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November 05, 2017

Identify the Early Stages of Alzheimer's and Other Types of Dementia

November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness month, which was started by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. At that time, there were fewer than 2 million Americans living with the disease, now that number has soared to 5.4 million. 

Words like dementia and Alzheimer’s can be overwhelming and stressful when thinking about how they could affect the loved ones in our lives. Because we care a great deal for our parents, we may confuse symptoms of Alzheimer's or other types of dementia with normal aging mental processes.

It's important to take a deep breath and know that a few intermittent instances of memory loss do not equate to dementia and Alzheimer’s. A person needs to have at least two ongoing types of impairment that significantly interfere with their everyday life to receive a dementia diagnosis.

At Fieldstone, we understand that learning to identify the early stages of dementia can be difficult emotionally. Our goal is to be an educational resource and support to you and your family, to help you recognize the early signs and symptoms of dementia and connect you with the appropriate care and services when and if needed.

Ongoing Short-Term Memory Disruption

Trouble with memory is certainly a common sign of dementia and Alzheimer’s but it is important to realize that this type of disruption is not usually temporary. Signs of this can include forgetting meaningful dates, struggling to remember why a person entered a particular room, and increasingly relying on memory aids, like post-it notes.

 Common Age-Related Change:

Forgetting a name or task, but remembering it later.

Problem Solving and Planning Challenges

A person beginning to experience changes in their ability to create and follow a plan related to numbers will see a decrease in their concentration with things like monthly bills, favorite recipes, or puzzles. These once easily manageable tasks now become overwhelming.

Common Age-Related Change:

 Making infrequent errors when banking.

Trouble with Familiar Tasks at Home, at Work, or at Leisure

A shift in the ability to accomplish routine chores and jobs can indicate the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s. You may notice a sense of confusion where there was previously comfort and understanding. Small things like driving to a familiar location now become difficult.

 Common Age-Related Change:

Needing help to set up a new Netflix or needing directions to a new store. 

Confusion with Place or Time

Alzheimer's and other types of dementia both create a struggle when it comes to keeping track of dates, seasons, and the passage of time. It becomes easier to forget the present, related to both space and time. Location becomes an overall challenge to keep track of for anyone facing dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Common Age-Related Change:

Confusing what holiday has just passed, but then remembering later.

Misunderstanding Visual and Spatial Cues

Vision problems related to dementia and Alzheimer’s may result in difficulty reading, judging distances, figuring out colors, and seeing contrasts between objects and colors. All of these things negatively impact a person’s ability to drive or even walk around a once familiar neighborhood. Following directions even if they are detailed becomes challenging and may cause frustration.

Common Age-Related Change:

Eyesight issues related to cataracts or developing the need for glasses.

Struggling with Spoken and Written Word

As the disease progresses, a person may develop problems with communication, like losing their place in the middle of a conversation. Books may go unfinished because they are simply no longer enjoyable. Likewise, vocabulary may diminish with new made up words being substituted in place of forgotten words.

Common Age-Related Change:

Sometimes having an issue with finding the correct word.

Misplacing Items

Unusual placement of common items can be an indicator of a person facing dementia. This could be something like placing their keys or a wallet in the refrigerator. Because of the inability retrace steps, it would not be uncommon for a person to think that the missing item may have been stolen.

Common Age-Related Change:

Misplacing items but then being able to retrace steps to locate them.

Decreasing Judgement

A person dealing with dementia or Alzheimer’s will begin to struggle with the ability to make proper decisions. A common scenario is a person giving money to telemarketers or charitable organizations. Attention to personal hygiene may also diminish.

Common Age-Related Change:

Making a bad investment once in a while or getting in a small car accident.

Withdrawing from Social Interactions

Friends and family might begin to notice a with dementia may begin withdrawing from social experiences. This is often related to all the dementia-related changes and the anxiety around communication. You may also notice trouble keeping up with favorite sports teams or hobbies.

Common Age-Related Change:

Feeling tired or occasionally turning down invitations for company and social obligations. 

Changing Mood and Personality

Overall attitudes and actions can alter dramatically for anyone with dementia. Confusion, suspicion, depression, fear, anxiety, and dread can all become new personality attributes. Because there is a sense of loss in identity, they can become frustrated and angry. If you are feeling any frustration, know that they are experiencing the same thing in a heightened sense.

Common Age-Related Change:

Feeling frustrated or upset when routines change.

If you feel that you are observing two or more of these signs, we recommend speaking with their doctor. Early detection can lead to treatment options that can minimize symptoms and allow your loved one to continue living a full and joy-filled life. Throughout the aging process, know that you are not alone. Fieldstone is available to help you understand and make healthy decisions for both you and your loved one. Schedule an appointment with us to determine how we can help your family.

Topics: Alzheimer's

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