Alzheimer’s Disease is a form of dementia, which is a term that’s commonly used for memory loss and impaired cognitive function. In fact, Alzheimer’s makes up at least 60-80% of the cases of dementia. In India, over 1 million cases of Alzheimer’s are diagnosed annually. As is the case with most diseases and problems, the early signs of Alzheimer’s can be quite subtle. Let us take a look at 9 early signs that you must not ignore. As this disease is related to ageing, we will also explore healthy parameters of behaviour that are related to age, as opposed to this disease.
- 1. Memory Loss That Disrupts Your Daily Life:
- 2. Not Being Able To Create Or Follow Through With Plans:
- 3. Being Confused About The Passage of Time:
- 4. Difficulty Understanding Visual Cues and Spatial Relationships:
- 5. Difficulty Speaking Or Problem With Words:
- 6. Misplacing Things:
- 7. Poor Judgement:
- 8. Social Alienation:
- 9. Changes in Personality:
- The Way Forward:
- So, what is your Take-away?
1. Memory Loss That Disrupts Your Daily Life:
Not being able to remember newly processed information is one of the main signs of Alzheimer’s disease. These memory lapses can occur across many spectrums, such as not being able to remember names and dates, a heavy reliance on memory aids like sticky notes (or digital alarms), needing to be told the same information again and again, or needing help with daily tasks that were once easy to do.
Of course, these symptoms sound quite familiar to anyone with an ageing relative. However, there is one huge difference between ageing symptoms and Alzheimer’s symptoms: your relative may forget a date or appointment sometimes, but will remember it later. With an Alzheimer’s patient, this is not the case.
2. Not Being Able To Create Or Follow Through With Plans:
Step by step planning and working with numbers can be a challenge for people who may be developing Alzheimer’s disease. These challenges can present themselves in simple daily tasks such as following a recipe, or calculating a monthly bill. While for some people this means not being able to concentrate enough to follow through the tasks, for others this can be a total inability to perform specific steps.
When you are comparing these signs with someone who is ageing, remember that an ageing person will make the occasional mistakes. However, that is the keyword. The mistakes are occasional.
3. Being Confused About The Passage of Time:
People with Alzheimer’s can have difficulty understand time in relation to something that is not happening immediately. What does this mean? It means not being able to comprehend what time it is, what day or week or month it is, what season it is, and what year it is. They have similar troubles when it comes to locations. They may seem confused about where they are or how they got there.
A typically ageing person may forget what day of the week it is, but is bound to figure it out later.
4. Difficulty Understanding Visual Cues and Spatial Relationships:
In some cases of Alzheimer’s, the early signs present as problems in vision. Patients have trouble understanding signs, color and contrast, reading, and even judging distance. These signs can present themselves as something as innocuous as experiencing difficulty in driving.
For a typically ageing person, problems in vision come with changes in their number as well as cataract. However, they are never so extreme that they disrupt their daily life.
5. Difficulty Speaking Or Problem With Words:
One of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease is a difficulty with language. This can mean that patients have trouble following a conversation, or joining in one. They may also have trouble speaking because they cannot think of the right word they want to use. They might repeat themselves often, or have trouble with their vocabulary.
On the other hand, when you are comparing these signs in someone who is ageing, the problem is not this severe. They may occasionally forget the words they want to use, but have no trouble communicating otherwise.
6. Misplacing Things:
Another big sign of Alzheimer’s is constantly misplacing belongings. This is not just limited to forgetting where something is kept, but also placing items where they do not belong (for instance: car keys placed in the refrigerator, or shoes placed in the wrong cupboard). The inability to retrace steps and figure out where things are kept is also part of the early signs of Alzheimer’s. In fact, the memory loss can be so disorienting that patients often accuse others of stealing their belongings.
With a typically ageing person, misplacing things may be common. However, the difference lies in the fact that they are able to retrace their steps and find their things.
7. Poor Judgement:
Alzheimer’s disease can also impair a person’s ability to make good decisions. Judgement calls are affected greatly due to the fact that information and memories are often distorted. For instance, a patient may spend less time grooming and staying clean, and more time on watering the plants. Impulsive decisions like shopping sprees, throwing an old keepsake, and suddenly deciding to go out are common too.
An age-related change can be making a poor decision every once in a while.
Related Read: Common Diseases in Old Age Adults
Something to remember is that Alzheimer’s patients are not always unaware of the changes their minds are going through. Of course, they are not able to point out exactly what is wrong, but they do know that something is off. As a result, their vulnerability and confusion drives them to seek social isolation. They may feel embarrassed of their behaviour or extremely confused by it. They may also find themselves experiencing difficulty with following their favourite sports or keeping up with hobbies that used to occupy them. This can be because they cannot remember how those hobbies and sports work.
A person who is ageing without dementia may also sometimes be weary of going out. However, everyone enjoys privacy and alone time and that is nothing to be alarmed about. Of course, social isolation can be indicative of a variety of things like depression and anxiety and must not be taken lightly.
9. Changes in Personality:
With the disruption in cognitive function comes changes in personality. A person with Alzheimer’s can be quite moody, fearful, distrustful, anxious, and even argumentative. This is because they cannot understand the world around them and are not able to hold a mirror up to analyse what is wrong with them. As a result, they lash out, wondering why things are changing so rapidly and strangely.
A normally ageing person may be extremely set in their routines and moody when the routine is broken.
The Way Forward:
As a caregiver, it is vital to understand your role. When someone is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, they can still function independently to an extent. Therefore, your role is to provide emotional support, honesty, and a chance to plan the future.
One of the biggest issues that most caregivers face is not being able to strike the balance between allowing independence and taking care of the person. This is mainly because while early stage patients may face challenges balancing finances or following a recipe, other daily tasks like getting ready, going to work, driving, and so may not pose any challenges.
By continually offering support, caregivers can make patients feel stifled and insecure, which can lead to an increased rift between the two, and even fights. There are certain measures that you can take in order to help strike the balance that you need. Some of these are:
1. Ensuring Safety:
If you feel that the person is engaging in an activity that endangers themselves or others, you can step in and help. If there is no foreseeable safety risk, you can step back and let them lead the way.
2. Avoiding Stress:
As a caregiver, you are bound to be cognizant of tasks that cause your partner stress. To help them, you can prioritize tasks that are stress free for them. For instance, if you know that going to a grocery store leads to a lot of confusion and panic, just do not force them to do so. However, ask for their help while outlining the week’s meals or during other tasks, so that they do not feel like their self-worth is low.
3. Make Positive Assumptions:
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease with no cure. Your role as a caregiver is not to help them fight the disease, but to help them live their lives as comfortably as possible. A part of this is ensuring that emotions are positive. When your partner is performing a task, do not automatically assume they cannot do it. Step in only if you sense frustration at their end.
4. Keep Communication Channels Open:
In order to determine the difference between stripping away independence and merely helping, it is best to just keep the channels of communication open. Figure out together when the best time for you to help is and whether any activities work.
So, what is your Take-away?
There is a fine line between the early signs of Alzheimer’s and ageing. While it is natural to confuse the two, it is essential to seek help and an early diagnosis the minute you suspect something is wrong. Early diagnosis can help you and your partner (or family member) seek all the support that is needed before things start to get very difficult.