Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological disease that affects over 5.5 million Americans over the age of 65. Alzheimer’s is more than just a tragic disease, however. It is also an international pandemic that is expected to see an increase in cases, from 47 million worldwide to over 135 million, by 2050.
The cost of Alzheimer’s is measured in more than just the broken lives, though. There is also a very real physical and monetary cost to the disease. Alzheimer’s will cost the United States over $259 billion in healthcare spend in 2017, and is estimated to grow to $1.1 trillion by 2050. This year, Alzheimer’s will kill more seniors than both breast cancer and prostate cancer combined – nearly 1 in 3 seniors will die with Alzheimer’s or with another form of dementia.
With this terrible cost, it makes sense to know the warning signs of Alzheimer’s, either for yourself or a loved one. There is no absolute test that can prove the onset of Alzheimer’s, rather doctors rely on a combination of physical and neurological exams to diagnosis the disorder. The earlier it is diagnosed, the better. This is because, while there is no definitive cure for the disease, proper management of the disease, enhanced with medication, has been shown to stall its progression.
Eight Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
Difficulty with Familiar Tasks
- One of the warning signs of Alzheimer’s is noticing that a loved one has trouble with things that they normally do. This includes remembering how to play a familiar game, forgetting important dates, or trouble in navigating to somewhere they normally go. Having difficulty with new tasks is normal as a person ages. For example, needing help with a new device. However, when familiar tasks become difficult, that’s a warning sign
Disruptive Memory Loss
- This is the most common sign of Alzheimer’s. While some memory loss is normal as a person ages, a warning sign of this disease is forgetting information that was recently learned. Additionally, someone who is developing Alzheimer’s may forget important dates or need constant reminders of things that they normally handled by themselves
- Having spatial acuity problems can be a sign of Alzheimer’s. People who are developing this disease often have difficulty judging distances or may have difficulty reading. They may also have trouble with color and contrast. Again, age-related changes to vision are normal and can be caused by cataracts, but these do not interfere with color identification
- Everyone makes bad decisions every once in a while, however, a series of bad decisions may be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s. This doesn’t just apply to financial or personal decisions; it can also apply to grooming of themselves or caring for any pets
- As people get older, they sometimes have less patience with social or familial obligations. This is normal; however, a severe withdrawal may indicate the onset of Alzheimer’s. This is because, as a person starts to have memory loss and disorientation, they may find it difficult to do activities once enjoyed. These changes cause them to withdraw, rather than deal with the loss of enjoyment
Mood and Personality Changes
- Another one of the key warning signs of Alzheimer’s is a marked change in a loved one’s personality. These changes go far beyond the normal age-related personality shifts. Take for example when someone gets older, they can get used to doing something and a disruption to that routine can make them upset. A personality change, due to the onset of Alzheimer’s, can include suspicion, depression, or even fear, especially when they are removed from their comfort zone
Difficulty with Speaking or Writing
- A symptom of Alzheimer’s is word confusion. This is where a sufferer struggles to find the right word for an everyday object. They can also forget where they are in a conversation and repeat themselves multiple times. Additionally, they may have trouble writing
Problem Solving Challenges
- Alzheimer’s patients usually have difficulty with numbers. This can show up in failure to keep track of monthly expenses, or even in remembering favorite recipes. This doesn’t just mean they completely forget; it can also show up with them taking much longer than normal to perform tasks
Alzheimer’s disease can have a devastating effect on your family and loved ones. If you suspect that you or a loved one may have any of these warning signs of Alzheimer’s, you should speak with your doctor as soon as possible. Write down any symptoms you notice you may have, so you can discuss them with your doctor. If they see signs as well, they can refer you to a physician that specializes in Alzheimer’s. You will undergo a neurological exam and possibly an MRI of your brain.
Remember that Alzheimer’s has also been detected in adults younger than 65 as well. Early-onset Alzheimer’s has begun to make a profound impact on even younger adults. Nearly five percent of all Alzheimer’s patients are younger than 65, with symptoms beginning to show in the 40s and 50s.
A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s does not mean you cannot enjoy a long and fruitful life. Physical exercise, individual therapy, and drug treatments can all help. Use of donepezil (Aricept), memantine (Namenda), rivastigmine, or galantamine (Razadyne) have all shown to have significant help for Alzheimer’s patients. These are all cognition enhancing medications that can balance mood and improve mental function.
*Alzheimer’s information sourced from the Alzheimer’s Association.
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