Knowing the Signs

Forgetting to send a birthday card or misplacing one’s keys are common occurrences in an often hectic schedule filled with work and personal responsibilities; however, when the mental confusion becomes more frequent, there could be more at stake than just needing a pause in one’s schedule. With an estimated 44 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, June has been designated as Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month to show support and generate awareness of early symptoms. Dementia is the overall term for conditions that focus on a decline in memory, language, and other cognitive skills that affect a person’s ability to do everyday activities. Alzheimer’s, the most common cause of dementia, is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are ten early signs and symptoms to be aware of:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life. This is one of the most common signs, especially in the early stage, which often includes forgetting recently learned information like important dates or events or asking the same questions repeatedly.
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems. Some people living with dementia may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan. Paying a bill, following a recipe, or tasks that involve concentrating may be problematic.
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks. People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks like driving to a familiar place, organizing a grocery list, or remembering the rules of a favorite game.
  • Confusion with time or place. Losing track of dates, seasons and the passage of time are common for people living with Alzheimer’s. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s which can also lead to difficulty with balance or trouble reading. They may also have problems judging distance and determining color or contrast.
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing. People living with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may struggle with vocabulary, have trouble naming a familiar object, or use the wrong name.
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. A person living with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may accuse others of stealing, especially as the disease progresses.
  • Decreased or poor judgment. Changes in judgment or decision-making are another sign of Alzheimer’s including dealing with money or personal hygiene.
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities. Lacking the ability to hold or follow a conversation may cause a person living with Alzheimer’s disease to remove themselves from hobbies, social events, or other engagements.
  • Changes in mood and personality. Drastic mood and personality changes are also common. Individuals may become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful, or anxious. They may also become easily upset at home, with friends, or when they are out of their comfort zone.

At this point, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are treatments that may slow the progression of the disease. Also, there are medications and other options that address common symptoms and improve the overall quality of life for both the patient and their caregivers. Regular exercise which increases blood and oxygen flow to the brain and heart-healthy eating, combined with maintaining strong social connections and keeping mentally active as we age, might lower the risk of cognitive decline caused by Alzheimer’s.

For more information or to find a specialist who treats dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, please visit www.rwjbh.org/medicalgroup and select find a doctor, where you can search by physician name, specialty, or location.