September is World Alzheimer’s Month, which is an annual international effort to raise awareness and knowledge about dementia. By fighting the stigma against dementia and having proactive conversations, we can better understand and care for the people in our lives who have Alzheimer’s.
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that slowly affects memory, thinking, problem solving, spatial awareness, and judgement skills to the point of disrupting or changing a person’s daily life. While there are often age-related memory and mood changes that come with getting older, several recurring or ongoing symptoms could warn about the onset of Alzheimer’s. If you notice these symptoms coming from someone you love, encourage them to schedule an appointment with their primary care provider.
Disruptive memory loss:
It’s typical for some forgetfulness to come with aging, such as forgetting a name or word in a conversation and remembering it later. However, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, one of the most common symptoms is significant or recurring memory loss. This memory loss could include forgetting recent information, forgetting important dates or scheduled events, asking the same questions again and again, or relying on reminders or notes to get things done—which can disorient a person’s routine.
Difficulty with problem solving:
Another early sign of Alzheimer’s is an inability to follow instructions, solve simple problems, or work with numbers. Focusing on tasks may be an issue, and completing tasks—such as paying bills or cooking from a recipe—will likely take much more time.
Inability to finish day-to-day tasks:
As products change and technology advances, aging individuals may need help learning how to use the new TV or microwave. However, people with Alzheimer’s may start struggling with familiar day-to-day tasks, like shopping for groceries, driving to church or the store, or playing their favorite game with friends.
Confusing place and/or time:
With aging, it’s normal to momentarily forget what day of the week it is. For people with Alzheimer’s, keeping track of calendar dates, places, and time can become extremely difficult. As this symptom develops, a person may forget what they are doing, where they are, or how they arrived at a certain place. They may also mistake current or future events with familiar or fond events from their past.
Personality and/or mood changes:
Significant mood or personality changes are not uncommon for someone living with Alzheimer’s. A usually upbeat or optimistic person may become regularly anxious, depressed, or suspicious of day-to-day occurrences.
Vision or spatial issues:
Issues with eyesight are sometimes a sign of Alzheimer’s, which can lead to poor spatial awareness and balance problems. However, sometimes vision problems are just vision problems that can be corrected with glasses or corrective surgery.
Significant forgetfulness or misplacement of objects:
Misplacing objects is not uncommon, but people with Alzheimer’s may consistently be unable to retrace their steps or remember where they put things. They may set something down in an odd place or look for something while they’re holding it. They may even accuse others of stealing.
Someone showing signs of Alzheimer’s may have significant lapses in their decision-making. This could include handling money poorly or falling for IRS or Social Security scams. Poor judgment could also affect their awareness around personal hygiene or mealtimes, causing them to skip meals or forget to clean themselves.
Conversations, especially with fast talkers or multiple people, can be hard to follow for individuals with Alzheimer’s. Words and vocabulary will consistently escape them, and they may repeat themselves more than once to keep the conversation going.
Unusual or sudden withdrawal:
Along with the inability to follow conversations, people with Alzheimer’s may decide—intentionally or unintentionally—to withdraw completely from social engagements or family events. Whether they space out or suddenly feel unable to participate in a conversation or activity, help them feel involved by talking to them directly or asking questions they can answer.
If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or someone you love, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Seeing a primary care provider can help provide clarity, peace of mind, and an idea of the next steps to take.