With the challenges of Alzheimer’s and other dementias fresh in our thoughts following National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, this is an excellent time to start learning the signs of Alzheimer’s and ways you can support your senior relative or friend who may have the disease. A greater awareness of what people may be experiencing can help you encourage them to see a doctor at the earliest signs of the disease. While there are no current cures for Alzheimer’s disease, there are treatments that can alleviate symptoms and a wide range of supports and practices that can make life better for the person and their caregivers.
It’s also important to recognize that there are other conditions that mimic Alzheimer’s disease and are in fact treatable or curable. In those cases, early detection of symptoms, proper diagnosis, and appropriate medical attention can make a huge difference.
Here are 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s to look for:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life. Forgetting recently learned information, forgetting important dates or events, asking the same question over and over, and relying on memory aids. could signify Alzheimer’s.
- Challenges in planning or solving problems. Difficulty making and following a plan, working with numbers, following a familiar recipe, keeping track of the bills, and concentrating. could be signs of Alzheimer’s.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks. Trouble completing daily activities, driving to a familiar location, or remembering the rules of a favorite game could be signs of Alzheimer’s. Also, pay attention to the person’s gait – how they walk. Changes in body posture, arms, and feet while walking are often subtle signs of cognitive decline.
- Confusion with place or time. Alzheimer’s can cause a person to lose track of the date, the season, and the passage of time. If something isn’t happening immediately, a person with Alzheimer’s might not remember it. Oftentimes, people with Alzheimer’s will recall events and people from decades earlier in their lives and begin speaking of those times and people frequently, or as if those times and people were current. They also might forget how they got somewhere.
- Trouble understanding visual images or other sensory information. Vision problems could be a sign of Alzheimer’s. Difficulty judging distance, trouble reading, and issues with determining color contrast (which may cause trouble with driving) are all possible signs. Likewise, changes in the sense of smell have also been linked to cognitive decline, as has the inability to focus on or recognize sounds.
- New problems with words when speaking or writing. You may witness your senior stopping in the middle of a conversation and repeat themselves. They may have trouble figuring out what to call certain things.
- Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps. Some people place things in unusual spots and are unable to find them. They might even accuse you or others of stealing items they can’t find.
- Decreased or poor judgment. Pay attention to things such as your senior’s grooming habits, or whether they remember to do simple things like look both ways before crossing a street. Changes in judgment can be a sign of Alzheimer’s.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities. Is your senior avoiding social situations or work projects? This could be a sign of Alzheimer’s.
- Changes in mood and personality. Watch out for new signs of depression, fear, anxiety, confusion, and suspicion that were not common to the person in the past. Even changes in personal boundaries, or changes in how the person interacts with strangers, can signify cognitive decline.
There are many ways you can support your senior if they are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The first step is to educate yourself about the condition as much as you can. Be patient with your senior; adjusting to Alzheimer’s is an ongoing process and everyone reacts differently. Engage the person in conversation whenever you can, and in the ways, you would have always. Many of Alzheimer’s are still very much “themselves” in most ways and have lives to value and share. Being treated differently can lead people to withdraw socially and avoid the things that would bring them the most joy. Always be flexible – don’t get frustrated if your support is not welcomed right away.
Remember, you are not alone. Millions of others are experiencing similar challenges – as well as good times – with their friends and loved ones with Alzheimer’s.