Brain changes that lead to Alzheimer’s begin to develop some 25 years before memory and thinking problems appear. Although we joke about “senior moments,” many worry that these lapses mean that we are developing dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association has compiled 10 warning signs to look for:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life. What’s typical? Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.
- Challenges in planning or solving problems. Typical: Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure. Typical: Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show.
- Confusion with time or place. Typical: Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. Typical: Vision changes related to cataracts.
- New problems with words in speaking or writing. Typical: Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. Typical: Misplacing things from time to time, such as a pair of glasses or the remote control.
- Decreased or poor judgment. Typical: Making a bad decision once in a while.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities. Typical: Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations.
- Changes in mood and personality. Typical: Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.
If you are concerned about symptoms in yourself or a loved one, a health professional should be consulted. They can conduct a thorough physical exam with a health history; diagnostic tests to rule out other causes; mental tests to measure memory, problem solving and language skills; and possibly brain scans.
An early, accurate diagnosis of dementia helps patients and their families receive treatment and support. It gives them time to discuss Alzheimer's care options and make legal and financial arrangements as a team. Some medications currently slow the progression and treat many symptoms.
Many people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s continue to live alone with help, or live with someone else for some time. With early diagnosis, families and patients together can decide on long-term care facilities.