Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, which is loss of intellectual abilities severe enough to impact daily life, affecting more than 5 million people in 2014, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
While there is no cure, as of yet, for this progressive brain disease, the development or worsening of symptoms can be delayed or slowed with early diagnosis and treatment, improving quality of life for patients and their families. For this reason, it is very important for those who have seniors in their lives to know how to recognize the early signs of the disease.
Common early warning signs of Alzheimers disease include:
Memory loss – Frequent memory lapses that disrupt daily life are one of the most common signs of Alzheimer's disease. Typically, the early stage of the disease causes people to forget recently learned information – perhaps repeating the same questions multiple times – or important dates and events, while longer term memories remain largely intact.
Changes in planning ability or problem solving skills – everyday tasks, such as following a recipe, balancing a checkbook or organizing monthly bills may become much more challenging and time consuming for a person who is developing Alzheimers disease, as concentration and focus become difficult.
Language problems – Alzheimers can cause people to have difficulty following a conversation, losing track of what was said or repeating themselves. Word retrieval can become a frequent problem, with the person often finding themselves struggling to find the right words to describe or name familiar items or people.
Disorientation – Individuals who are in the beginning phase of Alzheimers may begin to lose track of time, forget what day it is, misplace things frequently or get lost in familiar places.
Poor judgment – People who are affected by this disease may suddenly display uncharacteristically poor judgment and/or decision making skills.
Personality changes – Alzheimers can cause mood swings, paranoia, depression, anxiety, agitation, withdrawal and disinterest in usual activities. Neglect of grooming and bathing is also common.
While some degree of age related cognitive decline is fairly common in seniors, a person that is displaying any combination of the symptoms above should be seen by a physician as soon as possible. First, it may not be Alzheimer's at all, since a number of other conditions can cause similar symptoms, and some of them are very curable, such as thyroid disease, drug interactions, or vitamin deficiencies, for example.
Second, while medical science has not yet found the means to cure Alzheimer's disease or stop its progression entirely, when it is caught early enough, a number of medications can slow its progress and/or delay the onset of more severe symptoms. Additionally, much research is being done on this disease, and new clinical trials are being undertaken every day. A formal diagnosis can make your loved one eligible for those trials, giving him or her access to cutting-edge drugs and therapies.