Why did I come in this room again? Where did I leave my keys? What was her name? We’ve all been there – trying to desperately wrack our brains for information we know is in there, but we just can’t seem to access. Forgetting the occasional appointment or the name of someone you’ve met once or twice is normal. It’s normal to forget a phone number – but not how to use a phone.
As we age, some loss of memory is expected. But for some, that loss can start to impair their daily lives, impacting how they work, think, and communicate with others. Alzheimer’s affects an estimated 4 million Americans. However, in its early stages it is often confused with normal aging.
There are ten early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, which can indicate that further testing is necessary.
1. Severe memory loss – Forgetting information even when reminded.
2. Trouble completing familiar tasks – Inability to do simple things like place a phone call or make a meal.
3. Speech problems – Forgetting common words like “hairbrush” or not making sense.
4. Disorientation in time and space – Getting lost in your own neighborhood, unable to get home.
5. Poor decision making – Wearing inappropriate clothing, or forgetting routine tasks.
6. Abstract thinking problems – Difficulty using numbers, such as in phone numbers and mathematics.
7. Misplacing things – Putting the keys in the medicine cabinet or the milk in the oven.
8. Mood or behavior changes – Rapid mood swings for no obvious reason.
9. Personality changes – A normally calm and content person becoming suddenly fearful, suspicious, or confused.
10. Loss of initiative – Becoming passive and losing interest in hobbies, work, or self-care.
These warning signs can mean a variety of things – it could be Alzheimer’s, or it could be a stroke, depression, thyroid problems, a bad mix of medications, or it could just mean you need more sleep. However, it is important to visit a doctor to determine exactly what is causing the trouble.
There are several risk factors for Alzheimer’s, including being age 65 or older, a family history of Alzheimer’s, and genetic risks (although genetic testing is not commonly done). While none of us can pick our genetics or age, there are risk factors we can influence: reduce the likelihood of head injuries by wearing your seatbelt and wearing a helmet when appropriate; monitor your heart health, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high cholesterol; and focus on a healthy lifestyle, by avoiding tobacco and excess alcohol, getting plenty of exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and staying connected with friends and the community.
When you go to the doctor, he will be able to test you for Alzheimer’s by asking about your symptoms and taking a family history. He will also run some mental status tests and do a physical exam, including blood and urine tests. There is also a neurological exam, and some doctors are now using brain imaging, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT), positron emission tomography (PET) and functional MRI (fMRI).
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, remember that there are a number of treatments available to discuss with your doctor – everything from nutritional therapies to medication to family therapy. Early diagnosis allows those with Alzheimer’s and their families to learn better ways to cope and prepare. This is important, as people with Alzheimer’s can live for 20 or more years after diagnosis. There is no reason why many of those years cannot be filled with love and joy and adventure.
Alzheimer’s Association. 7 Aug. 2007 http://www.alz.org/index.asp.
“Could It Be Alzheimer’s? 10 Possible Early Warning Signs.” 4therapy.Com. 7 Aug. 2007 http://www.4therapy.com/consumer/conditions/item.php?uniqueid=5971&categoryid;=452.