The onset of Alzheimer’s is slow and often takes several years to develop. And for this reason, many experts say that the signs aren’t always obvious. Primarily because so many of the symptoms can overlap with other health problems.
In the United States alone, there are over 5.7 million people living with Alzheimer’s.
So how can you identify the signs?
It’s A Lot More Than Just Misplacing
A Set Of Car Key’s
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s include a lot more than just the occasional “senior” moment. Just about anyone can forget where they placed their coffee cup or the name of a person – sometimes.
Being forgetful, is also part of getting older.
But as annoying as they may be, they are not necessarily signs of Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia for that matter.
Instead, memory loss in Alzheimer’s is much more severe and can often be one of the first signs of the disease.
A person’s short-term memory is usually affected, making people forget things that happened just 10 -minutes ago or a conversation they may have just had.
Memory loss can also cause people to repeat themselves, or have difficulties remembering recent events, or struggle with every day tasks, like using their debit card or following written instructions.
Making A Pot Of Coffee
Things that a person has done hundreds or thousands of time like simply making a pot of coffee can also become challenging in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
Coffee pots aren’t always easy to use, but they usually don’t require much thought and the task often becomes automatic.
Alzheimer’s however, can make even the most routine tasks difficult and leave people struggling to know what the next steps are.
The initial changes are often subtle, but they can be severe enough to disrupt routine daily tasks.
The person or their family may start to notice that they are beginning to struggle using the phone or forget to take their medication.
Their speech and language may also be affected, and they may begin to struggle to find the right words when they speak.
In addition, their appearance may also become altered. They may forget to shower and stop performing routine daily hygiene.
Why Am I Here?
Confusion as to where they are or why they are there is also a common sign.
People can get themselves lost, especially when going to new places. They can even become disoriented and confused at home too.
They may move throughout the house and find that they don’t recognize where they are.
Or they may simply not know the day, month or even the year.
When many of the symptoms listed above begin, the person is also likely to experience changes in their mood or behavior.
They may be quick to anger, or easily get frustrated or annoyed. They may also lose confidence and withdraw.
This may result in their unwillingness to go anywhere or do anything new.
Next comes Anxiety and agitation.
Most People Are Aware
That Something Isn’t Right
Kathryn Smith, from the Alzheimer's Society, says dementia "isn't a normal part of ageing - it's a disease of the brain".
Dementia and Alzheimer’s isn’t just an old person’s disease.
More than 200,000 people under 65 have dementia in the United States.
She says everyone experiences the onset of these diseases a little differently. But most people know that something isn’t right.
She says they won't get the care they need unless they go to their primary care physician.
"It is possible to live well with dementia for many years. And a diagnosis doesn't change you instantly," Ms Smith says.
But she realizes that the diagnosis of Alzheimer's brings with it a stigma that makes people feel isolated and misunderstood if they reveal it.
If you are worried about a loved one or a relative, encourage them to make an appointment with their doctor. It might also help if you go with them.
Their doctor can perform some routine tests, do some blood work and refer them to a specialist to help with a diagnosis.
The Alzheimer's Society has a helpline – 1-800-272-3900 - for anyone looking for help, support, information or advice about dementia.