In about 40 years, the number of older Americans with Alzheimer's disease—a form of dementia—is likely to triple to nearly 14 million people(1). That's why the U.S. government is funding extensive trials to try to get a handle on the disease—especially at its earlier stages(2).
In the meantime, spotting the signs of Alzheimer's in a loved one can help you get a handle on what to do next. It isn't always easy to know the difference between a simple memory lapse and something more serious. After all, everyone has those tip-of-the-tongue experiences once in a while.
One early sign of Alzheimer's is having new problems struggling for a word or name or getting lost in the middle of a conversation. This is especially true if it happens along with other warning signs like these:
Forgetting what was recently read or learned. Someone might also forget important dates or events or ask the same question over and over. Another sign is relying heavily on memory aids or family members for things you easily remembered in the past.
Finding everyday tasks challenging. The person might get lost when driving to a familiar location or have trouble remembering the rules of a favorite board game or the steps in a recipe memorized long ago. It might also be tough to plan, keep track of, or complete tasks like monthly bills.
Becoming confused by time, place, or space. Some people with Alzheimer's might have trouble judging distance. They might lose track of time or how they got to a certain place.
Misplacing items of value. Sometimes items get stored in unusual places—like a cell phone in the fridge or a wallet in the dryer.
Lacking judgment. This can show up in different ways. For example, your previously dapper father might wear the same pair of wrinkled slacks for seven days in a row. Or your penny-pinching mother is suddenly giving away huge sums of money to telemarketers.
Withdrawing from work or social activities. Again, you know your loved one best. Maybe the sports fanatic no longer knows what's happening with a favorite team. Or the social butterfly of the family shies away from all get-togethers.
Having a change in personality. Sometimes a person with Alzheimer's becomes more depressed, fearful, or anxious—or may easily lash out at family members. If these kinds of changes occur, they tend to happen in later stages of the disease(3,4,5).
It's important to know that not everyone will experience the same set of symptoms. Nor will the disease always progress at the same rate(5). Trust your instincts. If you feel something is changing, have a discussion with your doctor. I can also be a sounding board. It may be time for a medical evaluation. There isn't a cure for Alzheimer's yet, but treatment can help with symptoms and support services can make a world of difference(4).
Nothing herein constitutes medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, or is a substitute for professional advice. You should always seek the advice of your physician or other medical professional if you have questions or concerns about a medical condition.
1. Reuters: "Alzheimer's to Triple by 2050 as baby boomers age." Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_133803.html Accessed March 17, 2013.
2. HealthDay: "U.S. Launches Extensive Alzheimer's Studies." Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_133058.html Accessed March 17, 2013.
3. HealthDay: "Health Tip: Spot the Early Stages of Alzheimer's." Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_134639.html Accessed March 17, 2013.
4. Alzheimer's Association: "10 Warning Signs." Available at: http://www.alz.org/espanol/signs_and_symptoms/10_warning_signs.asp Accessed March 17, 2013.
5. Alzheimer's Association: "Seven Stages of Alzheimer's." Available at: http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_stages_of_alzheimers.asp Accessed March 17, 2013.