Everyone struggles to come up with a name once in a while. But how can you tell if it’s more serious?
“One symptom alone does not necessarily indicate that a person has Alzheimer’s or dementia,” says Raj C. Shah, MD, of the Rush Memory Clinic at Rush University Medical Center, in Chicago. (Dementia is chronic loss of cognition, usually affecting memory, and Alzheimer’s causes 50% to 80% of dementia cases.)
There are many other causes of memory loss, including vitamin B12 deficiency, and brain, thyroid, kidney, or liver disorders. However, having several other symptoms could be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Recognizing the signs of dementia can help lead to a quicker diagnosis.
Serious memory loss and confusion are not a normal part of aging. But forgetfulness caused by stress, anxiety, or depression can be mistaken for dementia, especially in someone who is older.
“We all forget the exact details of a conversation or what someone told us to do, but a person with AD will forget what just happened, what someone just said, or what he or she just said and therefore repeat things over and over again,” says Lisa P. Gwyther, co-author of The Alzheimer’s Action Plan: A Family Guide ($9-20; amazon.com).
Memory loss isn’t consistent, and people with AD may forget the dog’s name one day and remember it the next. “Nothing is certain or predictable with most dementias except they do progress,” says Gwyther.
Agitation and mood swings
It’s common for someone suffering from AD to seem anxious or agitated.
They may constantly move around and pace, get upset in certain places, or become fixated on specific details. Agitation usually results from fear, confusion, fatigue, and feeling overwhelmed from trying to make sense of a world that no longer makes sense, explains Gwyther.
Certain circumstances can also make the individual more anxious, such as relocating to a nursing home. In addition to agitation, rapid and seemingly unprovoked mood swings are another sign of dementia—going from calm to tearful to angry for no apparent reason.
A person with AD will begin to make decisions that seem silly, irresponsible, or even inappropriate and are a marked departure from past behavior, such as dressing improperly for the weather or no longer being able to assess for themselves what is safe.
“The earliest changes in judgment usually involve money. So people who were normally very cautious with their finances will start spending in unusual ways, like giving money to unworthy strangers like telemarketers, or withholding money they should pay, because they incorrectly believe their utility company is suddenly untrustworthy,” says Gwyther.
AD sufferers have difficulty with abstract thinking as the disease progresses, making numbers and money particularly troublesome.
While missing an occasional monthly payment isn’t something to worry about (at least in terms of the brain’s health), if your loved one suddenly has difficulty handling money, paying bills, managing a budget, or even understanding what numbers represent, it could be a sign of dementia.
Difficulty with familiar tasks
A person suffering from dementia often takes longer to complete, and may have trouble finishing, everyday tasks that he or she has done hundreds of times before.
For instance, a former whiz in the kitchen may have a problem making his or her signature dish or even remembering how to boil water.
Common activities like remembering how to get to a familiar location, play a favorite game, or manage a budget may also prove difficult.
Trouble planning or problem-solving
As dementia progresses, your loved ones may have trouble concentrating and find that fairly basic activities take them longer to do than before.
In particular, they may struggle to develop and follow a plan, like creating and using a grocery list, following a recipe, or keeping track of monthly bills.
This difficultly is far more pronounced than making the occasional error when balancing a checkbook or forgetting an item on your grocery list.
Finding car keys in the freezer, the remote in a sock drawer, or routinely discovering other “missing” items in strange spots is usually a strong indicator that your family member may be suffering from dementia.
Although we tend to associate forgetfulness with the natural aging process, people with AD don’t just occasionally forget where they left their car keys or reading glasses; they leave them in unusual places and are later unable to retrace their steps to find them.
Often they’ll also become suspicious and accuse someone else of hiding or stealing their belongings.
Confusion with time or place
Disorientation as to time and place, such as forgetting where you live, getting easily lost, and losing track of dates, seasons, and the passage of time is a common experience for individuals with AD.
“The real issue with AD is perception of time,” explains Gwyther. “Five minutes can seem like five hours for someone with AD, so a husband may think his wife has been gone for hours or even weeks, even if it’s just been a few minutes, or he might tell his grandchild that he hasn’t seen him in five years, even though he just saw them yesterday.”
As dementia progresses, a person’s language and communication skills diminish. He or she may stop mid-conversation and not know how to continue.
Vocabulary can be especially troublesome. A person may struggle to find the right word; call things by the wrong names (e.g., a car a TV); substitute unusual or incorrect words for familiar words and names (e.g., calling one’s husband “him” or “that guy”); invent new words; or use familiar words over and over again.
With time, people may rely on gestures instead of speaking, revert back to speaking in a native language, or just speak less in general.
Source – Health Media Ventures.