With more than three million cases in the United States, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Although it is most commonly seen in people over the age of 60, Alzheimer’s has been diagnosed in patients as young as 19 years old. There is currently no cure, but scientists are working hard to find one.
Alzheimer’s destroys memory and other mental functions. The rate at which the disease progresses varies from person to person, but changes in the person’s brain start years before any symptoms present. If lately, you’ve noticed a few subtle changes in your loved one that seem a bit off, you may want to start keeping a closer eye on them. If you notice your loved one displaying any of the following symptoms, contact their doctor and schedule them an appointment for an evaluation. An early diagnosis gives you a chance to seek treatment sooner rather than later and to start planning for your loved one’s future.
1. Reduced Interest in Hobbies
Does your loved one no longer seem interested in the activities and hobbies that they once enjoyed? First, look for outside factors. Has their physical health recently declined? Have they experienced a death or another type of loss within the recent past? Often times, our interest in the activities that we love wanes when we are dealing with a pain or a loss. If there are no outside factors that you can think of that could be affecting your loved one’s ability to enjoy and continue their hobbies, it may be time to consider that there is something else going on.
2. Difficulty Learning
Sometimes learning something new when you’re older is just a difficult process, and it has nothing to do with dementia. But other times, difficulty with learning how to use something new can be a sign of early Alzheimer’s. Have you recently tried to show your loved one how to use a new piece of technology, like a smartphone or a brand new computer? Did they seem overly confused and frustrated when you tried to explain how to use it? Keep an eye on them the next time you try to show them how to use something new. Pay attention to how they react to the new subject matter. If they seem to be having more trouble than normal, take note.
3. Bad Decisions and Safety Concerns
Has your loved one recently been exhibiting poor judgment? Does it seem like they don’t understand common safety as well as they used to? Watch them while they are walking or driving. Do they pay attention to road signs and to the people around them, or are they reckless and careless as they travel? Have they recently started spending too much at stores, online, or through television shopping channels? These actions may be symptoms of something bigger. Making a bad decision every once in a while is completely normal, but reckless ignorance toward rules and money is not normal behavior.
4. Repetition and Forgetfulness
Does it seem like your loved one has started to forget more than usual lately? Do they forget that they have told you something? Have they started to ask the same questions, say the same statements, or tell the same stories repeatedly? Do they have trouble remembering the current year or month? How often do they forget the date? Have they missed any appointments? If forgetful moments are starting to happen more frequently, pay attention. While it is normal for people who are older to forget dates and events every once in a while, there is a certain level of forgetfulness that hints at a bigger problem.
5. Confusion about Money and Finances
If you are not currently involved in your loved one’s finances, now might be the time to consider paying attention to their monthly spending. Focus on their bills and their budget. Here are some tips for helping manage their finances. Have you noticed your loved one having any problems recently with trying to figure out how to pay their bills, their taxes, or how to manage any other expenses that they have? Do numbers seem to confuse them? Loved ones with Alzheimer’s often experience confusion and frustration when it comes to understanding their finances. It is extremely important that you pay close attention to this symptom, as it is easier for someone with dementia to fall into money problems.
How You Can Help
If you suspect that your loved one is showing signs of early Alzheimer’s disease, start to keep a journal. In your journal, make a note each time you notice your loved one exhibit one of the behaviors on this list. If you notice anything else unusual about their personality or their behavior, make a note of those observations as well. If you end up making an appointment for your loved one to see their doctor, you can show the doctor your journal and notes to help with the diagnostic process.
Refer to the Alzheimer’s Association’s Early Stage Care Partner Pack for information on Alzheimer’s that is geared toward people and their family members who are going through a first time diagnosis.