In this new blog series, The Caregiver’s Toolkit for Alzheimer's and Dementia, we are offering in-depth resources for those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's and Dementia
Memory loss can be a frustrating, but common, sign of aging. It can be difficult to tell the difference between what’s normal, and what are the early signs of more serious cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. If you are concerned about your loved one’s memory loss or behavior, but they don’t appear to be bothered by it, it may be time to contact a medical professional for a closer look.
Here are some ways to examine the differences between “normal” age-related memory loss and dementia.
Disruptive Memory Loss
While many of us have forgotten an address or appointment from time to time, we often remember them later or remember when reminded.
Individuals with early-stage Alzheimer’s will struggle not only with this type of information but also important dates and events such as holidays and birthdays. They may also ask the same question multiple times a week or even multiple times a day, or have difficulty remembering your answer even if they write it down.
Trouble with Speaking or Writing
Occasionally searching for the right word is normal, but if your loved one continuously has trouble following a conversation or struggles with the name of familiar objects, it could be a sign of something more serious. Those with early-stage Alzheimer’s may also repeat themselves often, or stop or start a conversation abruptly without realizing they have done so.
Confusion with the Familiar
Needing a little help to program a new phone or set up a television isn’t necessarily a symptom of cognitive decline. If your loved one finds completing familiar tasks such as driving to the post office, taking medication consistently, or shopping for groceries increasingly difficult, you should pay attention.
While we may occasionally forget which day in the week it is, someone with early-stage Alzheimer’s may lose track of the passage of time entirely or have difficulty remembering the season or even the year.
When discussing poor judgment and Alzheimer’s, it’s vital to remember that an isolated poor decision isn’t necessarily a cause for concern.
Individuals in the early stages of cognitive decline may increasingly exhibit poor decision-making. Perhaps they give money they cannot afford to spend to unusual causes, dress inappropriately for the weather, or forget to perform basic hygiene tasks such as bathing or brushing their teeth and hair. It is these continual lapses in judgment that should be considered a red flag.
Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or Dementia
Unfortunately, there is no one test to determine if someone is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia. A diagnosis is based on an individual’s medical history, physical examination, and other factors. If you believe a loved one may be affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s important to speak with a medical professional.
More Caregiver Resources
Be sure to explore some of our additional caregiver resources, such as these time management tips for caregivers, or how to support a loved one - virtually. If you would like to be notified about more articles like this one, including those in our caregiver’s toolkit series, sign up for our newsletter by entering your email address in the subscription box on the right.