Early Signs Of Alzheimer’s That You Can Spot
It’s normal for adults of all ages to have a sudden memory lapse, such as forgetting someone’s name or their PIN number or where they placed their keys. When the adults are over 60 years old, they may probably laugh and say, “I’m having a senior moment.”
But, when occasional “senior moments” turn into a pattern for older adults, it’s no longer a laughing matter. It could be the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, a brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, is a devastating disease that disrupts a person’s daily life.
Medical experts say the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease begins with memory problems, which is why older adults worry that they have the disease when they are forgetful. Forgetfulness is a normal part of aging. For instance, sometimes when waking up, seniors may not know what day it is but they later figure it out. When older adults get distracted while driving, they might miss turning on a certain street. However, they soon realize the mistake and navigate back to the correct street.
What isn’t normal is when memory lapses interfere with performing daily tasks. In these cases, it’s best to closely monitor people because “a significant percentage will convert to Alzheimer’s disease,” according to Dr. H. Rai Kakkar, a neurologist at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver, Colorado.
More than 6 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Most of the people who develop the progressive brain disorder are 65 years and older. However, some people develop Alzheimer’s before they turn 65. This is called younger-onset or early-onset Alzheimer’s. Although experts don’t know exactly how many people have early-onset Alzheimer’s, it’s believed to affect approximately 5 to 6 percent of those with Alzheimer’s, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Besides Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Kakkar said other types of dementia may develop before the age of 65, such as:
- Vascular dementia. A condition that occurs when blood vessels are damaged and causes reduced blood flow to the brain.
- Frontotemporal dementia (FTD). FTD is a group of brain disorders that primarily affect the frontal lobes (the area behind the forehead) or the temporal lobes (the area behind the ears) of the brain. These areas of the brain are associated with personality, behavior and language. About one-third of FTD cases are inherited, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The only known risk factors are family history or having a similar disorder.
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI). This type of dementia comes from some type of violent physical assault to the head, such as a car accident or a concussion.
- Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is due to repetitive brain trauma, which boxers and other athletes sustain or military personnel who experience recurring blast injuries.
- Alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD). The most common type of ARBD is cognitive impairment, experienced by 50 to 70 percent of people who abuse alcohol.
It takes more than one visit to a doctor’s office to diagnose Alzheimer’s because the disease involves factors other than memory loss. Patients undergo cognitive tests, blood tests, brain imaging, and other tests before receiving an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s
Like other diseases, Alzheimer’s has warning signs and symptoms. However, many of them are similar to the normal symptoms of aging.The main difference is that the warning signs of Alzheimer’s will gradually disrupt a person’s life.
The Alzheimer’s Association lists 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease:
- Memory changes that disrupt daily life. Forgetting important dates or events, relying on memory aides, asking the same questions over and over, and when older adults rely on others to do the things that they once did on their own are common signs of Alzheimer’s.
- Challenges in planning or solving problems. Some people may experience changes in their ability to concentrate, develop and follow a plan, or work with numbers. For instance, it’s hard for people with Alzheimer’s to keep track of monthly bills, balance a checkbook, or follow a familiar recipe.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks. Someone with Alzheimer’s may find it hard to do routine tasks, such as driving to a familiar place without getting lost, organizing a grocery list, or preparing a meal or playing a game.
- Confusion with time or place. It’s normal for older adults to go into a room and forget why they went into the room but they figure it out later. People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble understanding something if it doesn’t happen immediately. They also may forget where they are or how they got there. They also lose track of dates, seasons, and the passage of time.
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. Some people may have difficulty reading because of vision changes that are not related to normal age-related vision changes, such as cataracts. They also may have difficulty reading or trouble with perception, judging distances, and determining color or contrast.
- Problems with words in speaking or writing. People with Alzheimer’s have trouble joining or understanding a conversation. They may repeat themselves or stop speaking because they are having trouble finding the right words to say. They may also call things by the wrong name, like calling a “watch” a “hand-clock.”
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. It’s common for older adults to misplace their car keys or glasses, but they have the ability to retrace their steps to find them. People with Alzheimer’s may put items in unusual places, such as placing their glasses in a refrigerator, and they are not able to retrace their steps to find their items. They may even accuse others of stealing their missing items.
- Decreased or poor judgment. It’s common to make a bad decision or exercise poor judgment on occasion, but people with Alzheimer’s disease develop a pattern of poor decision making due to their cognitive decline. Because of their poor judgment, people with Alzheimer’s are vulnerable to scammers and might give away large amounts of money—sometimes without their loved ones knowing it. They also may become less interested in grooming themselves and keeping themselves clean.
- Withdrawing from work and social activities. Because of problems with having conversations, confusion with time and space, and other difficulties, people with Alzheimer’s frequently stop their favorite hobbies, withdraw from social activities—including ones that they enjoy—or quit their jobs if they are still working.
- Changes in mood and personality. One of the most obvious warning signs of Alzheimer’s are mood and personality changes. A person who was once calm, outgoing, and confident may gradually become anxious, withdrawn, and fearful. Seniors may also become easily upset when they get out of their comfort zone.
The Alzheimer’s Association warns older adults who see one or more of these signs or symptoms in themselves, not to ignore them. And, people who notice these changes in their loved ones or friends should voice their concerns. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends taking action to figure out what’s going on by consulting a doctor.