Within the United States alone, every 66 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s. By 2050, the number of individuals over the age of 65 and older with Alzheimer’s is expected to sore — nearly tripling from 5.2 million Americans to 13.8 million. Without a cure in near sight, many are weary of the aging process.
Although living a balanced, healthy lifestyle will reduce your risk, the truth is, the cause of Alzheimer’s isn’t fully understood. Meaning, development is likely based on a number of factors. Being overly complex means that Alzheimer’s not only results in memory loss, but a wide range of other cognitive, behavioral, and even emotional symptoms.
Sure, there isn’t currently a cure for Alzheimer’s, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot take action. Early intervention is critical in terms of targeting key symptoms to improve quality of life. Each individual is unique, but when it comes to early warning signs, it’s important to be aware of the following.
Is It Alzheimer’s? 12 Early Warning Signs and Symptoms
As we age, our level of functioning begins to decrease — both physically and psychologically. Cognitive decline is actually fairly normal, as certain cognitive abilities aren’t as ‘sharp’ as they once were, including processing speed, language, some aspects of memory, and higher executive functioning.
How do you know if you’re just aging normally, or if there’s a reason to be concerned? As you go through this list, take the time to think about your personal life and current abilities. Can you relate and to what degree? If so, it’s highly recommended that you seek a professional opinion in order to rule out other potential causes.
Memory loss that impairs daily functioning
It’s normal to forget someone’s name or that you had an appointment to go to, as long as you remember later on. In comparison, for those who have developed Alzheimer’s, memory loss becomes overly apparent. Have you been forgetting important dates or newly learned information?
Perhaps loved ones have pointed out changes, like you asking for the same information over and over again. Also, if you have needed to create memory aids and cues, this may be due to factors outside of normal aging. When it all boils down, if you’re noticing that your ability to remember is interfering with your daily life, this is a clear red flag.
Struggling to complete familiar tasks
Whether you’re at home or work, when Alzheimer’s symptoms begin to show, this is often seen through a lack of ability in completing familiar tasks. Perhaps you have struggled to maintain finances at home, becoming increasingly confused and forgetful when it comes to paying bills on time.
If you’re someone how often cooks, but is forgetting how to make one of your family’s favorite dishes, this is another common sign. Basically, if you have completed a certain task dozens or even hundreds of times, but are unable to tackle it successfully, this may mean that you’re suffering from cognitive impairment.
Becoming confused about time and place
When it comes to Alzheimer’s, dates and times are especially challenging. When first recognizing early symptoms, you may notice that all of a sudden, you don’t know where you are. Without understanding how you got there, this can quickly become a frightening situation. Early on, losing track of dates and locations can be very telling.
Disorientation in terms of where you live can be frightening, but what’s even more challenging is perception in terms of time. For someone with Alzheimer’s, ten minutes may seem like four hours. You may think that your spouse was gone for five hours, when in reality, they were only gone 30 minutes.
Are things going missing? Perhaps you’re blaming others for putting your things in unusual places? Since individuals with Alzheimer’s struggle with short-term memory, they often misplace items, only to forget where they put them. More often than not, this will occur more frequently as time passes.
This is often noticed by loved ones, as remote control or keys may be placed in odd places, such as the freezer or on the porch. Once someone with Alzheimer’s puts an object in an abnormal location, they cannot later retrace their steps to find it. This is when individuals will often become suspicious that someone is hiding their belongings.
Changes in mood and personality
This is often a noticeable among loved ones, as Alzheimer’s can cause changes in both mood and personality. From anxious to suspicious, individuals with Alzheimer’s often become easily upset. Within the early stages, people generally notice that they feel increasingly anxious, depressed, and irritable.
This is often one of the main reasons patients seek out assistance, as these personality changes are highly abnormal. Whether you are feeling more paranoid or apathetic, these changes are common. These mood swings will eventually evolve into more troublesome behavioral symptoms, including possible aggression.
Finding it difficult to maintain a conversation
As you can imagine, when having a conversation, your short-term memory is imperative. Although memory most certainly plays a role, diminishing language and communication skills are also confounding variables. It is possible to be in the middle of a conversation and completely forget what is being discussed.
This may be noticed first as one vocabulary suffers. Someone with Alzheimer’s may struggle to find the right word, may substitute incorrect words, or even make their own words up. Over time, you may find that individuals who have developed Alzheimer’s will revert back to their native language or just speak less in general.
Poor judgement and decision-making skills
Although many patients notice issues with their memory, poor judgement sometimes precedes memory-related signs. When making a decision, it may become more challenging to understand possible outcomes. This may be noticeable in terms of financial decisions, social interactions or even personal grooming.
Struggling to plan or problem solve
As Alzheimer’s progresses, you may notice that you or a loved one are struggling to follow through with planning. Completing and retrieving a grocery list is a good example, as this is something that appears to be a simple task. Once confusion and memory loss become more apparent, these simple tasks can become extremely difficult.
When you forget a few items on your grocery list or misbalance your checkbook, these aren’t reasons to be overly alarmed. In terms of Alzheimer’s, even in its early stages, these associated challenges will be far more pronounced. It will eventually become obvious to both you and loved ones that something isn’t quite right within your daily life.
Not understanding the function of objects
As mentioned, misplacing your keys now and then is fairly normal. If you pick up your keys and don’t know what they’re for, however, this may be an early clue that symptoms of Alzheimer’s are present. Each individual is unique, but if you or your loved one can’t remember what common items are used for, there’s a clear issue.
Trying to eat odd things
Severe issues with eating do not generally occur until the mid to later stages of this disease. With that being said, many individuals tend to eat more before their diagnosis. Although some individuals may eat 600 additional calories a day, they will still often lose weight — this is believed to be based on metabolic reasons.
Since each individual is unique in terms of their condition and rate of progression, some individuals may even eat inanimate objects. This can be anything from paper to the leaves of household plants. Although researchers are not exactly sure why this happens, they believe that the brain may receive hunger signals, but doesn’t know how to respond.
The Weill Cornell Medical College released interesting findings based on the connection between amyloid plaques and weight loss. Published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers reported the effect of amyloid plaque accumulation on weight loss and leptin levels, with issues surrounding the signaling process — something which occurs early in the disease process.
Trouble with Spatial Relationships and Visual Cues
As Alzheimer’s develops, some individuals will struggle with their vision. In addition to reduced vision, individuals often struggle to judge distances or varying contrasts. In fact, the four areas that are usually affected include color perception, contrast sensitivity, motion blindness, and depth perception.
This can lead to a dangerous situation while driving, which is another reason why an early diagnosis is beneficial. Although aging causes many possible vision issues, such as cataracts, this will be more severe. For example, three-dimensional objects may appear flat or objects may be harder to find based on contrasting color.
By now, if you have noticed that you or your loved one are experiencing some or all of the above warning signs, it’s imperative that you seek a professional opinion. Based on a series of tests, a physician and other recommended specialists will be able to rule out other possible causes of cognitive decline, such as a deficiency or even a minor stroke.