We all tend to forget things as we age, starting with where we placed our car keys and potentially progressing to what we had for breakfast the day before. However, mild forgetfulness can eventually morph into a more serious situation such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Treatments are most effective when you are able to catch dementia early. However, the first signs and symptoms may be quite subtle and easy to miss. How can you tell if your loved one is progressing beyond simple age-related and minor forgetfulness?
Early Signs of Alzheimer’s and Dementia
When memory loss is disruptive to daily life, that could point to a more rapid decline than that typically associated with aging. Memory, reasoning skills, and cognition are among the first noticeable signs that your loved one is suffering from something more permanent and dangerous. Some of the early signs and symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Difficulty solving problems or making plans. Numbers that may have been familiar and easy to work with suddenly become challenging; recipes are too difficult to follow and paying bills may fall behind.
- Forgetting important dates or asking that information be repeated multiple times.
- Losing track of one’s location; often wondering how they arrived at a certain place or how long they have been there.
- Increasing problems with vision.
- Misplacing valuable items, or forgetting where to find everyday items.
- Personality changes can occur, specifically in highly social situations. The added pressure of appearing “normal” with others may be a trigger for those with Alzheimer’s disease.
If you or a loved one is increasingly experiencing these symptoms, it’s important to visit your doctor for a checkup. With pre-clinical Alzheimer’s and early stages of dementia, there are medications that can delay the speed of progression and provide you with a more active and healthy life.
Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
True Alzheimer’s disease can last more than a decade. However, sufferers who are entering the final stages may only have a few years left, due to the severe symptoms that occur during this period. There are no specific time ranges that can be used as guidelines, as individuals progress differently through the stages. The Mayo Clinic notes that there are five stages associated with Alzheimer’s disease: preclinical, mild cognitive impairment, mild dementia, moderate dementia and severe dementia.
- Preclinical Alzheimer’s can be identified by biomarkers and protein deposits in the brain. Genetic tests can also help see when a patient is at risk for developing Alzheimer’s.
- Mild cognitive impairment occurs when there are basic changes to thinking and memory, such as an inability to perform traditional tasks, pay attention or recall recent events.
- Mild dementia is a stage of Alzheimer’s where it is clear that your loved one is struggling with memory, solving complex tasks and expressing thoughts. Their ability to make sound judgments has likely been impaired, and belongings are misplaced on a regular basis. Short- and long-term memory loss is not uncommon, and you may find that your loved one’s personality is beginning to change.
- Moderate dementia is characterized by ever greater memory loss, an inability to support themselves during daily activities such as getting dressed and personal care activities. Judgment continues to decline, much more dramatically than before. There are significant changes in behavior and personality, and sufferers of this more advanced stage may even hallucinate things or people that are not there.
- Severe dementia due to Alzheimer’s is associated with the inability to think clearly, the need for intense personal care assistance and a serious decline in the ability to walk, hold up their head without support and problems swallowing.
If you notice these warning signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia in your loved one, do not hesitate to seek assistance. Early detection allows your friend or family member to gain the maximum possible benefit from any types of treatments that are available. While Alzheimer’s cannot be reversed, symptom relief is possible and it can allow your loved one to remain more independent for a longer period of time.
Learn more about Alzheimer’s, dementia and other age-related challenges and how to support them on SeniorCaregiverAlliance.org. Our community was created to provide the love, support, information and resources that you need to help your loved ones as they age and offer inspiration for those who care for them.