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November 18, 2016

How to Recognize Symptoms of Alzheimer’s in Loved Ones

How to Recognize Symptoms of Alzheimer’s in Loved Ones

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More than 5 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association — roughly 1.5 percent of the population.

Alzheimer’s disease is “an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out the simplest tasks,” according to the National Institute on Aging.

Though researchers are working on ways to learn more about the biological features of the disease through brain imaging and changes in body fluids, Alzheimer’s can be confirmed definitively only after the death of the patient by looking at the brain, which shows abnormal clumps (called amyloid plaques) and tangles, called neurofibrillary, or tau, tangles, according to the NIA.

About a third of the elderly will die having Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. So how do you tell the difference between the common memory loss that comes with aging and the damage in the brain that signals Alzheimer’s? Here are some signs to watch for.

Memory loss

This may be the sign most people think about with Alzheimer’s, but the way memory loss manifests itself is the key. Does a person forget recent conversations and events? Does she ask the same thing over and over? Does he have to use “memory aids” such as sticky notes or electronic devices more often, as the Alzheimer’s Association notes?

Difficulty with everyday tasks

Familiar activities, such as balancing a checkbook or following a recipe, may become more difficult, according to WebMD.

Trouble using words while speaking or writing

Many people who are aging sometimes will find it difficult to find the right word. But people who have Alzheimer’s “may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association.


Losing things

Misplacing keys or glasses is common for most people, but those with Alzheimer’s will be unable to trace their steps to figure out where they might have left things, or they may even accuse people around them with stealing those items.

Confusion over time and place

People with busy lives can easily lose track of what day of the week it is. But Alzheimer’s may cause people to start being confused over the concept of the passage of time, including understanding when an event is if it’s not “happening immediately,” the Alzheimer’s Association says.

Impaired judgment

People with Alzheimer’s may start giving money away or spending it without thinking. They may dress differently or pay little attention to personal hygiene.

Mood and personality changes

These symptoms can be evidence of many other problems, but in combination with the other symptoms of Alzheimer’s, they can be further indication that a person has the disease. He may lash out in anger with little provocation or be fearful or anxious. As WebMD notes, these mood changes may be compounded because the person with Alzheimer’s realizes he’s “losing control” of his life.

Some medications are available to slow down the progress of Alzheimer’s disease, and there are ongoing clinical trials for new treatments, but there is no cure.

As the caregiver…

Caregivers can find resources for support as they work to take care of loved ones with the disease. The Alzheimer’s Association provides links on its website for local community programs and services as well as a toll-free number that caregivers can call 24/7 for support.

Caregivers should take advantage of these and any other available options to get help as they go through this challenging experience. Finding someone to talk to regularly, either a friend or a licensed professional, can allow them to “normalize the feelings they might be feeling, such as a sense of loss, of loneliness, of helplessness and powerlessness,” as Nancy Lieu says. She’s a licensed clinical social worker and specialist in behavioral health at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center.

Caregivers also need to be sure to take care of themselves, Lieu emphasizes. They may skip doctor’s appointments for themselves and not take care of their emotional health. But it’s vital they “ask for help, take a break each day, keep a gratitude journal or journal in general and spend time with friends,” as well as eat healthy and exercise.

She recommends connecting with a support group and seeking out respite care that might be available.

Use the Alzheimer’s Association website and get educated about the disease and resources, Lieu says. “The more education you have about it, the more answers you’ll have to those questions that might be scaring you.”