Co-Author: Sarah Stevenson
November is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Family Caregivers Month, and there’s no better time to learn more about the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Most people are unaware how Alzheimer’s and dementia actually attack the human body. Research has shown that there are actually plaques that attack the brain, and these plaques not only physically deteriorate the brain, but also inhibit normal nervous system functioning to the rest of the body. These physical changes are what determine whether someone actually suffers from Alzheimer’s.
But how do we know whether we are having a “senior moment” or whether there’s actually cause for concern? Here are some tell-tale signs:
1.) Normal “Senior Moments” or Alzheimer’s?
We can all have a bad day. Whether we’re overwhelmed at work, not getting enough sleep or just feel that our neurotransmitters are a bit off because we’re battling a head cold; there’s definitely a difference between a minor episode or two compared to frequent issues with the following:
- Losing Things – We’ve all misplaced our keys, but misplacing objects on a daily basis may be cause for concern.
- Brain Freeze – Forgetting the rules of a game, losing your train of thought, or forgetting where you’re going are part of normal human experience. BUT the severity and frequency of these episodes can foreshadow a problem.
- Confusion – Forgetting an appointment is normal, but forgetting the appointment location—or how to get there—can signal a warning.
2.) Depression or Dementia?
Often depression can be confused for dementia. If feeling overwhelmed or overwraught, your brain is often overloaded (and “over” anything can’t be good, right?). Well here are some signs that you could be suffering from either depression or dementia—and a doctor is the best person to distinguish the difference:
- Disruptions in Everyday Life, such as forgetting recently learned information or needing to rely more on other people for daily tasks.
- Social Withdrawal, including removal from sports, hobbies and work activities.
- Difficulty Concentrating, where you’re having trouble following plans and recipes, or having problems keeping track of numbers and bills.
- Mood Swings, such as unusual fear, anxiety, confusion, paranoia, suspicion or recognized depression.
3.) Neurological Symptoms or Alzheimer’s?
Neurological problems can also be a warning sign for dementia and Alzheimer’s. After all, our brains are part of the nervous system. So if you’re having these sorts of problems with your motor skills, it’s definitely worth visiting a doctor:
- Physical Changes, whether reading is suddenly difficult, or judging distance or discerning color or contrast seems a challenge.
- Trouble Speaking or Writing, including struggles with vocabulary, repeating oneself or difficulty following a conversation.
- Major Changes in Personality: big changes in from financial decision-making to personal grooming.
4.) Is It Alzheimer’s or Another Form of Dementia?
While Alzheimer’s and dementia are related, they are still very different specimens; kind of like the similarities and differences between siblings. While they resemble each other in many ways, there are still distinct physical and mental/personality differences that make them two very different beings. And while it is usually a straightforward task for a physician to determine whether someone has dementia, the cause is not always easy to pinpoint. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, memory loss can be caused by a number of treatable conditions, such as brain tumors, malnutrition, heart disease, thyroid problems, depression or vitamin deficiencies, as well as by other dementia-causing illnesses. Vascular dementia, for instance, is the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease, but it is more likely to present itself in impaired judgment than in the memory loss characteristic of Alzheimer’s.
Once it is determined whether someone has dementia or Alzheiemer’s—the treatments can be very different.
How Doctors Test for Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease
It is imperative to have your loved ones get an appropriate medical evaluation if they show any of the above warning signs. If the condition is treatable, then they may not need to worry about Alzheimer’s at all. And if they do have Alzheimer’s and dementia resources or another dementia-causing condition, a timely diagnosis can help you plan for the future.
We want to hear from our readers, too—has knowledge of early warning signs helped you get a family member the care they need? Let us know in the comments.