With the holidays of November and December, many families will gather together after long months or years of separation. In addition to sharing the latest life developments, it can be a good time to assess the current physical and mental health of your aging loved ones. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month.
Most people are aware the Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that causes a gradual decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. While some memory loss happens to everyone, regardless of age, memory loss that disrupts your daily life may be a symptom of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are 10 warning signs and symptoms that may be early indicators of the disease and an individual may experience one or more of these signs in various degrees. Remember, some of these signs could be temporary, as a result of injury or medication but if you believe you are exhibiting any of these signs or if you have noticed them in a loved one, please see a doctor.
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
As opposed to typical age-related memory loss, where one occasionally forgets a name or where you put something but remembers it later, this is an increasingly more disruptive type of member loss. An individual may not be able to recall recently learned information or may forget important dates or events more than usual. You may also notice individuals repeatedly asking for the same information or increasingly relying on memory aids or family members to remind them of information or appointments that they used to recall on their own.
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
Balancing a checkbook can be a challenge for anyone, but if an individual experiences a change in their regular abilities to work with numbers or follow a plan, it may be cause for concern. Some common signs may be trouble following a familiar recipe, a new difficulty keeping track of monthly bills or increased difficulty concentrating and as a result, take longer to do things than they previously did.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
Who doesn’t need help trying to figure out how to set the DVR or download music? But if you notice your loved one seems to be having trouble with familiar tasks, such as driving to the grocery store, remembering how to play their favorite game or use the oven, it could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s.
- Confusion with time or place
It’s not uncommon to forget what day of the week it is, only to remember later but loosing track of dates, seasons or the passage of time is a different matter. Look for signs of disorientation, your loved one may forget where they are or don’t know how they arrived there.
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
Trouble with your vision could simply mean you need a new pair of glasses or are developing cataracts or glaucoma but if an individual is having difficulty reading, driving, judging distance and determining color or contrast, it is time to consult a doctor beyond an ophthalmologist.
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
Having trouble finding the right word may be a common age-related issue but someone with Alzheimer’s may not be able to follow the flow of a conversation or be able to join in. Look for signs of an individual who suddenly stops in the middle of a conversation, looses their thought thread and then has no idea how to pick up the conversation again or repeats themselves. Other signs include struggling with common words or difficulty coming up with the correct term for a familiar object.
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
Anyone can misplace their keys or phone but usually simply retracing your steps is the solution. However, someone with Alzheimer’s disease may not only place things in unusual places, they forget when they placed them and also be unable to retrace their steps to find them again. Sometimes, out of fear or embarrassment, they may accuse others of stealing the missing object.
- Decreased or poor judgment
No one is perfect and anyone makes an occasional bad decision. But people with Alzheimer’s may experience more drastic changes in judgment or decision-making, such as falling for telemarketing scams or failing to keep up with basic daily hygiene.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
Sometimes you just don’t feeling like going out or socializing, especially after a hectic day or high-pressure week. But when an individual is regularly opting out of their regular social activities or hobbies, it may be because they are having memory issues or want to avoid people who will notice some of the difficulties they are experiencing.
- Changes in mood and personality
Many people like schedules or performing a task a certain way and become irritable when their routine is disrupted. However, people with Alzheimer’s may experience mood and personalities changes more frequently, especially when they are out of their comfort zone or a familiar environment. Such individuals may become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious or upset at home, at work or in unfamiliar places when their routine is disrupted or they feel uncomfortable.
For more information about the disease, please watch the National Institute on Aging’s video
Inside the Brain: Unraveling the Mystery of Alzheimer’s Disease. The 4-minute captioned video shows the intricate mechanisms involved in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain.
If the time has come when your aging loved one is no longer able to live independently, please contact the knowledgeable staff at ElderLink to help you find elder care services or an assisted living facility within California that is customized for your family.
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