As we grow older, certain things begin to change. Skin loses some of its elasticity, hair starts to gray, hearing and vision begin to decline, metabolism slows down, bones lose some of their density, and exercise becomes tiring far more quickly.
These are all normal signs of aging.
Throw in bouts of memory loss, changes in mood or behavior, and difficulty completing everyday tasks, and these normal signs of aging could be something more; they could be early symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, affecting roughly 5.7 million Americans. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Even still, many people overlook the early signs of Alzheimer's disease, thereby failing to proactively slow its progression while it is still possible to do so.
If you are concerned that a loved one is developing characteristics of dementia or Alzheimer's, it is important you dedicate time to studying the condition and fight back. There are steps you can take to improve quality of life.
The Top 10 Signs of Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease
The key to managing Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia is to catch it early. According to the Alzheimer's Association, brain changes associated with Alzheimer's disease begin as long as 20 years before symptoms appear, so it pays to be on the lookout for any and all signs and symptoms.
Here are the top 10 warning signs of dementia and Alzheimer's disease:
- Memory loss that has an impact on daily life.
This may include forgetting recently learned information, keeping track of important dates, and repeatedly asking for the same information.
- Having trouble planning or solving problems.
The patient may have trouble working with numbers, following a recipe, or keeping track of monthly expenses.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks.
This could include basic tasks at home or at work such as driving to a familiar location, remembering the rules of a game, or performing tasks at work.
- Increasing confusion with time or place.
The patient might lose track of seasons, dates, and the passage of time in general – they may have trouble understanding something if it isn't happening immediately.
- Trouble comprehending spatial relationships and visual imagery.
This could take the form of difficulty reading, identifying colors, or judging distances.
- Difficulty with words in writing or speaking.
The patient might have trouble keeping track of a conversation, difficulty finding the right word, or call things by the wrong name.
- Losing things and being unable to retrace steps.
The patient might lose track of things and be unable to retrace steps to find it – they may even accuse other people of stealing the misplaced object.
- Changes in decision-making and judgment.
This could include poor judgment with money, having trouble making decisions, or neglecting basic hygiene and personal grooming.
- Becoming withdrawn and avoiding social activity.
The patient might remove themselves from work or social activities and may neglect hobbies they once enjoyed.
- Changes in personality, mood, and behavior.
This could include increased confusion, depression, and anxiety, as well as more volatile emotions such as becoming easily upset or developing paranoia.
If you are concerned that a loved one might be exhibiting signs of Alzheimer's or dementia, the first step is to talk to your physician. It is estimated that a skilled physician can diagnose Alzheimer's disease at a rate of 90% accuracy; the earlier you get a diagnosis, the sooner you can start taking steps to slow the progression of the disease to maintain your loved one's quality of life.
What Are the Early Signs of Dementia?
Symptoms of dementia are caused by changes in the brain; changes that can begin years before early dementia signs present themselves. There are three general stages for Alzheimer's – mild (early stage), moderate (middle stage), and severe (late stage). The speed at which a patient moves through these stages varies, but progression of the symptoms themselves follows a fairly standardized path.
The most common early dementia symptoms are forgetfulness and short-term memory loss. Patients may forget where they left something or have trouble recalling the details of a conversation, but long-term memory and the remembering of important dates or events is typically unaffected in early stages of dementia.
As the symptoms of Alzheimer's progress, patients become increasingly confused about simple facts such as time or place and may have difficulty concentrating; they can still complete regular tasks, but concentrating may take longer than usual.
Over time, symptoms of dementia may include frequently misplacing objects and an increased difficulty completing daily tasks. Patients are more likely to lose things and may have trouble retracing their steps to find them. This sometimes progresses to feelings of paranoia or accusations of theft when the patient cannot find something they unknowingly misplaced. Patients may also start to have trouble with daily tasks such as driving, cooking, or engaging in hobbies. Changes in vision and depth perception may also lead to increased clumsiness, falls, and other accidents.
In the middle stages of Alzheimer's, patients begin to have trouble with language and math. They may forget common words and have trouble working with numbers. This then progresses to changes in decision-making and problem-solving abilities. Patients may be at risk for reckless spending, making unsound decisions, or falling victim to scams. It is also fairly common for Alzheimer's patients to dress inappropriately for the weather.
As the early signs of Alzheimer's progress into later stages of the disease, patients may exhibit changes in personality or behavior. Problems such as mood swings, fear, depression, and anxiety are very common. Patients may also become upset or frustrated more easily than usual. Over time, dementia patients start to neglect simple aspects of personal hygiene, failing to bathe or brush their teeth on a regular basis. They may also stop cleaning the home and start to accumulate clutter. As these symptoms worsen, patients may begin to withdraw from family, friends, and activities once enjoyed due to anxiety or embarrassment at their inability to converse or function as they did previously.
What Can You Do About It?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. According to the Alzheimer's Association, 1 in 10 seniors over the age of 65 has dementia. Though the disease affects each patient differently, most people with Alzheimer's live only 4 to 8 years after diagnosis.
While you cannot reverse dementia or the damage it causes, there are ways to improve quality of life. Here are some simple tips for management that you can discuss with your doctor:
- Take prescription medications to counteract cognitive and behavioral symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and mood swings.
- Find support in the form of therapy, support groups, friends, or family to help develop coping mechanisms for cognitive and behavioral changes.
- Address safety issues in the home by installing safety bars in the bathroom and shower, automatic shut-off switches on appliances, and reminders to lock the door.
- Stay on top of co-existing conditions, working with your doctor to manage medical problems with the proper form of treatment.
- Follow a healthy diet that supports brain health and function. Focus on antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, natural sources of omega fatty acids, and foods high in fiber and protein.
- Talk to your doctor about taking supplements to support memory and cognitive function. Options you might consider include caprylic acid, coenzyme Q10, ginkgo biloba, phosphatidylserine, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Caring for someone with dementia is a major responsibility. While one can never be fully prepared, use these tips as a guideline toward mitigating symptoms and improving overall quality of life. Carefully monitor progression of the disease and report any changes to your doctor.
Dementia & Alzheimer's Infographic
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Frequently Asked Questions About Dementia
- What are the early signs and symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer's?
Some of the most common early signs of dementia and Alzheimer's symptoms include trouble remembering recent events, difficulty concentrating, increased mental confusion, changes in behavior or personality, apathy or withdrawal, and depression or anxiety. While these first signs of dementia may seem somewhat unassuming it is important to notice when these symptoms are occurring on a regular basis.
- Is short-term memory loss a sign of dementia?
Changes in memory is a normal sign of aging, but significant memory loss may be a sign of dementia. Additionally, having trouble remembering recently learned information can be an early warning sign of dementia.
- What is the life expectancy of someone with dementia?
Life expectancy depends largely on the patient's age and health, and can range anywhere from 1 to 26 years, according to one study. Every case is different, and it depends on the type of dementia the patient has. The general life expectancy for an Alzheimer's patient is 8 to 12 years from the date of diagnosis. Patients diagnosed around the age of 60 tend to decline more slowly than those diagnosed over the age of 80.
- Can dementia be cured?
There is no curative treatment for dementia currently available and no vaccination to prevent it. Medication is available to help relieve symptoms, and certain lifestyle changes may slow the progression of the disease.
- At what age do people typically develop dementia?
Dementia is most commonly seen in individuals over the age of 65, though it can develop earlier. Roughly 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have early onset Alzheimer's – roughly 5% of all Alzheimer's cases. Early onset dementia signs may begin as early as one's 30s, although this is uncommon. Signs of early onset dementia symptoms can often be reflected in struggles with memory, decision making, confusion, and depression.
- What is the difference between Alzheimer's and dementia?
The word dementia may be used to identify a collection of symptoms that may include changes in memory, decision-making, orientation, planning, communication, and mood or behavior. These symptoms can be caused by a variety of diseases, one of which is Alzheimer's. According to the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's disease accounts for 60% to 80% of dementia cases.
- Is there a screening process for dementia?
For those wondering how to diagnose dementia, unfortunately there is no definitive test - but that isn't to say that it can't be identified by a medical professional. Currently, there is no screening available because there is no accurate way to identify the disease during early stage dementia. If you are concerned about memory problems or other symptoms that could be attributed to Alzheimer's or dementia, seek medical advice from your doctor. They will be able to provide a variety of tests to help determine if the symptoms exhibited represent any form of dementia.
- What does dementia do to the brain?
Causes of dementia all center around damage to or loss of nerve cells and their connections in the brain. This can be caused from a wide variety of factors including family history and genetic disorders, old age (as seen with Alzheimer's disease), infections causing high fever, accumulation of clumps of protein in the brain, vitamin deficiencies, alcohol abuse, brain tumors, and more. Depending on the portion of the brain being affected, the dementia may show up in different ways with varying symptoms.
- Can dementia come on suddenly?
In most cases, dementia has a gradual build-up before its presence is apparent; however, it can seemingly appear suddenly in instances where strokes are involved. This condition is called vascular dementia, and it occurs when vessels that supply blood to the brain become blocked or narrowed. This condition occurs over time but goes unnoticed as "silent" strokes accumulate. Only once these strokes have caused a significant disability does it come to light that vascular dementia has occurred.
- Do people with dementia know they have it?
Whether or not people living with dementia recognize that something is wrong often is determined by the stage of dementia they are in at the point of diagnosis and how lucid they are. Still, a recent review of data from 585 Medicare recipients with probable dementia found that almost 60% were either undiagnosed or unaware of their diagnosis.