20 Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's
Key Warning Sign: Change
Change is the key warning sign. Ask yourself,"Has the person's ability to remember ordinary daily activities changed from before?"
Are You Worried?
Do you have a history of family members with Alzheimer's? Perhaps you are worried that you or someone you love seems to be forgetting more than usual. I was a caregiver for two elderly loved ones with memory loss, so I understand your emotions, concerns, and fears. In this article, I hope to provide you with enough information to decide if you need to seek additional medical help. I include:
- Early warning signs.
- Simple, easy memory tests you can give to someone without them necessarily knowing what you are doing.
- Explanation of the importance of early detection and what to do about it.
- Simple ways to improve cognitive ability.
20 Warning Signs
The key warning sign is change. The earliest symptom of dementia is a weakening in the ability to process information, especially new information. Here are some typical examples:
- Losing sense of smell or taste, or changes in those senses.
- Having trouble remembering names more than before.
- Losing things like car keys or glasses more often than before.
- Forgetting where the car is parked more frequently.
- Not being able to remember how to get to a store or friend's house.
- Not being able to remember the title of a movie that was just watched.
- Substituting a word because the person can't remember the one they wanted.
- Forgetting appointments or phone calls more frequently.
- Needing to re-read something because they forgot it or writing lots of reminders.
- Repeating questions because they forgot the answer.
- Having people tell them that they already said that.
- Feeling depressed without a particular cause.
- Not remembering whether they took medications.
- Buying too much of something, or buying things they forgot they already have.
- Having more difficulty in organizing events, or paperwork.
- Finding it more difficult to finish complicated tasks.
- Not feeling motivated to finish a project they started.
- Being more irritable and less in control of emotions.
- Having more trouble learning a new task, like how to use a new phone.
- More difficulty in handling finances than before.
Warning Signs of Alzheimer's Poll
Does the person you are concerned about show some of these warning signs of Alzheimer's?
Mild Cognitive Impairment
People who answer yes to some of the above early warning signs may not have dementia that interferes with daily living, but they may have Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) which means they:
- Do have at least one area of impaired memory function.
- Often can continue normal daily living, although close family members may notice a difference in their memory.
- Have trouble remembering anything new.
- Won't necessarily progress to having Alzheimer's, but have a 10 to 15 times higher chance of developing the disease each year.
Dementia vs. Alzheimer's
Dementia is defined as significant memory loss which interferes with daily life. About 70% of people with dementia will eventually be diagnosed with Alzheimer's (which is one of the main causes of memory loss).
What is Mild Cognitive Impairment?
Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) was a term coined by Dr. Ron Peterson of the Mayo Clinic to refer to memory impairment which is less than dementia, but not quite normal.
- Dementia is defined as having two areas of impairment which affects daily living.
- People with Mild Cognitive Impairment may be able to function quite well in normal daily living but they have enough damage to their brain that they do not function the same as before.
For example, people with MCI might be able to balance a checkbook but would have trouble keeping track of all their finances and bills. They may not be able to keep good records for their taxes or may spend more money than they have in income.
Early diagnosis of memory impairment can allow for drug and behavioral treatments to delay the onset of more serious symptoms.
MCI Memory Test
One easy test is the MIC 10 item objective recall test. This test asks a person to remember 10 new words after waiting for ten minutes. Most people with normal functioning can remember more than 5. Someone with dementia might not remember any of them, but a person with MCI might remember only 3 or 4. The idea for the test is taken for Gary Small's and Gigi Vorgan's excellent book, The Alzheimer's Prevention Program. Here is how to take the test:
- Set a timer for 1 minute.
- Memorize the list of ten words for that minute.
- Set the timer for 10 minutes and do something else. Surf the web, fold your laundry or do a few sit-ups.
- When the timer goes off, get a paper and pencil and write down as many of the words as you can recall without looking back at the list.
- 5 or more, memory is probably in the normal range.
- 0-4: You may want to get a further assessment from a medical professional.
Memory Assessment Test
Why MCI is Important to Measure
MCI might be seen as the brain's equivalent to the high blood pressure and high cholesterol. We know that changes in our blood can be invisible symptoms of a potential heart attack and stroke. Similarly, MCI is an invisible symptom of potential memory disease. Like those cardiovascular symptoms we have all been taught to watch out for, MCI is not always noticeable.
Luckily, also like those more familiar symptoms, early discovery of MCI allows for early treatment through lifestyle changes, diet, and medication which can delay the onset of more serious memory problems. Better yet, sometimes MCI is actually caused by a medical problem or medication which can be treated to reverse the problem. Moreover, even if you don't show signs of MCI, making some healthy changes now can help keep your brain healthy.
Why Early Diagnosis Helps
With some memory training, a person with MCI might be able to improve their ability to retain information even though they may not be able to completely recover their previous abilities.
The bad news: Most people are not correctly diagnosed with Alzheimer's or other memory loss problems until they have a crisis. Often, this is four years after the symptoms have first appeared. By that time:
- Daily life has been disrupted for them and their families.
- They need considerable help to continue to function.
- It may be too late to use drugs or other therapies to delay the disease.
The good news: If you pay attention to warning signs which come before a person actually has the disease you can:
- Get medical attention to see if the memory loss is caused by something reversible like medications, hearing loss, high blood sugar or other problem.
- Practice the steps of delaying further memory loss which can keep a person independent for longer.
- Get medical treatment early so that drug therapies which delay dementia work better.
- Have time to prepare and plan as a family.
Lifestyle Changes to Help Memory
Diagnosing early warning signs means you can make lifestyle changes to prevent or delay the onset of severe symptoms. Here are the most important suggestions, which will improve anyone's memory health:
1. Exercise: include aerobic, strength and balance exercises. Do at least 30 minutes of exercise every day and supplement this with changing your daily habits to:
- take the stairs rather than the elevator
- parking further out so you walk more
- include gardening, housework and other chores in your daily activities to make sure you move rather than sit all day.
- walk the dog
2. Eat Healthy Foods and Keep at the Correct Weight
- eat lean meats
- eat plenty of vegetables and fruits of different colors
- eat whole grains
3. Strengthen your Mind:
- learn memory strategies
- take a class to learn a new skill
- play games which involve thinking
- surf the web to learn something new
- learn a new language
- do word puzzles
4. Reduce Your Stress
- make sure you get enough sleep
- take time away from work and media and relax
- take breaks away from the computer to interact with someone in person
- take a time management class to learn to manage your goals and set priorities
- talk out your concerns with friends, family or a therapist if you need one
- write out your thoughts and concerns in a journal
5. Socialize: People who have an active social network are less likely to have Alzheimer's than those who spend most of their time alone. So seek out opportunities to spend time with people you already know and to make new friends:
- join a club
- talk to people in line at the store
- help a neighbor