making decisions
Struggling to find the right words, completing sentences and following directions or conversations
Notable changes in mood and personality, such as mood swings or withdrawal from usual activities
Issues with complex mental tasks, such as balancing a checkbook or other functions associated with numbers
The diagnosis process
There is no specific test to determine Alzheimer’s. Many of the symptoms resemble other forms of dementia and even what is considered normal aging. However, clinicians have been able to identify Alzheimer’s in about 90 percent of cases. Only an autopsy, however, confirms it.
Memory screenings are a crucial first step toward pinpointing a memory issue — whether it be Alzheimer’s or another medical conditions. While a screening does not replace an appointment with a health care professional, the tool tests memory, language skills, thinking ability and other intellectual functions, which might indicate further testing is recommended.
The next course of action typically includes a complete medical history, lab tests, a physical exam, brain scans and neuropsychological tests.
All family members or caregivers who can discuss changes in the patient’s ability to perform daily tasks should participate in screenings.
Early screening for Alzheimer's disease can help identify the likelihood of the diseases paving the way for families to maintain as normal of a quality of life as possible and plan ahead for inevitable changes. Alzheimer’s patients are encouraged to be proactive in their own care, with a focus on diet, physical and cognitive exercise.
There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are medicines that seem to slow down its progress, especially in the early stages.