LS Fisher, Alzheimer’s Journey
When you forget where you placed your car keys, miss an appointment, or can’t recall the name of a casual acquaintance, you may wonder if you are developing Alzheimer’s disease. We all know that memory loss is a symptom of Alzheimer’s. Before you become too worried, you should realize that occasional forgetfulness is normal and not a cause for alarm.
The first symptom for most people with Alzheimer’s is short-term memory loss that disrupts daily life. Alzheimer’s affects the part of the brain where we store recent memories—what we ate for breakfast or who called this morning to chat—while some of our long-term memories remain intact for much longer. The forgetfulness of Alzheimer’s is more severe than what we experience with normal aging or stress.
Not everyone with Alzheimer’s exhibits the same symptoms. We are unique beings with different backgrounds and skill sets. If you have a long-term skill, you may retain the ability to perform in that area longer than someone who learned the same skill later in life. If you learned to play an instrument as a child, it is possible you could continue to enjoy that activity longer than a person who learned as an adult.
• Difficulty recalling recent events: Maybe you cannot remember you just asked a question or the answer you received, so you repeat the question.
• Depression and mood changes: You are unusually sad and feel like something is wrong.
• Losing interest: You no longer participate in a favorite hobby or other activities that you previously enjoyed.
• Misplacing objects: You might misplace an item and believe someone has stolen it until you find it in an unusual place.
These early warning symptoms are subtle and may be caused by stress, drug interaction, or other health problems unrelated to Alzheimer’s disease. As we age, we may become more forgetful, but these symptoms should not be ignored. Discuss them with your healthcare professional to find out if you should be evaluated for possible mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia of the Alzheimer’s type.
Alzheimer’s is progressive and if you have the disease, these early warning symptoms will worsen over time. In addition, other serious symptoms eventually become evident.
• Impaired judgment: You may purchases items you don’t want or need, and people may take advantage of you.
• Confusion: You could become confused about the time of day or the season of the year. You may become lost in your own neighborhood.
• Behavior changes: You may become uncharacteristically angry or suspicious.
• Problems with recognition: You may not recognize a family member or close friend, or cannot remember his or her name.
• Language difficulties: You cannot recall a word for a common object. A grocery list may be a jumble of letters that do not make up the words for the items you intended to list.
• Unable to complete a familiar task: Although you may have been an excellent cook, you cannot follow a simple recipe.
You should be concerned if you have difficulty performing a task that was previously easy for you. For example, you may have always been good with numbers, but now find balancing the checkbook has become overwhelming.
These Alzheimer’s symptoms make you vulnerable. You may not realize you have a serious problem or that your judgment is impaired. You may make poor financial decisions or investments.
What to Do if You Have Alzheimer’s Symptoms
If you suspect you have Alzheimer’s, you may be afraid to go to a doctor to have your medical condition diagnosed, but it is important to get a complete checkup as soon as possible. If you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, available drug therapies are most effective in the early stages, and early detection gives you more time to make financial and medical plans.
Your physician will test for any treatable conditions that may be causing your symptoms. Although you have exhibited all the warning signs, your symptoms may not be as severe as those of a person with a degenerative brain disease. Some of the treatable medical conditions that mimic the symptoms of Alzheimer’s are an underactive thyroid, certain vitamin deficiencies, too much calcium, depression and infections.
Alzheimer’s is not diagnosed from symptoms alone. The diagnostic process involves cognitive testing, brain scans and a complete physical examination. If you have the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, you should see your medical professional to determine the cause of your symptoms. Once the cause of your symptoms is known, you can begin proper treatment for your condition.
Alzheimer’s Association. Ten Signs of Alzheimer’s. Accessed July 17, 2011.
National Institute on Aging. Symptoms. Accessed July 17, 2011.