The First Signs of Alzheimer’s: A Quick Guide for Family and Friends
Each year, 500,000 Americans face an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Being diagnosed is a life-changing experience, not just for the individual who carries the disease, but for family and close friends, too.
Alzheimer’s disease is a memory impairment that causes individuals to lose control over their cognitive functions. It’s also well-known as the most common form of dementia. As a progressive disorder, it gets worse over time, often advancing at different rates for different individuals. So, while a relative may receive an Alzheimer’s diagnosis when they’re still largely independent and capable, the disease will eventually get worse, which is why it’s important to diagnose it early.
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s. However, with an early diagnosis and access to supportive living environments, individuals facing the disease can enjoy a meaningful quality of life. Identifying Alzheimer’s early can also help ensure that the right care is provided at the right time and in an environment that’s both understanding and supportive.
The Challenges of Identifying Alzheimer’s Signs
Alzheimer’s first signs can be difficult to spot. It’s not easy to pinpoint exactly when the disease “begins.” In its early stages, Alzheimer’s doesn’t interfere unduly with day-to-day life. An individual with Alzheimer’s might not even know that there’s anything wrong. They may see the occasional incident as a natural part of growing older. This is why being able to correctly identify Alzheimer’s symptoms – and distinguish them from just having a bad day – is so important.
For example, forgetfulness is a common symptom, but it is not the only one and occasional lapses of memory are a part of everyone’s life. We’ve all lost the car keys at one point or the other, after all. An occasional forgetful moment doesn’t immediately point to Alzheimer’s. But regular short-term memory impairment can be cause for concern. Seeing a doctor early can help address memory issues of dementia caused by vitamin B deficiency, improper medications, depression, hydrocephalus or another correctable disorder.
It’s easy to confuse forgetfulness and other early symptoms of Alzheimer’s with daily glitches, too. Mood swings and confusion are common symptoms, for instance, but who has not had a bad day when they’re irritable or just a bit confused in the morning?
To help you determine the difference between a bad day and a pattern of issues that might point to Alzheimer’s, we’ve put together a list of the first signs of Alzheimer’s, and how you can identify them.
Common Early Alzheimer’s Symptoms
- A real, persistent difficulty in remembering: Everyone has lapses of memory. You might’ve forgotten to attend an event over the weekend or left the front door unlocked. But is your relative or friend constantly forgetting important things? Are they repeatedly asking for the same information? Individuals with early-stage Alzheimer’s will find it increasingly hard to remember minor information. They may rely more and more on friends and family to repeat details that they’ve forgotten.
- Difficulties in planning and solving problems: Alzheimer’s disease can impair cognitive functioning. In its early stages, the disease can make it harder to plan things or to solve mentally taxing problems. Tasks such as filing taxes or drawing up a grocery list will still be doable, but they may take considerably more time than before.
- Vision problems: As people get older, it’s normal to experience some amount of vision loss. People over 50 might need to wear reading glasses or find it harder to see in the dark. But because Alzheimer’s is a brain disease, it has its own effects on vision. Alzheimer’s can make it harder to perceive motion, for example. Objects in motion might appear “choppy” instead of moving smoothly. This can make it harder to keep track of moving objects and people, especially in densely-packed environments. Alzheimer’s can also affect depth perception, color and contrast perception. Together, these changes can make activities such as driving far more dangerous than before.
- Problems with conversation: Because early-stage Alzheimer’s makes it harder to remember specific events and details, conversation often becomes a challenge. Affected individuals might lose track of things in the middle of a conversation, forget who they’re talking to or repeat the same points multiple times.
- Personality changes: As Alzheimer’s progresses, it causes people to become more withdrawn and irritable. They may also be less motivated to do the things they otherwise enjoyed. These changes tend to be reactions to symptoms becoming a more pervasive part of the person’s life. As it becomes harder to socialize and perform the functions they once attended to regularly, people with Alzheimer’s disease tend to retreat inwards. This change can be difficult and painful for family and friends, especially if the disease has gone undiagnosed. Those closest to the individual might be left wondering if they’ve done something wrong. It’s vital to remember that these changes are because of the disease. They’re no one’s fault.
How to Respond to the First Signs of Alzheimer’s
These first signs of Alzheimer’s may present gradually, but they’ll become more pronounced with time. Early detection gives you time to take actions that can significantly improve the individual’s long-term quality of life. Here are some steps you should take after spotting the first signs of Alzheimer’s:
- Consult a professional: This is the single most important step you can take. The earlier a diagnosis is made, the better for the individual. Although there is no cure, the specific symptoms of Alzheimer’s vary greatly from person to person. A medical professional can help you craft a care strategy that best addresses the individual’s needs. An early professional diagnosis is also important for communication. When undiagnosed, Alzheimer’s symptoms can be distressing for both affected individuals and those close to them. A diagnosis can make the journey to understanding easier for everyone.
- Consider clinical trials: While there’s currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, medical researchers have been working diligently to find one. Of the ten leading causes of death in the US, Alzheimer’s is the only one that can be neither cured nor slowed down. If a cure isn’t found by 2050, worldwide costs for Alzheimer’s care will approach $1 trillion. This makes an Alzheimer’s cure one of medical research’s top priorities. Participating in clinical trials can potentially lead to better outcomes. It can also pave the way to an early cure.
- Plan for the future: An Alzheimer’s diagnosis can alter your life, but individuals with Alzheimer’s can live fulfilling lives. “What happens next?” is a question that has implications for the individual and for those close to them, and too often it’s viewed in an overly negative light. One way to stay ahead of Alzheimer’s and create a more positive environment is to plan for the future, early on. Financial and legal planning, as well as creating healthcare directives, will reduce complexity and ensure understanding as the disease progresses. Then, focus on finding support options that improve quality of life, not dampen it.
- Find the right care options: As mentioned, every person experiences Alzheimer’s differently, but the right support can improve the lives of those living with Alzheimer’s regardless of how they’re experiencing the disease. A personalized care strategy will help immensely, maximizing each individual’s strengths and providing support where needed. From identifying caregivers to selecting the right memory care community, a support strategy will go a long way towards ensuring that people living with Alzheimer’s have the best possible quality of life.
Supporting Relatives and Friends with Alzheimer’s
You will have a conversation about care after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. At home, it’s important to decide how family members can participate in the support process. For those diagnosed, Alzheimer’s is an emotionally trying experience. Knowing that they’re important to you is vital to their emotional wellbeing. Nothing communicates this better than when everyone plays a role in supporting them. It can be as simple as dropping by on the weekend for lunch and conversation. When you’re planning out a long-term memory care strategy, never forget the role that family and friends play.
At The Villages of Windcrest, we’re here to help you move forward on your journey, providing positive, fulfilling care for those with Alzheimer’s. We don’t see memory care as a service. So much is possible in life, even after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Memory care is a way for people with Alzheimer’s to live their lives to the fullest, doing everything that matters and spending time with the people that mean the most to them. We’re here to help you and your relatives and friends live, and live well. For more information on how we can help, contact our team.