We all tend to forget things as we age. While it’s true that certain brain changes are inevitable when it comes to aging, major memory problems are not one of them. Serious memory problems can make independent living difficult. When life’s challenges include memory loss or dementia, your perceptions, relationships, and priorities inevitably shift. However, certain types of dementia can be treated or reversed if caught in time.
Scientists increasingly recognize Alzheimer’s as a disease process that begins years before symptoms of dementia become evident. Now, new research has found changes in the brain and body up to 20 years before Alzheimer’s symptoms arise. Early detection of dementia provides an opportunity for the individual to adjust to the diagnosis and to participate actively in planning for the future.
Alzheimer’s Or Just Normal Aging?
Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.
The first step is to understand what is and what isn’t normal memory loss, the causes of cognitive decline, and how to identify the types of dementia. The more you understand about dementia, the more you can do to improve your outcome and preserve your sense of control.1
Changes In The Brain
At the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, people seem to be symptom-free, but harmful changes are taking place in the brain. Cross sections of the brain show atrophy or shrinking of brain tissue caused by Alzheimer’s disease. It seems likely that, damage to the brain starts a decade or more before memory and other cognitive problems appear.
The damage initially appears to take place in the hippocampus, the part of the brain essential for forming memories. As more neurons die, additional parts of the brain are affected, and they begin to shrink. By the final stage of Alzheimer’s, the damage is widespread.
Early Signs Of Alzheimer’s
1. Memory Loss
Memory loss that disrupts daily life is the most common symptom. Forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; relying on memory aides (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) are also common.
2. Times And Places Are Confusing
People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time.
Alzheimer’s often causes sleep changes and sleeping problems. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, sleep changes from Alzheimer’s disease vary from person to person, but there are some trends.
Alzheimer’s sufferers may have trouble sleeping at night. A sudden increase in daytime napping can also be an indication of the disease.2
4. Challenges In Planning Or Solving Problems
Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. Having difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.
5. Trouble Understanding Visual Images And Spatial Relationships
For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast.
6. Words And Conversations Are Frustrating
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.
7. Taking Shorter Steps And Decreased Fine Motor Skills
Someone who is developing Alzheimer’s may find it difficult to accomplish those tricky little things we do with our hands that most of us take for granted. For example, s/he may have trouble writing neatly, buttoning their shirt, tying shoes, or threading a needle.
8. Withdrawal From Work Or Social Activities
People with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced.
9. Misplacing Things And Losing The Ability To Retrace
A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again.
10. Mood Changes
The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be upset very easily.3
Importance Of An Early Diagnosis
Early diagnosis is the key. Receiving an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s will enable you to:
- Gain access to information, resources and support.
- Demystify and destigmatise your condition.
- Maximize your quality of life.
- Benefit from treatments.
- Plan for the future.4
When Should You See Your Doctor?
If you notice the signs as mentioned above, talk with your doctor. Starting treatment may help relieve symptoms and keep you independent longer. It also helps you plan better. Appropriate treatment can stop or slow the rate of further decline.
Treatment of Alzheimer’s and other dementia-causing diseases is typically most effective when started early in the disease process. An earlier diagnosis enables the person to participate in their own legal, financial, and long-term care planning.
Individuals diagnosed early in the disease process can take advantage of early-stage support groups and learn tips and strategies to better manage and cope with the symptoms of the disease. Taken altogether, these advantages result in a higher quality of life for the person afflicted, less stress for family care partners, and more time to treasure the present and prepare for the future.