Few families are fortunate enough to say they have not been impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. A progressive, degenerative disease of the brain, Alzheimer’s impairs thinking and memory, accounting for 50 to 80 percent of dementia cases.
Though many experiences with Alzheimer’s disease involve an elderly relative, the disease is not exclusive to the elderly. Up to 5 percent of people with the disease have early-onset Alzheimer’s, which most often appears when someone is in their 40s and 50s.
Fifty-nine-year-old Pat Summitt, the coach with the most all-time wins in NCAA basketball history and a beloved figure on the campus of the University of Tennessee, revealed that she had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. That announcement opened the eyes of men and women across the country who might otherwise never have known that dementia could strike so early or to someone who seemed as healthy as Summitt, who vowed to continue coaching despite the diagnosis. Because it can strike men and women even if they aren’t elderly, it’s important to know these 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s, courtesy of the Alzheimer’s Association.
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
Memory loss is one of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s. This is especially so if men and women forget things that happened very recently, which can negatively impact their daily lives. Additional signs include forgetting important dates and events, asking for the same information over and over again and relying on memory aides such as reminder notes or even family members for things individuals could once remember on their own.
2. Difficulty planning.
Some people might start to exhibit difficulty following a plan or working with numbers, be it following a recipe or paying the monthly bills. Concentration is often difficult for those exhibiting symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks.
Daily tasks such as driving to work or remembering the rules of a familiar game will prove difficult for people with Alzheimer’s.
4. Disorientation with regards to time or place.
Nearly everyone has had momentary lapses where they forget what time it is or what day it is. But such lapses are not momentary for people with Alzheimer’s, who might even get lost on their own street and not remember how to get home.
5. Trouble understanding images and spatial relationships.
Some people with Alzheimer’s have difficulty reading, judging distance or determining color or contrast. For example, a person with Alzheimer’s might walk past a mirror and not realize he or she is the person in the mirror.
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing.
People with Alzheimer’s might experience trouble holding or joining a conversation. An example is stopping in the middle of a conversation and having no idea how to continue. They might also struggle with vocabulary, often having trouble finding the right word to express what they’re thinking.
7. Misplacing things.
People with Alzheimer’s might put things in unusual places and then experience difficulty retracing their steps to find those items. This tends to occur more frequently over time, and they often accuse others of stealing items they simply can’t find.
8. Decreased or poor judgment.
Poor judgment, such as not visiting the doctor or mishandling finances, is another warning sign for Alzheimer’s. These poor decisions can extend to personal grooming, which men and women with Alzheimer’s might neglect.
9. Withdrawal from society.
Men and women with Alzheimer’s might start to withdraw from society, removing themselves from social activities, projects at work or hobbies. Avid sports fans might no longer be able to follow their favorite team, while social butterflies might grow reclusive.
10. Changes in mood and personality.
People with Alzheimer’s might experience mood swings for no apparent reason and can become anxious, confused, depressed, fearful or suspicious. Acting out of character might also be indicative of Alzheimer’s.
If you suspect a parent has Alzheimer’s disease, educate yourself about the disease and consult with a geriatric care specialist. Discuss with family members and be aware of the emotions you are experiencing.
More information about Alzheimer’s disease is available at www.alz.org