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Posted November 13, 2019 by Rachel N Hart, DO
As our loved ones get older, it’s normal for them to lose a little bit of their mental sharpness, and it’s easy to rationalize and gloss over strange behavior. After all – we all forget things once in a while. When memory and mental issues start affecting daily life, it could be a sign of something more serious. While a qualified physician is needed to diagnose someone with Alzheimer’s disease, there are some signs and symptoms that can suggest a medical evaluation is necessary:
Typical Behavior: Forgetting names or appointments but remembering them later.
Sign of Something More Serious: Forgetting recently learned information and losing short-term memory is one of the most common early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Asking repetitive questions, forgetting information that was just learned, increased forgetfulness or if forgetfulness is getting worse are all common early signs of the disease.
Change in Personality or Mood
Typical Behavior: Being settled into routines and having a way they like things done. It’s normal for older adults to feel irritated when that routine is disrupted.
Sign of Something More Serious: Significant mood or personality changes including major mood swings, anxiety and frustration, signs of depression like changes in sleep, appetite or mood. As the disease progresses, a person can become restless and aggressive as well as distrustful of others even if they are familiar with them.
Withdrawal from Social Activities
Typical Behavior: Sometimes feeling uninterested in social obligations or feeling too tired to deal with family or friends.
Sign of Something More Serious: Scaling back on projects at work, losing interest in long-time hobbies, or avoiding social activities because of fear or anxiousness could be a sign of Alzheimer’s. A person living with the disease will find it harder to come out of their comfort zone because they are confused or suspicious or because they are embarrassed that they are struggling to hold conversations.
Confusion or Frustration Over Words
Typical Behavior: Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.
Sign of Something More Serious: Struggling to have conversations and having trouble finding the right words or calling things by the wrong name. People struggling with Alzheimer’s will often repeat themselves or stop in the middle of discussions because they don’t know what to say or can’t follow along.
Trouble with Abstract Thinking, Planning or Problem Solving
Typical Behavior: Making occasional errors when managing finances or household bills.
Sign of Something More Serious: Having trouble making plans and sticking to them, being unable to follow a recipe that has been used many times, struggling with detailed tasks, especially those involving numbers. Early signs of Alzheimer’s often show themselves in the form of tasks taking much longer or being unable to balance a checkbook or having trouble paying bills.
Difficulty with Daily Tasks
Typical Behavior: Occasionally needing help to use microwave settings or to record a TV show.
Sign of Something More Serious: Familiar things become harder to accomplish like having trouble driving to a well-known location, organizing a grocery list or remembering the rules of a favorite game. People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks like preparing meals or doing things they once loved like playing the piano or painting.
Disorientation and Confusion
Typical Behavior: Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.
Sign of Something More Serious: Losing track of dates, seasons and passage of time is often a sign of Alzheimer’s; though it usually presents itself in later stages of the disease. Sometimes sufferers will forget where they are or how they got somewhere or can’t grasp something that isn’t happening in the present.
Typical Behavior: Losing things every so often and being able to retrace steps to find them.
Sign of Something More Serious: Losing track of items often and not being able to retrace steps to find them could be a sign of Alzheimer’s. More so, a person living with the disease may put things in unusual or inappropriate places (like keys in the freezer) and forget that they put them there.
Poor or Impaired Judgment
Typical Behavior: Making a bad decision or mistake once in a while, like not changing the oil in the car or forgetting to bring the umbrella when it’s raining.
Sign of Something More Serious: Making questionable decisions or making poor choices regarding self-care. It’s often tough to notice this symptom because it can be subtle or concealed and patterns need time to make themselves obvious. Big signs could be making bad decisions about money management, dressing inappropriately for weather (like wearing short sleeves and sandals in a snowstorm), or neglecting to bathe for a long time.
Changes in Vision
Typical Behavior: Vision changes related to cataracts or typical ocular degeneration.
Sign of Something More Serious: Vision problems that affect balance, trouble reading, struggling to judge distances, being unable to determine color or contrast could be signs of Alzheimer’s.
What to Do
If you suspect Alzheimer’s, keep track of what you’re noticing and ask others close to the person to watch as well. Most importantly, get the person checked out by a doctor as soon as possible. Early detection is important for treatment and relieving symptoms sooner and gives the person time to plan their future better.
While there is no current cure for Alzheimer’s, treatments are available that can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life for those with Alzheimer's and their caregivers. Caregiving is not easy but there are programs at Summa Health designed to offer support and provide information.