The terms “Alzheimer’s” and “dementia” are often used interchangeably. Despite their similarities, there are differences between the two.
Dementia is the umbrella term for the mental health condition that involves changes in thinking, reasoning, and memory. There are several root causes of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
In fact, Alzheimer’s is considered the most common cause of dementia, contributing to 60%–70% of all dementia cases. It’s not a natural part of aging but a progressive brain disease. According to the latest data, more than 6 million Americans are dealing with Alzheimer’s disease. This number is expected to increase to nearly 13 million by 2050.
Although it’s commonly believed to affect seniors 65 and older, around 5% of those with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis have the early-onset form. This usually means that the person is in their 40s or 50s.
Understanding the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s is critical to the individual’s quality of life. This is because an early diagnosis significantly increases the chance of benefiting from treatments.
Here are 8 early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease!
1. Significant Memory Loss
It’s OK to forget minor details from time to time and remember them later. However, someone with early-onset Alzheimer’s may start to forget information more often or forget things they just learned.
People with Alzheimer’s will start to show signs of memory loss by having trouble remembering people (even loved ones), not being able to follow conversations and forgetting important details like their home addresses.
Individuals may first try to combat this constant memory loss by using techniques to trigger their memory. For instance, they may make notes on their mobile phone with their home address or leave sticky notes around the house to not forget about upcoming events.
If this seems to be happening more frequently, it’s time to talk to your doctor. The major difference between normal forgetfulness and an early symptom of Alzheimer’s is whether the information you couldn’t remember eventually comes back to you. If you notice that it doesn’t, it could be a warning sign of early Alzheimer’s.
2. Losing Items
Anyone can misplace a wallet or keys. However, a person living with Alzheimer’s will often put things in an inappropriate location. For instance, they may put keys in the bathroom sink or a wristwatch in the bread container.
Additionally, they will start to have difficulties remembering what they were doing or where they were before losing the item. In most cases, they need help from family or friends to find the item. Eventually, this experience of losing things all the time can cause them to become suspicious, and they may even accuse others of stealing from them. Such incidents tend to become more frequent with time.
3. Social Isolation
A person with Alzheimer’s can become aware of their memory problems and therefore become embarrassed. As they start to have trouble following conversations, they can also become suspicious of others.
These problems can make them withdraw from work, social settings, or hobbies that were previously important. It’s important to note that avoidance behavior typically worsens as the disease progresses.
Keep an eye on any significant changes in the social life of your loved one. While feeling weary of social obligations, work, and family is actually normal as we age, if they start to seem uninterested in work and lose their passion for hobbies as well as show other signs of dementia, that’s a clear sign they need a medical evaluation.
4. Daily Tasks Become Impossible
We all can get distracted and forget to do something simple, such as calling a friend or adding an item to the grocery list. However, someone with Alzheimer’s disease will start to find carrying out regular tasks, like grocery shopping, challenging.
As the disease progresses, daily routine tasks requiring critical thinking may become more challenging. It can start with demanding tasks being impossible, like planning a holiday dinner or creating a budget, to easy tasks, such as grocery shopping, becoming impossible.
You’ll notice that your loved one has trouble performing tasks that you consider simple and obvious. They may also start to shun these tasks altogether because they have become so challenging. You may notice spoilt food in the refrigerator because your loved one is unable to navigate the grocery store or create a grocery list, or they have forgotten how to prepare their usual meals.
These signs may seem like small slip-ups at first but will become more concerning and obvious with time.
5. Challenges With Direction and Time
For those living with Alzheimer’s, space- and time-related details are often forgotten. They frequently lose track of the passage of time, including dates and seasons. Getting a sense of direction also gets more and more challenging.
A person with Alzheimer’s may become disoriented on the way home or not know where they are, even when they are in their own house. Or they may insist on wearing a winter coat even though it’s hot outside.
In later stages, wandering turns into a real issue for some Alzheimer’s patients. This is especially dangerous if a patient leaves their house unsupervised or in the middle of the night and is unable to find their way back.
6. Issues With Language
Sometimes, you feel worn out or tired and fail when trying to communicate with others. You want to say a certain word or phrase, but you simply can’t remember it. But ultimately, it comes to you.
For people who struggle with Alzheimer’s, difficulties with language start to show quite frequently. They will start to describe things using more words when they can’t remember the word. For instance, not being able to find the name of a closet and saying instead “the small broom room”. When this starts to happen regularly, it can be Alzheimer’s or dementia that shows up.
They may also begin to repeat themselves frequently. You will notice that they bring up the same stories or ask the same questions over and over. This eventually makes interacting with others increasingly hard as the person with Alzheimer’s can’t follow along.
7. Making Bad Decisions
People with Alzheimer’s disease usually experience changes in judgment or decision-making. This symptom frequently has a negative financial impact. For example, impaired judgment can increase their risk of getting scammed, including by donating money to obviously fake charities or responding to phishing emails.
Troubles with judgment can also make them stop performing important duties, such as taking care of themselves. For instance, they may overlook a flat tire on their car and keep driving like that or ignore a serious medical issue and avoid making a doctor’s appointment.
Now, if your loved one starts to show changes in judgment that don’t fit their personality, consider that dementia may be the cause.
8. Disregarding the Law and Other Social Norms
Some people with Alzheimer’s disease lose their sense of social norms. According to a review published in the journal Cortex, shoplifting, inappropriate interpersonal behaviors, and breaking into someone’s house all make up the list of dementia symptoms. In advanced cases, experts warn that some patients with Alzheimer’s may even develop criminal behavior.
However, doctors say that the majority of individuals engaging in those behaviors don’t struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. It is only when a previously law-abiding citizen begins to steal or do things that are out of character for them that Alzheimer’s becomes a concern.
You may also want to read 9 Mental Health Issues You Can Inherit.