The holiday season can be busy with travel and visits from family and friends who might not often see one another. This time together may raise questions about a person’s physical and cognitive health. Although some change in cognitive ability can occur with age, memory problems that impact daily living are not a part of typical aging. Recognizing the difference between typical aging and potentially more serious problems can help identify when it may be time to see a doctor.
An annual trend, over the 2012 holiday season, the Alzheimer’s Association® Helpline saw a 13 percent rise in calls to its 24-hour Helpline 800-272-3900 as people visited with friends and family whom they may not see as frequently during the year. The Alzheimer’s Association encourages anyone to call the Helpline with a question or doubt about Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.
“Last year the first wave of baby boomers began turning 65 – the age that your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease begins to increase significantly,” said Barb Betts Swartz, Program Director at the Alzheimer’s Association, Michigan Great Lakes Chapter. “Knowing the warning signs of Alzheimer’s and getting diagnosed early is vital to receiving the best help and care possible.”
Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias is an important step in getting appropriate treatment, care and support services. Following are additional benefits to receiving a diagnosis as early as possible:
Benefit from treatments that may improve symptoms and help maintain a level of independence longer.
Have more time to plan for the future.
Sign up for and participate in a clinical trial through Alzheimer’s Association TrialMatch® – a free, easy-to-use clinical studies matching service that connects individuals with Alzheimer’s, caregivers, healthy volunteers and physicians with current studies.
Participate in decisions about care, transportation, living options, financial and legal matters.
Develop a relationship with doctors and care partners.
Benefit from care and support services, making it easier to manage the disease.
Individuals may experience one or more of the 10 Warning Signs in different degrees. If you notice any of them, please see a doctor.
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s is memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; relying on memory aides (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on one’s own. What’s typical: Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems. Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.
What’s typical: Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure. People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game. What’s typical: Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show.
4. Confusion with time or place: People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there. What’s typical: Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast. In terms of perception, they may pass a mirror and think someone else is in the room. They may not realize they are the person in the mirror. What’s typical: Vision changes related to cataracts.
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing. People with 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 (e.g., calling a “watch” a “hand-clock”). What’s typical: Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time. What’s typical: Misplacing things from time to time, such as a pair of glasses or the remote control.
8. Decreased or poor judgment. People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean. What’s typical: Making a bad decision once in a while.
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities. A person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced. What’s typical: Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations.
10. Changes in mood and personality. The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone. What’s typical: Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.
Anyone with questions about Alzheimer’s disease or seeking information should contact the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 toll-free Helpline at 800-272-3900 or visit alz.org®. Experts are available to take calls from individuals concerned with their own cognitive health, as well as from family members and friends concerned about a family member and seeking resources.
In honor of National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, the Alzheimer’s Association, Michigan Great Lakes Chapter is presenting its annual education event – Alzheimer’s Research: The Global Search for Hope, A Local Call to Action – presented by Dr. Bruno Giordani, Associate Director and Professor of Psychiatry, Neurology and Psychology at Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center. Giordani attended the 2013 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference and will be sharing information attained from the world’s largest forum revealing the latest dementia research at four regional programs in Muskegon, Portage, Charlotte and Ann Arbor during November. While these programs are free, a donation of $10 per person (or family) is appreciated. Advance registration is required. Please call 800.272.3900 to register.