Forgetfulness is a natural part of life, and a common symptom of aging. Memory can be affected by a variety of factors, including chronic stress, certain health conditions or even a lack of planning. However, sometimes adults are affected with something more– dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia and is the most common form, making up 60 to 80 percent of all cases. Alzheimer’s affects a person’s memory, thinking, and behavior. Nearly 6 million Americans are affected by the disease The onset of the disease is around age 65; however, it can affect anyone at any age in later adulthood. Dementia and Alzheimer’s cause significant impairment in a person’s life, as well as the lives of the families that care for them.
Common early warning signs:
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. This doesn’t mean forgetting where you put your keys–this type of memory loss is forgetting how to use the microwave, asking for directions to a place that you have driven to for many years, or forgetting names of familiar items and close family members.
2. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home. This is when one is having a problem with remembering how to use a simple appliance like a toaster or a can opener, and losing track of or forgetting how to complete common tasks like sweeping or doing dishes.
3. Increased confusion, especially with times or places.
4. Challenges in planning or solving problems, and difficulty making future plans or remembering the day of the week, month or year. Losing things and being unable to retrace their steps to find them again.
5. Trouble with vision that goes beyond age-related eye strain. Patients may have difficulty determining colors, or judging distance.
6. New-onset problems with speaking and writing like repeating themselves or calling items by the wrong name.
7. Poor judgement or poor decision-making that is out of character for the patient, like paying less attention to grooming or giving large amounts of money away to strangers. Additionally, large shifts or changes in mood and personality can be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease.
What should you do if you or a loved one suspects Alzheimer’s?
Consult with a primary care physician or family doctor to obtain a consultation with a neurologist. The neurologist will be able to run brain imaging scans, which can show if there are any matter changes in the brain that can confirm or deny a diagnosis. The neurologist can also prescribe medications that may help slow the progression of the disease. Early detection is key to slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s, and help the patient or loved one maintain their independence for longer.
Life after Diagnosis:
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, and life for patients and families after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can be difficult and troubling. Often the patient has been regressing slowly, causing stress and strain on caretakers and the community and a diagnosis may seem like a relief in some ways.
In other ways, the diagnosis is a grieving process, and seeking therapy can be a great tool to help ease the process. Depression is common in Alzheimer’s patients, as oftentimes they don’t understand what is going on with them. Caretakers and caregivers can suffer from depression too, as they are often under a large amount of pressure and stress caring for their loved one. Since this can be a very difficult time in lives of the affected and their loved ones, help is always needed. Research has shown that taking full advantage of available treatment and support can improve the quality of life for those affected by Alzheimer’s. The toll-free telephone number 1-800-272-3900 is a 24/7 resource for patients and family members who need referrals, care help, or resources.
For those interested in support groups, there is one the first Thursday of every month from 7:00pm-8:00 at St. John’s Methodist Church in Richmond.
Kristen Vince, MA-C
Clinical Community Education Director
Disclaimer: The contents of this article, including text and images, are for informational purposes only and do not constitute a medical service. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.