Today, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and accounts for between 50% – 80% of all cases. Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disorder that slowly damages and ultimately destroys brain cells, which eventually leads to loss of memory, the ability to think and communicate clearly and carry out simple daily tasks.
Given our nation’s large and fast-growing older population, having a family member with Alzheimer’s has become an increasingly common phenomenon. According to recent statistics, approximately 5.2 million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S., with 5.0 million of them aged 65 and over. As many as 13.8 million people are projected to have Alzheimer’s disease by 2050.
The Importance of Early Detection
We can all have lapses in memory or “senior moments” from time to time, but it is important to understand and distinguish between what is normal and what may be a sign of a more serious problem that requires our attention. Timely detection of memory loss or impairment is important and offers benefits to those with the problem, their families and physicians.
The Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s
According to experts, the following behaviors are considered valid warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease and differ from what would be considered normal:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life – Forgetting recently learned information and important events, asking for the same information over and over and relying on memory aides for things they used to handle routinely.
Normal: Forgetting a name or appointment but remembering it later.
- Challenges in planning or problem solving – Trouble developing and following a plan, or a recipe; difficulty keeping track of monthly bills or working with numbers; and taking longer than normal to do familiar things.
Normal: Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.
- Difficulty completing familiar activities – Challenges with driving to a familiar location, difficulty remembering the rules of a favorite game and difficulty managing a budget.
Normal: Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or recording a TV show.
- Confusion with time or place – Losing track of dates, seasons or a general passage of time; trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately and forgetting where you are or how you got there.
Normal: Getting confused about the day of the week, but eventually figuring it out.
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships – Difficulty reading or judging distance, determining color and not recognizing their own reflection in a mirror.
Normal: Vision changes related to cataracts or the aging eye.
- New problems with words in speaking or writing – Challenges following or joining a conversation, struggling with vocabulary or “word finding,” calling things by the wrong name.
Normal: Occasionally having trouble finding the right word.
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps – Putting things in unusual places; the inability to retrace steps to find items again and accusing others of stealing items.
Normal: Misplacing things from time to time, like a pair of glasses.
- Decreased or poor judgment – Challenges with decision-making; difficulty dealing with money; andpaying less attention to hygiene.
Normal: Making a bad decision once in a while.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities – Removing oneself from hobbies, work projects, sports, etc.; trouble remembering how to perform a favorite hobby and avoiding social activities because of self-awareness of changes in their abilities.
Normal: Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations.
- Changes in mood and personality – Confusion or suspiciousness; depression, fear and anxiety; getting easily upset at work, with friends or places outside of their comfort zone.
Normal: Developing specific routines and becoming irritable when disrupted.
The Benefits of Early Detection
As is the case with many other forms of serious illness, early detection can yield important benefits for the affected individual, the family and medical professionals providing care.
Benefits for Your Loved One and Your Family
Provides an opportunity to take medications to address and potentially slow some cognitive changes
Expedites the use of appropriate programs and services
Identifies the condition when a loved one can still participate in medical, legal and financial decisions and advanced care planning
Allows for planning for safety and security issues including living arrangements, driving, cooking and managing medications
Triggers a search for potentially treatable or reversible disorders
Can ensure greater understanding and awareness for your loved one of what is happening to him or her
Provides a framework for understanding and adapting to cognitive and behavioral changes
Overall quality of life can be maximized
Leads to proper care so your loved one has a higher chance of benefiting from existing treatments
Benefits for Your Physician
- Alerts physician that treatment plans for other health conditions must be considered in challenges faced by the person with dementia
- Alerts physician to avoid medications that can increase the effects of Alzheimer’s
In conclusion, the earlier Alzheimer’s is identified in a loved one, the better the chance of favorable response to treatment, the longer the delay in the progression of symptoms and the less financial cost of care overall.
If you find yourself in need of help in caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, there are many sources available to you. These include Alzheimer’s Association resources and services, support groups, self-help guides, respite care services, in-home support, community-based services and educational programs.
For caregivers who recognize that the needs of their loved one are beyond what they can safely and appropriately provide in the home environment, leading memory care assisted living communities (MCALs), such as North Woods Village at Edison Lakes and its “New Directions”, SM are available to assist you. MCALs provide a safe, professional environment and proven, “best-practice” programs and services specifically designed to address the total physical, emotional and social needs of individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other serious form of memory impairment.
For more information on how North Woods Village can help you understand the Importance of Early Detection of Alzheimer’s, contact us today!