Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of dementia cases. This disease affects memory, thinking, and behavior and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. On average, a person with Alzheimer’s lives around four to six years after being diagnosed but can certainly live longer depending on other health factors.
What is the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?
The simple answer is that Alzheimer’s is a specific disease, while dementia is not. Dementia describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory, reasoning, or other thinking skills. There are several different kinds of dementia and it is caused by damage to the brain cells which affects communication, thinking, behavior, and feelings.
Alzheimer’s is a degenerative brain disease that is caused by complex brain changes following cell damage. In the early stages, people may develop mild memory loss and, as time goes on, they may lose the ability to have conversations with others or respond to their environment. Once symptoms are severe enough, they can start to interfere with daily routines and tasks. One thing to keep in mind is that Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of growing older but the risk of developing this disease increases with age. Most people with Alzheimer’s are 65 years of age or older, but there are also people younger than 65 who have this disease as well.
Knowing that Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, let’s dive into ten early warning signs to detect and watch out for. Keep in mind that it’s important to notice the difference between signs of this disease versus age-related changes. If you notice symptoms of Alzheimer’s, do not ignore them — schedule an appointment with your local health care provider.
10 Signs of Alzheimer's Disease
1. Memory Loss
As mentioned previously, one of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss, especially in the early stages. This could be as simple as asking the same question repeatedly or forgetting information that you recently learned like important dates or upcoming events. What’s the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and typical age-related changes? The answer is being able to remember the details later.
2. Difficulty Planning or Solving Problems
Having trouble following a plan or working with numbers is another symptom that some people living with this disease experience. This could be something as simple as being unable to follow a dinner recipe or keeping track of various monthly bills. The time it takes to complete or concentrate on a task may take much longer than it did before. The difference between Alzheimer’s and a typical age-related change is that it’s normal to make occasional errors when working with numbers.
3. Difficulty Completing a Daily Task
People who suffer from Alzheimer’s often have trouble completing daily tasks like driving to their usual grocery store or remembering the rules of a familiar game. A typical age-related change would be needing a reminder on how to do a less familiar task, such as recording a TV show on the DVR.
4. Being Confused About the Time or Place
Alzheimer’s can make someone easily lose track of the current date or season. It is also common for people with Alzheimer’s to forget where they are or how they got there. Getting confused about what day of the week it is, but remembering it a few seconds later is considered a typical age-related change.
5. Difficulty Understanding Visual Images or Spaces
Someone with Alzheimer’s may experience troubles with balance, reading, or judging distances. This is especially important to identify as it can lead to issues with driving. An example of an age-related change is vision changes due to cataracts.
6. Problems with Speaking or Writing
When talking with someone who has Alzheimer’s, they may be in the middle of a conversation and completely lose their train of thought, not knowing how to proceed or they may repeat everything they just said. Other signs would be struggling with words they haven’t struggled with before or repeatedly using the wrong name for something. Occasionally being unable to find the right words to use is a common age-related development.
7. Misplacing Items
A person who has Alzheimer’s disease can sometimes put things in strange places, which can ultimately lead to forgetting where they placed something. However, they most likely will have trouble retracing their steps to find the item or may even accuse someone else of stealing it. A typical age-related change would be misplacing an item but finding it later.
8. Troubles with Judgement
Those with Alzheimer’s may experience poor judgement or decision-making. For example, they may ignore personal hygiene or make bad decisions with money. A normal age-related change would be something like not changing the oil in your car as often as you should or splurging occasionally on an expensive item.