Is it Alzheimer’s or Normal Aging?
The signs of alzheimers is often seen years before memory loss and can be an early predictor to the disease.
Alzheimer's disease is a devastating diagnosis, but the announcement by celebrated women's basketball coach Pat Summit, University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers, of her Alzheimer's diagnosis at age 59 has put a spotlight on the less common, but perhaps even more devastating, form of the disease – Early-Onset Alzheimer’s, a diagnosis before age 65.
Approximately one in eight Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease and five percent have early-onset Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that destroys a person's memory and ability to think clearly, learn, make judgments, communicate effectively and perform daily activities. Alzheimer's progresses and eventually leads to irreversible mental impairment.
New research is linking early symptoms to Alzheimer’s. Often, it's only later that friends and family look back and realize that behaviors they found off-putting or upsetting weren't intentional, but related to the Alzheimer's. Early diagnosis gives you a chance to seek treatment to slow the progression and plan for the future.
The Alzheimer’s Association identified the following early symptoms. If you notice any of these symptoms, please discuss them with your doctor.
A warm, friendly loved one may seem to transform into Oscar the Grouch. It may start off occasionally and become more constant. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone. They begin to say inappropriate things or make odd accusations. A mild-mannered loved one begins cursing. All of these are examples of the kinds of personality changes that can predate memory loss in someone with dementia. Often depression and anxiety coexist with Alzheimer's disease.
In contrast, typical age-related changes would be becoming irritable when routine is disrupted.
For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer's. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast. Problems with depth perception or visual-spatial coordination can precede memory problems. The person may have trouble driving or even walking well without tripping on stairs.
In contrast, typical age-related changes would be related to cataracts.
Planning and Solving Problems
Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.
In contrast, typical age-related changes would be occasionally missing a monthly payment.
A Loss for Words
People with Alzheimer's may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a "watch" a "hand-clock").
In contrast, typical age-related changes would be occasionally forgetting which word to use.
A person with Alzheimer's may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced.
In contrast, typical age-related changes would be sometimes feeling weary of social obligations.
At Northridge Hospital’s Behavioral Health Services, our focus is on crisis stabilization. Therefore, the first step in the treatment process is an accurate and thorough assessment. Through this evaluation, we can provide the most effective short and long-term treatment strategies.
For more information about our Behavioral Health Services, please call 818-885-5484. For those caregivers who are looking for support from others going through similar experiences, we offer a Dementia Caregivers Support Group.