When you think about Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, memory loss may immediately come to mind. But while that’s a common symptom, it’s not the only symptom someone with dementia might have.
The numbers are pretty sobering. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 6 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease. One in three older adults dies from Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia, and the number of dementia-related deaths has increased nearly 20 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While there’s no “cure” for dementia, there are treatment options that can slow the progression of the condition. The earlier you receive such treatment, the better. That’s why it’s important to have a good understanding of what Alzheimer’s disease looks like.
“Memory loss is the most obvious sign of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Regina Smith, Senior Services Manager. “But the condition also leads to other forms of cognitive decline that can cause challenges in a person’s everyday life at home and at work. If you believe a loved one may be affected by dementia, you’ll want to keep an eye out for the full spectrum of symptoms.”
Understanding the Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that gradually destroys cognitive abilities such as memory and thinking skills. This is similar to other types of dementia.
With Alzheimer’s specifically, there’s a buildup of proteins in the brain. These proteins form amyloid plaques and tau tangles, which clump together between nerve cells and cause them to stop functioning. As these nerve cells, or neurons, die off, parts of the brain begin to shrink, impacting cognitive abilities.
An inability to remember recently learned information is typically the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease that people notice. That’s because it’s the most obvious symptom—and the most commonly known.
But there are other symptoms that may appear, outside of the normal scope of aging. These symptoms may include:
- Difficulty making or following plans or problem-solving. Occasionally having difficulty following the steps in a recipe isn’t a problem, but difficulty concentrating or requiring longer to complete routine activities may be.
- An inability to complete familiar tasks, whether at work or at home. It’s normal to be challenged occasionally by new technology, but having trouble driving to somewhere familiar or remembering the rules of a game or sport may be a sign of something more serious.
- Confusion about time or place. As Alzheimer’s progresses, it can make it difficult to remember dates, seasons, and time more broadly. Simply losing track of what day it is isn’t a sign of dementia, but persistent difficulties with time can be.
- Trouble with visuals or spatial relationships. Difficulties with vision can be a sign of Alzheimer’s, but should first be checked out by an eye doctor. If an eye condition isn’t to blame, dementia may be the cause of difficulty reading, determining color, or judging distance.
- Difficulties with speech or writing. It’s entirely normal to sometimes have difficulty finding the right word to describe something, but Alzheimer’s disease may make it hard to follow or take part in a conversation.
- Misplacing items and an inability to find them. It’s commonplace to misplace an object on occasion. But someone with Alzheimer’s may be unable to retrace his or her steps to find the item, and the act of misplacing things may become more frequent over time.
- Diminished judgment. Alzheimer’s can be associated with dramatic changes in judgment or decision-making. This may show up when it comes to avoiding scams, but also can affect a person’s hygiene.
- Withdrawal from normal activities. It’s normal to not want to be around other people all the time, but a rapid withdrawal from hobbies, social activities, and work projects can be a sign of something more.
- Mood or personality changes. Those who have Alzheimer’s disease may experience a pretty substantial and noticeable change in mood or personality, becoming confused, anxious, depressed, or fearful.
Many of the symptoms outlined above can also be related to other medical conditions. If a loved one is experiencing any of these signs, particularly more than one of them, talk with his or her doctor, who can rule out other potential causes.
Caring for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease can be an incredible challenge. But you don’t have to go it alone. Find support from others, learn helpful coping mechanisms, and gain access to valuable resources through the Alzheimer’s Resource Center. Appointments to visit the center may be scheduled by calling 731-541-8757.