Spotting the Early Signs of Alzheimer’s
Experts agree that early identification and treatment of Alzheimer’s is crucial in helping to extend the quality of life in those individuals. The number of patients expected to be diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s in the UK is projected to be one million by 2025. While there still is no cure, and the disease is a progressive one that can eventually become fatal, there are ways to slow down its progress. Learning how to spot the signs of Alzheimer’s is the best way to help yourself or those you care about access the treatment they need as soon as possible.
One of the earliest and most common symptoms, especially when a person is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, is memory loss. In particular, short-term memory loss. Recently acquired information is typically the first thing to be forgotten, followed by important dates or occasions, repeated requests for the same information and relying on lists, reminder notes or family and friends to help remind them of things they used to keep track of on their own. This differs from age-appropriate memory loss, which typically involves forgetting certain names or appointments, but remembering them later on or once prompted.
Planning and Problem-Solving Challenges
Another symptom seen early on is difficulty with planning and problem-solving. Coming up with and executing a plan for even simple things, like visiting family, can be impossible for someone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Keeping track of monthly bills, following recipes and even going for walks along a familiar route can also become incredibly challenging.
Problem-solving also becomes compromised. A person who may once have dealt with challenges head-on or who was great at coming up with ways to overcome obstacles, may suddenly feel helpless and incapable of dealing with even minor issues.
Confusion with Time
The passage of time, dates and seasons can be confusing for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. If an event did not happen immediately or in the distant past, they may have a hard time recalling it. In many cases, a patient may easily lose track of where they are, how they got there and when they arrived. Confusion with time can also manifest in a person being unaware of when it is, sometimes thinking they are back in the past. Time-related confusion can happen as a person ages, but most elderly individuals do not suffer from this to the same degree.
Difficulty with Spatial Relationships
Vision problems, particularly those involving reading, the judgement of distance and identifying colour or contrast, frequently occur in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. While vision difficulties are associated with ageing, these problems go beyond what one can typically expect. Vision changes in otherwise healthy seniors are often related to the cataracts. These vision changes are severe and unrelated to other physical ailments. In many cases, a person with Alzheimer’s must have their driving licence removed in the early stages, to avoid being involved in serious accidents.
New Problems with Communication
As a person ages, they may experience increasing difficulty locating the right word when writing or relaying a story. An Alzheimer’s patient has trouble following the story itself, even when they are telling it. They may frequently stop mid-sentence with no recollection of how they planned to continue, or they may repeat themselves often. Vocabulary issues are also common, as they may need to rely on unfamiliar synonyms to continue communicating. For example, someone with Alzheimer’s may call a watch a hand clock because they cannot recall the correct term.
Mood and Behaviour Changes
Alzheimer’s can also affect a person’s mood and behaviour to a huge degree. In the early stages, a person may become more aggressive, suspicious or outright paranoid as they are no longer able to recall events with the same clarity. It is not uncommon for someone with Alzheimer’s to accuse others, even loved ones, of stealing from them because they cannot recall where they have put an item. As the disease progresses, patients may become more easily upset at any place where they are not comfortable and with almost anyone. Depression, anxiety and aggressive outbursts may follow.
You may also note changes in social behaviour. A person may become more socially withdrawn because they can no longer participate in the same activities to the same degree as they once could. Social gatherings may be avoided because the person is aware and embarrassed about their symptoms. This act of withdrawing from social activities can also lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation and depression.
What to Tell the Doctor
If you, a loved one or someone you care about are showing any of the above signs or symptoms, you should see a doctor immediately. As mentioned, early intervention is the best way to preserve a higher quality of life for a longer time by delaying the progression of the disease. It can be hard to raise this issue, especially if you are already experiencing symptoms. There are a few things you can do to make it a bit easier. For starters, think about the following questions and jot down your answers:
- Has your/your loved one’s health, memory or mood changed?
- If so, was this recent? When did you first notice any changes?
- How did it change?
- How often do/does you/your loved one experience this change?
- When does it happen? Is there a triggering event or time of day?
- What do/does you/your loved one do when this happens?
- How do/does you/your loved one feel when this happens?
- Have you noticed any other signs of Alzheimer’s, such as increased confusion, memory loss or vision changes?
- If so, which ones?
- When did they appear?
- Is there a triggering event or time of day?
By thinking about this in advance of the appointment, you have a chance to jot down everything you are concerned about. Sometimes, it can feel overwhelming when you are in the doctor’s office, which may cause you to forget certain key details. Having this information written down helps ensure that all of the important information is relayed to your physician.
Alzheimer’s is a very scary disease, with no known cure. However, early identification can help delay its progression, leading to a better quality of life for you or your loved one as you age. Learn how to recognise the symptoms in advance to ensure that you get an early diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.