What are the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease?
It’s important to know this, not so much as an elderly person, but as a caregiver or relative of an elderly person.
The signs are often noticed by others before they are noticed by the person who is exhibiting such signs, and one of the critically important elements of reducing the impact of the disease is to catch it early and get treatment to slow down the progress.
Alzheimer’s, at this point, is not curable, but it is treatable. And new drug therapies are having a significant impact on prolonging good mental health.
It’s worth recognizing the symptoms and getting support sooner rather than later.
Most brochures will point out 10 warning signs that may indicate help is needed, but I’m going to condense them a bit into three general categories.
First, is the individual not able to do what they’ve always been able to do? Alzheimer’s disease generally affects the short-term memory first, and this has the effect of making someone forgetful. Simple tasks that were routine become more challenging, or get only partially done. Conversations one day are completely forgotten or repeated the next day. Things that are used regularly go missing, such as keys, glasses or a wallet.
An occasional bout of forgetfulness is common in us all, but when it becomes a regular thing, and day-to-day functioning is affected, there may be a bigger issue.
The second big change in mental processing might be various types of confusion. An elderly person might become disoriented in his or her own home, neighbourhood, or in a store, and may not be able to find the way back easily.
Similarly, he or she may get disoriented in the middle of a conversation, either using words that make no sense or simply losing the track of thought and not being able to complete what was started. Confusion about the day, week or month also indicates some processing problems.
The final big category would be a change in personality or mood. We all have our little personality quirks, but we tend to keep those quirks throughout our life. Developing new behaviour patterns, particularly more severe mood swings, suspicious or paranoid behaviour or simply showing no initiative to do anything at all, indicate that something is happening that is out of the ordinary.
As much as we would all like to hope such changes are temporary, if it is becoming obvious that a pattern of change, in memory, orientation or personality is apparent, the difficult decision of broaching the subject and seeking medical support needs to be made as soon as possible.
Relatives or caregivers would be wise to document the changes that are happening and perhaps the dates of specific events so that a doctor can recognize the symptoms and patterns that are of concern.
There are checklists available on the internet that might also be useful in considering and recording symptoms of the disease.
Untreated, Alzheimer’s disease is progressive,, but the speed may vary quite significantly between individuals. This may, in fact, be the most important reason to act quickly in seeking support.
The belief that progress will take a long time may turn out to be false, and a delay in treatment may allow the disease to progress much more quickly than it needs to.
Graham Hookey writes on education, parenting and eldercare. firstname.lastname@example.org.