It’s one of the
top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S.—the sixth leading cause of death among U.S. adults and
fifth among adults ages 65 and older. In 2014, an estimated 5 million
Americans ages 65 and older had it, and that number is expected to nearly
triple by 2060. Unlike heart disease and cancer death rates, death rates
for this disease are increasing. And by 2040, the costs to treat it are
expected to jump to $375-$500 billion annually.
We’re talking about
Alzheimer’s disease, a devastating and common form of dementia.
Alzheimer’s worsens over time, beginning with mild memory loss then
leading to the inability to carry on a conversation or engage in one’s
environment. Alzheimer’s disease involves parts of the brain that
control our thoughts, memories, and language. As of now, there is no known
cure, although treatments are available to delay symptoms and improve
quality of life.
World Alzheimer’s Month, learn the warning signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, look
out for your older loved ones, and help us raise awareness and challenge
the stigma that surrounds dementia.
10 Common Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease…
While doctors and researchers have yet to understand the causes of Alzheimer’s
disease fully, there are a few factors that may affect each person’s
risk of the disease. These include:
- Changes in the brain
- Education, diet, and environment
- Family history and genetics
- Physical, mental, and social activities
- Some of the risk factors for heart disease and stroke, including high blood
pressure and high cholesterol
While some may dismiss the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease as nothing
more than “senior moments,” Alzheimer’s is
not a normal part of the aging process. Typically, memory problems are some
of the first warning signs of cognitive loss. If you or a loved one is
experiencing any of these signs, it’s important to talk to your
Changes in mood or personality. Often, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are most evident in a
person’s mood or behavior. Does your loved one seem angry, confused,
or depressed? Are they scared, upset with others, or irritable all the
time? Are they struggling to get along with people at home, work, or with
friends? This could be a symptom of Alzheimer’s or other dementia.
Difficulty completing familiar tasks—at home and at work. For people with Alzheimer’s, it’s often harder to complete
daily tasks like driving home or remembering the rules to your favorite
card game. Occasionally needing help is normal, but finding it harder
to complete daily tasks is cause for concern.
Losing track of dates, times, and places. People with Alzheimer’s may experience confusion with seasons, times,
or places. They often forget where they are or how they got there.
Memory loss that interrupts your daily life. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, many people forget recently
learned information. While it’s normal as you age to forget names
or appointments, you should remember them later. If you’re struggling
to remember dates or appointments, asking for the same information over
and over, or relying on memory aids like reminder notes or family members
to help you recall important information, it could be an early sign of
Misplacing items or the inability to retrace steps to find them. Many people with Alzheimer’s put things in unusual places. They
may lose personal items, struggle to go back over their steps to find
them, and become angry assuming others stole their belongings. With Alzheimer’s,
this may occur more frequently as the disease progresses.
New troubles with writing or speaking. If you or your loved one is having trouble following or joining a conversation,
they stop mid-way through, or can’t recall how they got there, you
may be experiencing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Struggling to find
the right word occasionally is a typical age-related change, but problems
with vocabulary or calling things by the wrong name (a “date recorder”
instead of a “calendar,” for example) could be a sign of much worse.
Poor judgment or decision-making. It’s not just making a bad decision once in a while. It’s
having poor judgment with personal finances—giving an obsessive
amount of money to a local fundraiser or telemarketer, for example—or
forgetting about personal hygiene for days on end.
Struggling to plan or solve problems. Have you noticed changes in your ability to develop or follow through
with plans? Are you struggling with numbers, especially following measurements
in a recipe or keeping track of monthly bills? Making occasional errors
here and there is normal with age, but difficult concentrating or taking
too long to do things you once did before is a greater problem.
Trouble understanding visual images, judging distances, or determining
color or contrast. Problems with vision are signs of Alzheimer’s. Vision changes related
to cataracts or aging eyes may be normal, but greater difficulty with
reading or judging the distance between your car and a stop sign can become
dangerous and even deadly if left untreated.
Withdrawing from work, hobbies, or social activities. As a person with Alzheimer’s experiences cognitive changes, they’re
likely to remove themselves from work, family, and hobbies they once loved.
If you notice your loved one is no longer attending weekly activities
they once enjoyed, hasn’t read a new book by their favorite author
in months, or has drawn away completely from loved ones, it may be time
to ask for help.
…and What to Do About Them
If you or your loved one is experiencing any of these warning signs of
Alzheimer’s disease, don’t ignore them. With early detection,
you and your loved one have a greater number of treatment options that
can provide some relief to your symptoms and help you manage your independence
and quality of life longer.
Get Screened – First thing’s first. If you or someone you love is suffering
from these warning signs,
schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately, especially if you fear their quality of life, health, or
safety could be in danger. Early detection gives you more time to plan
for the future and make important decisions about healthcare, transportation,
living options, and legal matters. You’ll also have more opportunities
for participating in clinical trials to advance research and may provide
medical benefits plus save costs of medical and long-term care.
Reach Out for Help – No one should navigate dementia alone.
Alzconnected.org connects caregivers with a network of people impacted by Alzheimer’s,
so you and your family can get advice from other supporters and find the
strength to move forward. Support groups are available right here in Maryland, too. The
Frederick County Health Department and the
Frederick County Department of Aging provide residents with information and assistance related to Alzheimer’s
disease and dementia. And, should your family ever need it,
Hospice of Frederick County offers phenomenal support for patients and their families experiencing
the later stages of dementia. Hospice can improve the end-of-life experience
for families faced with advanced dementia or Alzheimer’s, and provide
grief counseling for the family.
Don’t Dismiss the Signs – It’s scary to think but a
University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study found that 55 percent of participants screened for and diagnosed with
dementia had never been evaluated prior to the study. That means the majority
of people living with dementia in the U.S. may never have seen a doctor
about their memory or cognitive problems. Because early intervention can
drastically improve quality of life and Alzheimer’s disease only
progresses dramatically over time, it’s important to reach out to
your doctor immediately. Seniors should make memory loss a discussion
during every doctor’s visit.
To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease or World Alzheimer’s
contact Frederick Regional Health System to schedule an appointment.