It’s no secret that when it comes to Alzheimer’s, early diagnosis is critical in preserving and extending the quality of life of a loved one. Each year, the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s worldwide is increasing, and so is the number of fatalities, making it the fifth leading cause of death among Americans aged 65 and older.
Health experts continue to search for innovative ways to diagnose the disease early with technology. Most Alzheimer’s cases and symptoms today are detected during its moderate stage. But the very early stage of Alzheimer’s resembles age-related forgetfulness, which you can watch out for.
If you’re living with an elderly loved one, here are warning signs of potential Alzheimer’s and some tips to differentiate a symptom from normal aging.
10 Warning Signs for Alzheimer's
Alzheimer’s affects how your loved one thinks, behaves, and makes decisions. Here are the top 10 common symptoms of Alzheimer’s that will warn you about cognitive impairment.
1. Memory Loss
Changes in the brain can occur three to 10 years earlier, some even over 30 years before doctors can recognize Alzheimer's symptoms. One of the hallmarks of the disease is memory loss that disrupts daily life, from forgetting important events, people’s names, and appropriate placements of things.
If an elderly loved one has started to rely on a post-it note on the refrigerator door or a reminder app on their phone to remember tasks or appointments, visit a doctor for a health evaluation.2. Inclination to Misplace Things
On top of memory loss, people with Alzheimer's tend to misplace things, such as their phones, wallet, or watch. They may also place items in inappropriate areas, like putting their car keys in the freezer.3. Becoming Disoriented and Confused
Your elderly loved one may experience time and spatial disorientation, another common sign of brain damage. They may forget or be completely unaware of how they got home, who they are, or what season or time of the day it is.
If you see your elderly parent getting ready for dinner at 7 AM, it's an obvious sign of disorientation.4. Having Trouble Understanding Relationships
If a loved one owns a car, they should stop driving after diagnosis. People with Alzheimer’s develop visual-spatial problems, which affect their ability to perceive distances and spaces.
Since they may be unable to estimate the distance between each stair step, the risk of falls is high. It can also jeopardize their safety if they continue to drive when parking and navigating the road becomes more difficult.5. Developing Poor Judgment
Due to the adverse changes in the brain, Alzheimer's can impact one's judgment skills, resulting in poor decisions. A loved one with cognitive impairment may reduce or lose their forethought and good sense and may not recognize what's good or bad for them.
For instance, they may forego a health checkup for a medical problem that requires attention.6. Finding It Hard to Complete Routine Tasks
Since their overall skills to think, analyze, rationalize and make the right decisions decreased, they may find it more challenging to accomplish familiar tasks, such as laundry, cleaning the house, and preparing a meal.
If you notice that an elderly loved one can't maintain the cleanliness of their own living space, it may be a sign that their cognitive abilities have been impacted.7. Striking Mood Swings and Behavioral Changes
Alzheimer's disease also affects a person's emotions. It becomes apparent in mood swings. One second they feel calm and collected, and next, they feel sad and depressed. Over time, these emotional swings will happen more frequently and severely, leading to social withdrawal, extreme confusion, and verbal and physical aggression.
If your older mom or dad has suddenly become suspicious of the people around them — for instance, accusing you of theft or thinking that you're acting against them — schedule a checkup with your health provider for a cognitive assessment.8. Deteriorating Communication Ability
Older people naturally develop either hearing or vision problems. But if a loved one loses both senses at any given time, the possibility of a cognitive impairment significantly increases.
In a study, people with either a visual or hearing problem had a 10% increased risk for Alzheimer's and an 11% risk for dementia. But people with both visual and hearing impairment were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease and were 86% at risk for dementia.
If you either need to repeat an instruction to your parents, they can't read a text message, or they have trouble finding the right words when communicating, a visit to your doctor can help assess their cognitive ability.9. Social Withdrawal
If your loved one used to be a people person, the decline in their ability to connect with others will lead to social withdrawal and self-isolation.
People with Alzheimer's often feel inadequate over their reduced ability to form relationships or maintain conversations in social settings. To cope, they withdraw from families, friends, and society.10. Diminishing problem-solving and planning skills
Alzheimer’s at the mid to late stage inflicts damage to the cerebral cortex, the brain area responsible for reasoning and language, and the frontal lobe, which is involved in decision-making and problem-solving. This results in a loved one being unable to make sound life decisions and losing their ability to function self-sufficiently.
How Alzheimer's Is Diagnosed
Signs of memory decline associated with Alzheimer’s vary from person to person, making the diagnosis a bit tricky. Some warning signs can be mistaken as age-related.
To rule out normal aging, health providers use physical and neurological tests, brain imaging, mental status tests, medical history reviews, and more to get an accurate diagnosis.
Physical examinations may include checking the blood pressure, heart, and lungs and evaluating your loved one’s overall health, including the medications they’re currently taking.
Neurological and physical tests may include assessing your loved one's reflexes, muscle coordination, speech ability, and more. The doctor may also do structural imaging with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) tests.
Diagnosing Alzheimer’s includes multiple tests to detect signs of neurological decline and eliminate possibilities of another condition with shared symptoms, such as brain tumors and Parkinson's disease.
Early and Accurate Diagnosis is Crucial
Early and accurate diagnosis is essential to maintain and preserve the quality of life. The sooner you consult your doctor about potential signs of Alzheimer’s, the more beneficial it is for your loved one’s well-being. If an elderly loved one shows memory loss, visit your healthcare provider for an assessment.
If you need help navigating the various care and support resources available for people with Alzheimer's, talk to a certified dementia advisor. Senex Memory Advisors has experienced dementia professionals ready to answer questions related to Alzheimer’s and recommend you the best communities to take care of your loved one.
Syed has years of experience dealing with people, understanding their needs, and helping them find solutions to their problems.
As a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA), Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP), Certified Montessori Dementia Care Professional (CMDCP), Syed is committed to working closely with Senior and their family knowing what is it like for individuals facing a challenging time, at times groping in dark trying to figure what is the appropriate next step or care level for their unique situation.
Syed and Senex Memory Advisors are fully committed to working closely with families in creating a personalized, step-by-step process memory care plan at zero cost.