Most people experience some cognitive decline and inability to remember events and details as they age, and some of that is normal, but sometimes it can be an indication of something much more serious. If you have an older American in your life, how can you tell if their memory loss is just a normal part of the aging process, or a sign of dementia or even Alzheimer’s?
While the only definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s has to be done postmortem, here are some indications you or your loved one might be experiencing some of the early signs of Alzheimer’s Disease.
1) Memory Loss Severe Enough to Disrupt Daily Life
As previously mentioned, a certain amount of memory loss as we age is normal, but if someone finds themselves unable to remember recently learned information, important dates or events, asking the same question multiple times, and/or increasingly relying on memory aids (such as reminder notes or electronic devices) that could be a sign something’s wrong. An increased reliance on friends and family members for tasks they used to be able to handle on their own is also an indication of a serious problem.
By contrast, occasionally forgetting dates or names, but remembering them later, is a more normal symptom of the aging process and not necessarily an indication that anything is wrong.
2) Reduced Ability to Plan or Solve Problems
Someone who struggles to follow a plan or work with numbers might be showing early signs of Alzheimer’s. Even simple, daily tasks such as following a familiar recipe or paying bills can become a struggle to someone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Difficulty concentrating and taking much longer to perform familiar tasks are also signs of serious cognitive decline.
We all make the occasional mistake when cooking or paying our bills, but the difference between normal aging and Alzheimer’s or dementia is when the occasional mistake becomes an inability to make a familiar recipe or manage our finances as normal.
3) Forgetting the Time or Place
Occasionally forgetting the date or the day of the week is normal, but when someone doesn’t even know what season it is or has trouble with the passage of time in general, that’s usually an indication something is very wrong. Forgetting where they are or how they got there is also an early indication of Alzheimer’s.
4) Problems Using Language
We’ve all experienced times when we struggle to find the right word in a conversation or while writing something, and that shouldn’t cause anyone any concern. On the other hand, if someone has trouble following or joining a conversation, that could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s. Stopping in the middle of a conversation or repeating themselves because they don’t know how to continue the conversation are also early signs of Alzheimer’s.
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia requires special training and is not something you should try to deal with on your own. Our new memory care wing is designed to help our residents continue living life to the fullest, regardless of their memory challenges, while delaying the progression of the disease as much as possible. Please contact us today to schedule a tour.
Caring for an aging loved one is always challenging, but it can be especially challenging if they have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. They forget things and get confused, and that can be frustrating for everyone. But getting frustrated only makes the situation worse, so get creative with ways to alleviate, or even avoid that frustration. Doing so can require some creativity, so we’ve come up with a few ideas we hope will help and might even inspire you to come up with some other creative ideas for caring for a loved one with dementia.
Display Old Photos
Patients in the later stages of dementia tend to lose both the power of speech and the ability to process language (although those two things are separate and don’t necessarily happen at the same time). To try and compensate for it, using pictures whenever possible is a great way to keep your loved one happy and engaged. You can load hundreds of photos onto a digital picture frame and have it display them on a loop. Some digital picture frames even play music alongside the photos, which is another great way to keep your loved one calm.
Use Photos Instead of Names When Possible
Smartphones are great for their ability to pair pictures with names in our contact list, making it that much easier to identify the people we’re trying to reach. If your loved one doesn’t have a smartphone, see if you can find a phone that has space for pictures instead of names on the speed dial list so your loved one doesn’t have to struggle with names they can’t remember when they need to reach someone.
Don’t Fight Their Reality
Things tend to be most frustrating when you try to convince them something they know is not the case, or tell them they can’t do something. Rather than fight it, accept their reality and come up with reasons not to do something that fits their reality. For example, if they want to reach someone who is long dead, just tell them the person is unavailable. If they want to drive, tell them the car is in the shop instead of arguing with them. It will make things so much easier and more pleasant for everyone.
Get a “Dementia Clock”
A “dementia clock” is a clock that displays the date and day of the week, in addition to the time, and can be seen from across the room. This way your loved one doesn’t have to constantly ask what time it is or what day it is, they can just look up and act like they knew the answer all along.
Eliminate Tripping Hazards
We did a whole blog post on how to avoid falling hazards, but lighting is also key to avoiding falls and injuries, so get lights with motion sensors that light up when someone enters the room. This avoids fumbling for switches and makes it less likely your loved one will try to make do in the dark when they can’t find the switch.
Get them a cane and/or a walker, too. Even if they’re steady on their feet now, that can change quickly, so make sure you’re prepared now.
We have a lot more tips for caregivers responsible for a loved one at home, so don’t hesitate to reach out if you need some more pointers, or if you think it might be time for assisted living.
Few things are more terrifying than the idea of your own mind betraying you, but that’s essentially what happens to those who develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. It would be less terrifying if we had an effective treatment to cure (or even prevent) Alzheimer’s disease, but at the moment, no such treatment exists.
Even so, many people still want to know if they might be at risk for developing Alzheimer’s. As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and if you know what to expect, there are a few things you can do to prepare yourself, even if it’s just getting your affairs in order and making sure you have a good power of attorney you know will represent your interests if the worst were to happen. So, let’s take a look at some of the most common risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease:
Although early onset Alzheimer’s provides some exceptions to the rule, Alzheimer’s and dementia primarily affect people over the age of 65, and their risk of developing Alzheimer’s doubles every five years after they turn 65. By the time people reach their 80s, they have a one in six chance of developing Alzheimer’s.
Although no one knows why as of yet, we do know that women over the age of 65 are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as men. Part of it might have to do with the loss of estrogen women experience after going through menopause.
Although we know that someone is more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease if someone in their family has or had Alzheimer’s, only early onset Alzheimer’s has been definitively identified as something that gets passed down from one generation to the next.
There are more than 20 genes that have been identified as playing a role in increasing or decreasing someone’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life and researchers are still working out which genes play what role in the development or prevention of Alzheimer’s. Nothing is inevitable – not even Alzheimer’s disease – so if you know you have some of the genes that put you at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s, you’ll want to take extra care to maintain as healthy a lifestyle as possible to try to reduce your chances of developing Alzheimer’s later in life.
People who maintain a healthy lifestyle, especially in their middle ages and older, are somewhat less likely to develop Alzheimer’s compared to those who don’t maintain a healthy lifestyle. This means exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco, and moderating their alcohol consumption. It also means staying mentally and socially active.
If you have certain medical conditions, you might be at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s. The riskiest conditions include diabetes, stroke and heart disease, high blood pressure, as well as high cholesterol and obesity, especially later in life.
If you have any other questions about dementia and/or Alzheimer’s, whether it’s regarding your own risk factors, or a loved one who is already exhibiting symptoms of mental decay, we’re here to help.