Recognize the Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

Did you know that someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease every 65 seconds? June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, so we’re taking a closer look at this devastating disease that affects millions of Americans and their families each year.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and kills more people each year than breast and prostate cancers combined. Between 2000 and 2015, deaths from heart disease have decreased by 11 percent, but those attributed to Alzheimer’s have climbed 123 percent. Additionally, as many as 5.7 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s, and that number is projected to rise to 14 million by 2050.

Alzheimer’s not only affects the person with a diagnosis but their family and care network as well. Just over 16 million people provide unpaid care to those with Alzheimer’s disease, totaling 18.4 billion hours each year, valued at $232 billion. This year, Alzheimer’s and other dementias will cost our country $277 billion, with that number expected to climb to over $1 trillion in the next 30 years.

While becoming a bit more forgetful is normal and to be expected as we age, how can you know if a loved one is starting to show signs of Alzheimer’s? The Alzheimer’s Association provides 10 insights into what are normal, age-related changes and what could be early symptoms and signs of Alzheimer’s disease:

1. Normal: Forgetting appointments or names, but eventually remembering them.

Not normal: Memory loss that affects daily life, especially of learned information; forgetting important names and dates, repeatedly asking for the same information, relying on memory aids and/or family members to help with things they were previously able to do.

 

2. Normal: Making occasional errors when completing tasks, such as balancing a checkbook.

Not normal: A noticeable change in the ability to work with numbers and/or follow a plan or procedure; tasks may take much longer than before, or they may have difficulty with tasks like following a recipe or managing finances.

 

3. Normal: Occasionally needing help completing routine tasks around the house or at work, such as recording a television show.

Not normal: An inability to complete familiar tasks such as driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or recalling rules to a favorite game.

 

4. Normal: Confusion about what day of the week it is, but ultimately figuring it out.

Not normal: Losing track of dates, seasons or time; forgetting where they are and/or how they got there.

 

5. Normal: Vision changes due to cataracts.

Not normal: Difficulties reading, judging distance, and determining color and/or contrast, which can affect the ability to drive safely.

 

6. Normal: Sometimes struggling to recall the right word.

Not normal: New or worsening problems with speaking or writing, including the inability to recall words or follow/carry on a conversation, repetition of the same story or calling things by the wrong name.

 

7. Normal: Misplacing things, but being able to retrace steps to locate them.

Not normal: Losing things without having any recollection where they put them; leaving things in strange places; accusing others of stealing their possessions (increasingly common as Alzheimer’s progresses).

 

8. Normal: Making occasional poor decisions.

Not normal: Decreased or poor judgment, often in dealing with money; a decrease in attention to things like hygiene and grooming.

 

9. Normal: Sometimes feeling drained by family, social and work obligations.

Not normal: Withdrawal from people and activities the person once enjoyed, including hobbies, work projects, sports, etc., which may occur because they find it hard to keep up or are starting to notice changes in themselves.

 

10. Normal: Becoming irritated when a routine is disrupted.

Not normal: Changes in mood and personality, especially feelings of confusion, suspicion, fear, anxiety and/or depression.

 

While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, there are options for those with the disease to help cope with and better manage changes in cognition and behavior, ranging from medications and lifestyle changes to alternative therapies. There are also clinical trials available, as researchers hunt for treatment options and hopefully, someday, a way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease altogether.

The good news is that scientists are making progress toward a cure, as evidenced by a recently published article in the Journal of Experimental Medicine. The authors outlined their work, which showed that by removing the BACE-1 enzyme in mice with Alzheimer’s disease, amyloid plaques in the brain not only stopped growing, but existing plaques disintegrated. Researchers are hopeful that the outcomes in the lab and clinical trials will translate into success with treating human patients.

If you or a loved one is starting to show signs of memory trouble, make an appointment to see one of Texas Health’s geriatric specialists.

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