As we get older, we may start to notice differences in certain skills such as reasoning, critical thinking, and memory. Although a certain amount of change is normal in healthy brain aging, knowing the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is important.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia. Dementia is a general term that indicates memory loss and changes in cognitive function to a degree that affects activities of daily living. Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia as people age.
Alzheimer’s disease is the buildup of plaques of protein (called amyloid) and tangles of protein (called tau) in the brain that impact its ability to function properly. While most people will have some degree of plaques and tangles in their brain, those with Alzheimer’s tend to have many more. This buildup results in cognitive impairment.
Most patients with Alzheimer’s are diagnosed after the age of 65, although plaques and tangles begin forming decades before the first symptoms appear. Many younger adults are living with undiagnosed Alzheimer’s. We recommend assessment beginning at age 50. Knowing what to look for is important, regardless of age.
Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
If you notice any of the following symptoms affecting your daily life, don’t wait. Talk to your doctor right away.
- Memory Loss. To a certain degree, memory loss is natural in the aging adult or adults living with chronic stress. Memory loss is one of the most prominent early signs of Alzheimer’s, especially when it presents itself in the form of forgetting recently learned information. Repeatedly asking the same question and heavy reliance on memory aids such as alerts, sticky notes, and lists are also early signs.
- Conversational and Social Withdrawal. Conversations become harder to track and hold onto as problems with vocabulary and sentence formation arise. Those living with Alzheimer’s may begin withdrawing from their favorite hobbies and social interactions to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of this cognitive gap beginning to grow.
- Visual and Spatial Recognition. For some people, issues with their vision in the form of color contrast and spatial reasoning may be a huge indication of the development of Alzheimer’s. This symptom may make driving and balancing new challenges.
- Confusion. Confusion, especially with time and place, may become common for a person experiencing Alzheimer’s. Losing track of upcoming events and even forgetting one’s current location, or how they got there, may become troublesome in later stages of the disease.
- Planning, Problem Solving, and Completing Familiar Tasks. Concentration may be much more difficult for the person suffering from Alzheimer’s. Completing familiar step-by-step tasks and remembering the rules to favorite games can present great difficulty. Paying bills and working with numbers may be skills that begin to falter as well. These symptoms may also present in the form of forgetting the proper order of tasks such as brushing teeth, washing hands, and getting dressed. Progressive lack of grooming and improper hygiene may be a tell-tale sign for some living with the disease.
- Misplacing Items. As the symptoms of Alzheimer’s progress, placing items in peculiar places may become common, and the ability to reason where the item may be located becomes more difficult. This may advance to ideation that belongings are being stolen. Losing keys and finding them later is typical for any person. Placing the television remote control in the bathroom cabinet and being unable to retrace the steps to find it is not.
- Mood and Personality. Although we are all entitled to have our own feelings for our own reasons, people living with Alzheimer’s may begin to have increasingly drastic changes in mood or personality. It may be much easier for a person to slip into feelings of anxiety, depression, and fear even when at home and in familiar surroundings. Being compassionate with loved ones experiencing these symptoms is important, but may also be the most difficult.
Annual Memory Screenings
As we age, knowing where your cognitive ability is shining or lacking may be an important point of judgement in the presence or progression of disease. It is recommended that people age 50 and older, undergo annual memory screenings.
At The CRCNJ, this assessment may be provided cost-free to those eligible and is conducted privately with an experienced evaluator who will administer standardized tests of memory, language, thinking ability, and other related functions of the brain. When the assessment is over, the results will be shared and explained. The CRCNJ staff will recommend further testing, if needed, and can share the results with a primary care physician by request.
There is no single diagnostic test to determine if someone has Alzheimer’s. However, memory screenings can help determine if further evaluation is necessary. Early detection of memory loss and cognitive impairment is crucial in delaying the onset of the most severe symptoms. At The CRCNJ, we provide memory screenings at no cost to you. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.