As we age, we have short memory lapses and other “senior moments.” Misplace the car keys. Pause to remember a name. Wonder why we were looking in the closet.
We know we forgot something. In a moment or two, we remember.
That’s normal. Thinking slows with age.1 These senior moments are not early signs of Alzheimer’s.
Senior Moments – Early Signs of Alzheimer’s?
When Should You Worry?
Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of the set of symptoms2 known as dementia. Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. Head injury, toxins, disease and infection can cause dementia. Interruption of the brain’s oxygen, fluid or nutrient supply can cause dementia, too.
Memory loss is dementia’s best-known symptom. Dementia is not the mild forgetfulness of senior moments. It’s a major disruption of the brain’s ability to think and learn.
The earliest sign of Alzheimer’s is trouble recalling something you just learned. You have a long talk with a new neighbor. An hour later, you forget everything she said. You may not remember meeting her.
Other early signs of Alzheimer’s?
- Frequently losing track of the date and time of day, or of where you are.
- Forgetting you’ve asked the same question 3 times in the last 5 minutes.
- Needing extra reminders to keep regular routines.
- Struggling with tasks done in a particular order (e.g. getting dressed, making meals).
The symptoms get worse.
- Mom shows up late to regular appointments. One day, she doesn’t show up at all. She calls, hopelessly lost. She needs help finding her way back home.
- Dad complains he can’t balance his checkbook. You find unopened bills and overdraft slips jammed in a drawer.
- Grandpa spends the day in his pajamas. He’s lost track of his sleep schedule – AND his meds and meals.
More Than Memory
Memory loss is a symptom of dementia when
1. It gets in the way of normal, everyday life AND
2. It’s joined by new difficulties with
- Planning, problem solving or judgment (cognitive skills)
- Communication – especially using the right words (language skills)
- Attention and concentration or
- Understanding what you see (visual perception)
Doctors diagnose dementia if severe difficulties with at least two of the brain’s major functions interfere with daily life.3
If someone is dealing with dementia, you’ll probably notice sudden changes in his or her relationships with others. Has a loved one become uninterested in social activities?
- Does she avoid gatherings of friends and family? Remain unusually quiet rather than join in?
- Does he loose track of group discussion? Seem confused about the topic of conversation? Grow anxious, angry or agitated? Seem easily slighted, almost paranoid?
These might be early signs of Alzheimer’s.
Call Your Doctor
The more sudden and severe the onset of symptoms, the more important it is to see a doctor.
Why bother, if the diagnosis most likely is Alzheimer’s’?
- More than 50 medical conditions cause dementia or memory loss.4 Your doctor should rule out the others.
- Some forms of non-Alzheimer’s dementia can be halted – or reversed – WITH EARLY DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT.
- Doctors treat the underlying causes of dementia. They address Alzheimer’s differently than thyroid disease or drug reactions.
- Medical treatment may relieve some of your loved one’s troubling symptoms.
- Trained professionals can show you how to give better, more comforting care.
- Early diagnosis permits a person to make plans and discuss his or her wishes – while thinking and communicating clearly.
Skilled physicians can diagnose Alzheimer’s with a high degree of accuracy. If your doctor seems unable to explain the cause of serious memory loss, seek a second opinion. Look for answers and additional support from your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
1 “Forgetfulness: Knowing When To Ask For Help.” National Institute on Aging. US Department of Health and Human Resources, 23 Feb. 2015. Web. 27 Feb. 2015. http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/forgetfulness
2 “What Is Dementia?” Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s Association, n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2015. http://www.alz.org/what-is-dementia.asp
4 “What’s Causing Your Memory Loss? It’s Not Necessarily Alzheimer’s.” HelpGuide.Org. Harvard Health, n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2015. http://www.helpguide.org/harvard/whats-causing-your-memory-loss.htm#http://www.helpguide.org/harvard/alzheimers_dementia.htm
5 Alzheimer’s Disease: The Basics Brochure – What It Is and What You Can Do (2012). Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s Association. Web. 27 Feb. 2015. https://www.alz.org/national/documents/brochure_basicsofalz_low.pdf