Alzheimer’s disease can sometimes be difficult to spot early due to its slow progression. However, knowing its early signs can lead to early diagnosis and treatment and a greater quality of life.
Alzheimer’s disease is a slow-developing brain disorder. Many people with Alzheimer’s do not know they have this disease until it becomes more advanced. However, if you know the early signs of Alzheimer’s, you can work with your doctor to treat it immediately and reduce its symptoms.
Here are ten early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and how to contact Lompoc Valley Medical Center for all your family’s healthcare needs.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer's disease is a form of dementia. Dementia is a general term for health conditions that may lead to memory loss and problems with language and thinking.
In Alzheimer's disease, the brain slowly shrinks, and brain cells die. Over time, this can lead to loss of memory and a decreased ability to solve problems. It can affect your decision-making ability and judgment. It can make everyday tasks more difficult to carry out, such as taking a shower and getting dressed.
Alzheimer’s is more common among older adults. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated one in nine people aged 65 and older have this disease. It adds that 73% of people with Alzheimer’s are aged 75 and older.
What Causes Alzheimer’s?
The exact cause of Alzheimer’s is not well understood. It is thought to be caused by a combination of age-related changes in the brain, reports the National Institutes of Health. These changes may be genetic or related to your daily environment and lifestyle.
Certain factors may increase your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. These risk factors include:
- Age. It is more common among older adults.
- Family history and genetics. You may be at higher risk for this disease if one of your relatives has had it.
- Gender. It is more common in females than in males.
- Head trauma. People who have suffered severe trauma to the head are at greater risk.
- Heavy alcohol use.
- Lack of exercise.
- High cholesterol.
- High blood pressure.
- Type 2 diabetes. The risk is higher among those with poorly managed diabetes.
- Poor sleep hygiene.
- Exposure to air pollution. This includes smog and secondhand smoke.
10 Early Signs Of Alzheimer’s To Watch Out For
Meet with your doctor if you have one or more risk factors for Alzheimer’s. Your doctor can review your medical history and talk to you in more detail about your risk. In the meantime, here are early signs of Alzheimer’s to look out for.
1. Memory Loss
Memory loss is one of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s. It’s normal to forget things from time to time and then remember them later on. But in Alzheimer’s, memory loss is persistent and gets worse over time.
You may forget important dates and events, like birthdays and anniversaries. You may ask the same questions over and over. You may even start to forget the names of your friends and relatives. Some people with early Alzheimer’s find that they need to take notes to remember simple things.
2. Confusion About Times and Places
Some people get confused about what time or day it is but can remember it later on. However, people with Alzheimer’s may lose track of dates and seasons and get confused about the passage of time. For example, you may put on a heavy jacket in the middle of summer, thinking winter has arrived.
3. Losing Things
Memory loss can affect your ability to remember where you have placed certain things. An early sign of Alzheimer’s is putting things in odd places, such as putting car keys in the freezer.
Under normal circumstances, a person who loses something can retrace their steps to locate the missing object. But most people with Alzheimer’s are unable to retrace their steps. Some may even accuse others of stealing their lost belongings. This occurs due to confusion about where their things may have gone.
4. Difficulty Doing Normal, Everyday Tasks
Alzheimer’s can make it difficult to remember how to do the simplest of tasks or tasks you may have been doing for many years. Brushing your teeth, cooking meals, and bathing are examples of normal, everyday tasks you may forget how to do if you have Alzheimer’s.
It’s normal to forget how to do relatively complex things or that you haven’t done in a while. For example, it’s common to forget how to program a TV remote or the route to a certain destination. But you may be suffering from memory loss if you suddenly forget how to do something you’ve been doing for a long time.
5. Changes In Mood and Personality
The changes that occur in the brain with Alzheimer’s can also affect your mood or personality. On top of that, dealing with symptoms of Alzheimer’s can be difficult from a mental and emotional standpoint. It can increase the risk of mood disorders like depression.
Early mood changes in Alzheimer’s include confusion, anxiety, paranoia, and suspiciousness. You may find yourself getting easily upset or frustrated about minor things or in common situations.
6. Withdrawal From Social Activities
Many people with Alzheimer’s start to avoid social activities. This is for many reasons, such as the inability to remember people’s names or problems with being able to carry a conversation. Alzheimer’s may even cause feelings of shame or embarrassment, especially when signs of memory loss become more obvious. You may start avoiding social events such as parties, family gatherings, and book clubs.
7. New Problems With Words
Alzheimer’s can make it difficult to remember certain words that help you express yourself. You may have problems choosing the right word or use the wrong words that don’t make sense.
People with Alzheimer’s may stop talking in the middle of a conversation or repeat themselves several times. This disease may also affect your ability to write coherent sentences.
8. Difficulty With Problem Solving
The brain changes that occur with Alzheimer’s can make it difficult to work with numbers and develop plans. This can often lead to problems with paying bills and handling emergencies. Projects may be left uncompleted, and the home may become cluttered, messy, and unclean. Many people with Alzheimer’s eventually need a caregiver or someone around who can help them solve problems and manage finances.
9. Visual Challenges
Vision problems are common among people with Alzheimer’s due to the way changes in the brain can affect perception. You may suddenly have difficulty with reading or with driving a car. You may have problems gauging depth or maintaining your balance and coordination.
Pay attention to whether you are experiencing any new vision changes. If you are, meet with your eye doctor or family physician right away for an evaluation.
10. Problems With Judgment
The region of the brain associated with judgment and decision-making is affected when you have Alzheimer’s. You may lose your ability to make good decisions, such as that related to spending and finances. You may even struggle with maintaining personal hygiene or with being polite in social situations.
How Is Alzheimer’s Diagnosed?
It can be difficult to catch Alzheimer’s early on, especially if symptoms come on slowly and gradually. An effective way to catch this disease in its early stages is to meet with your doctor regularly—especially if you meet its risk factors.
Your doctor can talk to you about new or regular symptoms you are having. Your doctor can also run a series of tests to rule out other conditions that share the same symptoms. For example, memory loss may also be caused by nutritional deficiencies or a thyroid disorder. Therefore, your doctor may order blood tests to see if you have either of these other conditions.
A reflex test, vision test, and hearing test may also be ordered if you think you may have Alzheimer’s. Some doctors may even do brain imaging tests like an MRI or CT scan.
What Are Treatments For Alzheimer’s?
The goal of Alzheimer’s treatment is to delay and improve your symptoms. Your doctors will also work with you to improve your quality of life while living with this condition. It is generally treated with medications and with a series of lifestyle changes that can enhance your living situation.
Drugs for Alzheimer’s may be used to improve symptoms like anxiety, depression, and agitation. They may also improve the way brain cells communicate with one another. This can often slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.
People with Alzheimer’s who live independently at home may work with an expert who can help them simplify tasks in the home. For example, it may involve hanging up a large calendar to track dates and appointments or setting up automatic bill pay. It may even involve hanging up photos of friends and loved ones that are labeled with their names.
You may also get help with making changes in your home that make it safer. This may involve removing loose rugs and carpeting that can lead to accidents with depth perception. It may involve installing handlebars in the bath or shower.
If you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s early on, your doctor can work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan. Treatment will likely revolve around your current symptoms and focus on delaying the progression of the disease. Your doctor may even discuss the possibility of hiring a caregiver who can help you carry out normal everyday tasks.
Getting Help in Lompoc
Do you have a loved one with Alzheimer's? Are you a family caregiver? Our Family Caregiver Support Network (FCSN) is a resource center for Lompoc residents to access education, referrals and supportive services to aid in the delivery of care for their loved ones. Contact us today to learn more, or call 805-875-8875, we are ready to help.