For many people, thinking about aging brings up a nagging fear: Alzheimer's Disease. That fear starts to grow if your spouse starts to act confused or forget things.
Since November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month, it's a good time to take a closer look at some of the early warning signs of Alzheimer's. There's no reason to live in fear of this disease, but awareness and knowledge are empowering and help us recognize and treat it.
In the earliest stages of Alzheimer's, the individual might not exhibit any changes in behavior or ability. By the time some of the more obvious signs start to emerge, the disease may have progressed into the later stages. However, every person is different, and the National Institute on Aging says that "decline in non-memory aspects of cognition, such as word-finding, vision/spatial issues, and impaired reasoning or judgment may be, in addition to memory loss, among the earliest signs of Alzheimer's.
There's nothing wrong with visiting your doctor for peace of mind that the memory loss is merely related to aging and not to Alzheimer's or another disease. If you notice some of these signs in someone you love, consult your doctor.
Lapses in Memory
Remember that everyone, no matter their age, can forget where they put their keys. It's a normal part of life in general as well as aging. The Alzheimer's Association says that forgetting your keys, a name, or an appointment and remembering it later is a typical age-related memory issue.
The difference is in recognizing when memory loss starts to interfere with someone's ability to live a normal life.
Mayo Clinic says that people with Alzheimer's may face these types of memory issues:
- Asking the same question over and over, not realizing they ever asked it in the first place.
- Forgetting conversations or names and notremembering them later.
- Getting lost in familiar places, like their hometowns and neighborhoods.
- Forgetting the names of family members or the objects they use every day.
Remember that not all memory loss is irreversible or related to Alzheimer's. Mayo Clinic points out that certain medications (or combinations of medications), minor head trauma from an accident, stress, anxiety, alcoholism, and B-12 deficiency can all affect memory. Other issues or diseases like hypothyroidism may be to blame.
Problems with Concentrating and Decision-Making
We all make mistakes in our checkbook balances on occasion, but as Alzheimer's progresses into stages three and four, you might notice it becomes difficult for the person to manage finances and deal with numbers in general. It also becomes challenging to react to traffic while driving or dealing with daily mishaps. The person might start to put objects in strange places, like a hat in the refrigerator, and not be able to find them.
Inability to Perform Familiar Tasks
Not being able to perform familiar tasks can include playing games and cooking or even bathing and getting dressed. As the disease progresses, the individual needs more and more help. Eventually, the ability to communicate becomes compromised.
Increased aggression as well as depression, social withdrawal, mood swings, delusions, and loss of inhibition may indicate Alzheimer's. These personality changes can show up both early and late in the process of the disease.
We can't control our advancing age or whether or not we have a family history of the disease (both of which are risk factors for Alzheimer's), but we can influence other risk factors by leading a healthy lifestyle with proper nutrition, exercise, social interaction, and lifelong learning and mental challenges.
Starting treatment as early as possible can improve the quality of life for the person as the disease progresses. Certain drugs, proper nutrition, exercise, alternative treatments, a supportive family, and a nurturing environment at home, in a memory care program or assisted living home can all help manage the disease. The key is in recognizing those early signs of Alzheimer's and getting your spouse the help he or she needs.