When it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, early detection is critical since many of the medications available to slow progression are most effective in the early stages of the disease. This delay gives family members precious time to organize a memory care treatment plan and prepare for the future. As a caregiver, here are the major warning signs you need to be on the lookout for in order to detect the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
1. Disruptive and Progressive Memory Loss
Everyone forgets things. Some people are more forgetful than others. It’s when Mom is consistently forgetting important new information, like when to take a new medication, that forgetfulness becomes truly worrying. Gaps in short-term memory are hallmark signs of the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Later, if Mom forgets things like the address of the home where she has been living for the last 10 years or your birthday (longer term memories) it could be a sign the condition is progressing and timely intervention is critical.
2. Changes in Mood or Personality
One specific change that could indicate an onset of Alzheimer’s disease is listlessness. If, for instance, Mom has suddenly lost the desire to decorate for Christmas, despite having the most festive home in the neighborhood for the past 30 years, this an indication that something is going on—whether Alzheimer’s or some other health concern.
Mom may also become increasingly withdrawn, irritable, or even hostile. The Alzheimer’s Association suggests that a person with Alzheimer’s may develop a very specific routine or way of doing anything and become extremely irritable when that routine is disrupted. Depression is also common in early stages of the disease.
3. Difficulty Finding the Right Words
Everyone experiences this at one point or another. Someone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s may experience it more frequently than normal. She might even try to hide it by choosing similar sounding words that aren’t right for the situation or words that are related to the word she wants but are slightly different. She may even go into long explanations in order to avoid the word she can’t remember. According to HelpGuide.org, the medical term for this is aphasia. In advanced stages, Mom may be able to read instructions or directions flawlessly, but fail to understand the meaning.
4. Declining Cognitive Abilities
Problem solving skills often decline in early onset Alzheimer’s disease. It can begin with Mom having trouble doing things she once did with no problems. Accidents are another common problem due to poor judgment and slower reaction times. During early stages of the disease, declining cognitive abilities may cause Mom to lose track of time. At later stages, the symptoms become more pronounced and may extend to places and even people.
5. Getting Lost or Becoming Disoriented in Familiar Settings
While normally associated with later stages of the disease, this can actually happen at any stage. Even within familiar environments it’s easy for Mom to feel disoriented and confused. Panic reactions in these situations often lead to Mom using unladylike language, wandering, pacing, and other behavioral problems. These may become more intense as the disease progresses.
Be Alert for These Signs
Identifying problems as early as possible is key for an early diagnosis. Since there is currently no definitive test to diagnose or rule out Alzheimer’s disease, attention to detail and picking up on these early warning signs is essential for the success of medication and various activities designed to maximize cognitive function and memory. Treatment is most effective in the early stages of this disease making early diagnosis, though often difficult, critical. Work closely with healthcare professionals and your Mom to make sure she understands what’s going on and why it’s important to get help now.