Signs and Symptoms
It’s a stressful time when a loved one exhibits out-of-the-ordinary behaviors, especially those involving memory loss and impaired cognitive abilities. What’s behind these sudden changes? What should I do in response? Is it time to call the doctor?
The early signs of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia are often confused with the normal memory lapses that can come with aging. But there’s an important difference: age-related memory problems usually don’t interfere with the activities of daily life. The more serious symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia are harder to dismiss as mere forgetfulness.
In fact, Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia have similar warning signs, but the conditions themselves are different. Alzheimer’s is a specific disease, while dementia is a category for a group of symptoms. The presence of dementia does not always mean that Alzheimer’s is to blame. There can be other causes for dementia, which makes diagnosing a loved one’s condition that much more important.
Look for these warning signs:
Here are some of the most common warning signs that could indicate the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia. If you’ve noticed these symptoms in a friend or family member, alert the person’s doctor and schedule a consultation for a professional diagnosis.
- Memory loss such as forgetting recently learned information, important dates or events, and asking for the same information repeatedly.
- Difficulty in making plans or solving problems. This could show up in activities such as following a familiar recipe or paying monthly bills. Common activities may take much longer to accomplish than usual.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks, such as driving to a familiar place, using household appliances or managing tasks in the workplace.
- Losing track of time or place, including dates, seasons and the passage of time. People with Alzheimer’s may forget where they are or be confused about how they got there.
- Problems with vision and spatial relationships. These symptoms include having trouble with reading, difficulties in judging distances and problems distinguishing color or contrast. Perception problems can go so far as not recognizing one’s own reflection in mirror.
- Difficulty with words. Whether in spoken words or writing, those with Alzheimer’s can have problems finding the right words. They may become confused during conversations, repeat themselves or use the wrong words to identify common objects.
- Misplacing things frequently. A person with Alzheimer’s may misplace an item and then be unable to retrace their steps to find it. In some cases, they may believe the item has been stolen.
- Impaired decision-making ability. Those with Alzheimer’s may begin to exhibit poor judgment in areas such as money management. They also may pay less attention to hygiene and proper grooming.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities. Because of the changes they have experienced, a person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports.
- Dramatic changes in mood and personality. Those with Alzheimer’s can become easily upset. Anything that takes them out of their familiar comfort zone, whether at home or at work, can make them confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious.
If you have noticed any of these warning signs, consult a physician as soon as possible. Early diagnosis provides the best opportunities for treatment, support and future planning.
Don’t wait to get help.
If you suspect a loved one may be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, it’s understandable if you’re feeling afraid. You may even be avoiding the decision to see a doctor. After all, maybe things will get better on their own. What’s the point of upsetting a loved one with the poking and prodding of doctors? And if it is Alzheimer’s, why be in a hurry to receive bad news?
That’s the kind of thinking that causes people to delay seeking help for months or years—time that could be spent getting treatment, finding support and preparing for your loved one’s future needs. A proper diagnosis could even reveal that Alzheimer’s is not the cause of the suspected dementia.
So if the warning signs are there, call a doctor soon. The quicker you can assess your loved one’s condition, the sooner you can begin the next step in facing what’s ahead.