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.
9. Withdrawing Socially
Someone with Alzheimer’s may start to withdraw from their social life or hobbies that they enjoyed before. It’s more difficult for them to follow conversations or keep up with activities they once enjoyed before due to increased difficulties with speaking or writing. As people age, it is not uncommon to feel less social but withdrawing completely can be a cause for concern.
10. Changes in Mood or Personality
Someone with Alzheimer’s may experience a change in their mood or personality. This can be things like being more confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful, or anxious without explanation. They can also become upset easily when they are outside their comfort zone. A typical age-related change would be getting upset for a specific reason, such as when you don’t do something the way they want it to be done.
What should I do if I think I have Alzheimer’s Disease?
Explore Treatment Options
While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are treatments available for managing symptoms. The current treatments will not stop the progression of the disease but can temporarily slow the dementia symptoms to improve the quality of life from the person suffering as well as their caretakers. Treatments will hopefully continue to expand as research for a cure continues.
Treatments can include:
Aducanumab for Treatment of Early Alzheimer’s Disease – News Pending FDA Review
If you contact your doctor out of concern about having Alzheimer’s disease, work closely with them and other members of your health care team to create the best treatment plan for you. Your plan may change as the disease progresses, which is why it’s important to understand all that is available to you and the benefits and risks of each choice.
The best treatment plans will take into account:
Your age and overall health
Your current treatment goals
The severity of symptoms and how they are affecting your life
Your current living situation (availability of family members or caregivers)
When discussing your treatment plan with your healthcare team, be sure to ask questions like:
What treatment options are available?
Which symptoms are being targeted by each medication?
How will the effectiveness of each treatment be measured?
How much time will pass before you will be able to assess the treatment's effectiveness?
How will you monitor for possible drug side effects?
What side effects should we watch for at home?
When should we call you?
Is one treatment option more likely than another to interfere with medications for other conditions?
What are the concerns with stopping one drug treatment and beginning another?
At what stage of the disease would you consider it appropriate to stop using the drug?
Asking as many questions as possible is the best way to make sure you are getting all the answers you need to help you understand your options, allowing you to make the best decision for your treatment of this disease.
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, know that you are not alone. There are different resources you can reach out to including:
24/7 Helpline: 800-272-3900
Locate your local Alzheimer's Association
Use the Virtual Library provided by alz.org
Go to Alzheimer's Navigator to create customized action plans and connect with local support services
*Graphic and information sourced from Alzheimer’s Association, www.alz.org.