We all lose our keys or forget where we put our reading glasses as we get older. Or maybe we even forget an appointment. These all can be normal signs of the aging process, but there are certain behaviors that may be the can indicate early signs of Alzheimer’s, especially if they persist and begin to disrupt daily life. With early detection and diagnosis, more can be done to mitigate the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
What are the Early Signs of Alzheimer's?
It can be confusing to tell the difference between Alzheimer's and normal aging. According to medical professionals, these are common early indicators of Alzheimer’s.
- Memory loss. One of the most common, early signs of Alzheimer’s is when someone forgets something they just said. It’s not about forgetting something that was said two days ago, but what was said five minutes ago. For example: “Mom, let’s take the dog for a walk now.” Mom gets her coat and says: “Where are we going again, the grocery store?” Forgetting names, important dates or events may also be a sign. When someone asks the same question or relays the same information over and over again, it may also indicate memory loss related to Alzheimer’s.
- Familiar tasks become challenging. The brain doesn’t track as well when it’s beset by Alzheimer’s. An early indicator of the disease is when tasks that were once simple and routine become difficult and confusing. Like forgetting how to make coffee in the morning, figuring out what to wear or tying shoelaces. When numbers get confusing (numbers on a restaurant check for example), it may also be an early sign of Alzheimer’s.
- Confusion with time and place. If someone is continually confused about where they are or what time it is, it may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s. If they think that it’s time to eat breakfast at midnight or wonder why they ended up in the garage, take notice. Likewise, if they think they’re at the library or the next-door neighbor’s and they’re still at home, it might be time to seek professional advice.
- Problems with speaking and writing. Another early sign of Alzheimer’s is when someone struggles to complete a sentence. When they forget what they’re saying or get stymied trying to find a word. My mother was an avid reader who prided herself on her vocabulary and grasp of the English language. An early sign of her dementia was her inability to find the words she wanted. Truly at a loss for words, she would give up. She would also use the wrong word sometimes and not know it: “the woof is making too much noise” (as in dog). Writing may also become problematic. Normal hand to eye to brain coordination may be compromised.
- Misplacing things. We all do this as we grow older. But an early sign of Alzheimer’s is when someone is constantly losing things. When they can’t retrace their steps, recall what they did or where they were. Not only do they misplace things, but they also put them in unusual places. My mother put her shoes in the microwave once. She also put my shoes in her closet. (I thought I was the one losing it. I couldn’t find them for days!) She liked to take things from my room, thinking they were hers, and “put them away.”
- Compromised decision making and judgment. An unusual, rash action or an odd judgment call may also be an early sign of Alzheimer’s. For example, a parent selling their home without telling anyone else in the family. Or a loved one giving all the family china and silver to the gardener. Other unusual behavior -- such as walking into town in their pajamas -- may also be a sign.
- Social withdrawal. If someone who was always social, active and engaged suddenly withdraws and becomes reclusive, it may be another early sign of Alzheimer’s. Sometimes an individual recognizes they aren’t as competent or comfortable in social situations. They may be pulling back to avoid embarrassment.
- Apathy. Disinterest in activities that were once enjoyed may be another early sign of dementia. Playing bridge and spending time with grandchildren were once favorite activities for my friend. When she constantly resisted these, it was another warning sign. This new indifference may be a result of an inability to process information and/or communicate well.
- Changes in mood and personality. Aging is not easy and can make anyone cantankerous. But when someone who is usually polite, charming, and lovely gets mean and angry, it could be the early onset of Alzheimer’s. People may become distrustful and suspicious of others as well.
- Anxiety and depression. Memory failure and an inability to handle new situations and unfamiliar environments can be very stressful. This can lead to high anxiety levels and depression. This anxious and depressed behavior can also indicate the onset of Alzheimer’s. While researchers can’t say whether depression is caused by Alzheimer’s or is a reaction to it, clearly there is a link.
- Changes in personal appearance. When a well-groomed person who has always taken pride in their appearance no longer does, it could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s. Disregard for personal hygiene may also be a sign, such as forgetting to shower regularly or failing to comb their hair. Dressing in a haphazard, sloppy fashion or an inability to match shoes and socks may also be part of the apathy brought on by Alzheimer’s. It could also be that they are simply no longer able to manage these simple cognitive skills.
- Impaired vision. While someone’s actual vision may not have changed, with Alzheimer’s their brain may be changing. The part of the brain that processes vision deteriorates faster than others, so changes in eyesight may be another early sign of Alzheimer’s.
The early signs of Alzheimer’s can be subtle and often difficult to differentiate from symptoms of the natural aging process. But these 12 signs are cues to watch for and monitor. If they persist and are interfering with a loved one’s ability to lead a normal life, see a medical professional. Don't let yourself or a family member remain in denial about dementia or Alzheimer's. With early diagnosis, treatment and proper support, the progression of Alzheimer’s can sometimes be mitigated. It’s never too soon to learn what can be done to ensure a loved one’s health, happiness and safety.
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