Alzheimer’s Awareness Month – What Are the Signs and Symptoms

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As I grow older, I find myself searching for words that have been part of my vocabulary when I was younger but that I can’t seem to find during a conversation. It’s like I know there’s a word that fits perfectly in the conversation I’m having but I can’t remember it. I also have what seems to be a common problem of going into a room and not remembering what I went into the room for. I don’t think I’m alone in having fears that these symptoms are an indication of the onset of Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia. I take some solace in the fact that almost all of my peers suffer many of these same symptoms, but I also know many friends and relatives who do have some form of dementia or have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and I’ve seen the impact it has on their lives and on the lives of their families.

I am going to visit a long time friend on the East coast who is in her sixties and is afflicted with Alzheimer’s. Her condition has continually worsened over the last five years, and she is now in a memory care unit where she doesn’t recognize anyone, including her husband. The saddest part of this story is that a very large percentage of older Americans have a loved one with a similar story. Alzheimer’s has a huge affect on the health of our nation.

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, and its goal is to increase our focus on the disease, both for our own well being and the well being of those we love. Here are some numbers. Today there are about 6.5 million people 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s dementia. By 2050, that number is projected to reach 12.7 million. Right now, about 1 in 9 people (10.7%) age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s dementia. Think about it, if you go to a party with 20 people, there will be an average of over 2 people at that party who will get some form of Alzheimer’s dementia. That is a huge problem, no wonder it worries us.

A true diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can only come from your doctor but there are ways to identify what might be a problem that needs to be addressed. I took a simple memory test that is a simple screening that would identify a need for further investigation. You can take that test here.

I found a great table that can separate typical age-related changes from signs of Alzheimer’s dementia. It helped me understand the difference.

Signs of Alzheimer’s Dementia Typical Age-Related Changes

Signs of Alzheimer’s Dementia                                          Typical Age-Related Changes

Memory loss that disrupts daily life: One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s dementia, especially in the early stage, is forgetting recently learned information. Others include asking the same questions over and over, and increasingly needing to rely on memory aids (for example, reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things that used to be handled on one’s own. Sometimes forgetting names or appointments but remembering them later.  
Challenges in planning or solving problems: Some people 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.   Making occasional errors when managing finances or household bills.  
Difficulty completing familiar tasks: People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people have trouble driving to a familiar location, organizing a grocery list, or remembering the rules of a favorite game.   Occasionally needing help to use microwave settings or record a television show.  
Confusion with time or place: People living with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons, and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they forget where they are or how they got there.   Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.  
Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships: For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may also have problems judging distance and determining color and contrast, causing issues with driving.   Vision changes related to cataracts.  
New problems with words in speaking or writing: People living 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 trouble naming a familiar object or use the wrong name (e.g., calling a watch a “hand clock”).   Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.  
Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps: People living with Alzheimer’s may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them. They may accuse others of stealing, especially as the disease progresses.   Misplacing things from time to time and retracing steps to find them.  
Decreased or poor judgment: Individuals may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money or pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.   Making a bad decision or mistake once in a while, such as neglecting to schedule an oil change for a car.  
Withdrawal from work or social activities: People living with Alzheimer’s disease may experience changes in the ability to hold or follow a conversation. As a result, they may withdraw from hobbies, social activities, or other engagements. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or activity.   Sometimes feeling uninterested in family and social obligations.  
Changes in mood, personality, and behavior: The mood and personalities of people living with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or when out of their comfort zones.   Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.

Remember, there are physical and mental reasons that can cause Alzheimer’s-like symptoms; your doctor knows you and is the one to make the final diagnosis.

I hope you’ve found some information that can help you navigate this strange journey of getting old. I also hope you take the time to focus this month on the brain health of you and your loved ones. As with most diseases, early detection helps as we battle this dilapidating disease.

Best, Thair

p.s. If you haven’t already voted, get out there and do it. Voting is a way to incorporate action into your words.

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