The term Alzheimer’s is not uncommon and many of us will know someone (or a family member of someone we know) with Alzheimer’s but do we know the warning signs and what we should look out for so that we can assist our own loved ones?
Alzheimer’s is often used interchangeably with the term Dementia, Dementia and Alzheimer’s are NOT the same. Alzheimer’s is a form of Dementia but there are over 200 types of Dementia.
Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of Dementia which is caused by a loss of brain cells. People living with Alzheimer’s disease will usually suffer with some form of memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease can also cause problems in completing daily activities especially if any sort of organisation or planning is required, such as going out for grocery shopping. Alzheimer’s disease can cause difficulties when handling money or understanding and dealing with numbers and calculations.
So, let’s take a look at some of the warning signs of Alzheimer’s…
Memory loss that impacts daily life
This is probably the most well known sign of Alzheimer’s and most associated with all types of Dementia (although not always correctly!).
It is usually the most recent information, or new information that is forgotten first, or becomes most difficult to remember.
Individuals may have difficulty in remembering dates or events and increasingly ask the same/similar questions.
Difficulties solving problems and planning
Alzheimer’s can cause individuals, no matter how organised they previously were, to have problems when planning or solving problems as the Alzheimer’s progresses.
Individuals may have difficulties following a schedule, or plan, and keep track of a budget or their shopping list and groceries.
Money issues, and tracking expenses and finances often demonstrates a problem for those with Alzheimer’s.
Problems completing familiar tasks
Individuals with Alzheimer’s may start to demonstrate difficulties in completing tasks that were previously very little or no effort for them. Tasks could include things that they do daily, such as crosswords, card games, cleaning or even cooking.
This can also lead to frustration and upset for the individual (which may change their mood – see below) or a withdrawal from activities that they previously enjoyed (again, see below).
Disorientation to Time and Place
Those living with Alzheimer’s can often become disoriented to the day, date, month or even the season.
Individuals can have problems in remembering dates and tracking time which can often lead to them forgetting why they are at a particular place (if not their usual surroundings) or where they are meant to be and why.
This can also cause problems with sleeping and the individual understanding when they should be going to bed, asleep or when they should be waking up.
Changes to Personality and Mood
Alzheimer’s can change the personality of an individual and a one mild-mannered individual may display aggressive tendencies.
If an individual with Alzheimer’s is placed outside of their own comfort zone their mood may quickly change to show anxiety or confusion and they may even become upset or angry.
It is important to keep routine and structure for those with Alzheimer’s (and Dementia) as this can reduce some of these changes.
Misplacing Items & Loss of ability to Retrace Steps
Misplacing items is common, not only because the individual has forgotten where they have put something or where an item is usually kept, but also because they may put items in unusual places, or in places that the item would not usually be kept in.
It will become difficult for the individual to retrace their steps and movements as they become unable to remember.
As Alzheimer’s develops the individual may become upset and angry, and even accuse others of deliberately moving or stealing the items.
Problems with Words when Speaking or Writing
Individuals with Alzheimer’s may begin to demonstrate difficulties in following conversations and joining in with discussions. The individual may appear hesitant or just stop talking mid-way through a sentence or word especially if they are unable to recall the word or meaning or where they were going with their sentence.
Individuals may repeat themselves or ask others to repeat themselves or speak slower and can get confused with meanings and what is being said.
Visual Impairment & Reduced Spatial Awareness
Not all those that begin to experience problems with their vision will have Alzheimer’s.
However, vision problems and Alzheimer’s can cause issues with balance and judging distances, colors and dealing with spatial awareness – this can be extremely dangerous especially if the individual continues to drive and is unaware of the issue and therefore the risks.
Withdrawn from Activities
As Alzheimer’s develops the individual may become more withdrawn from activities, interaction and engagement with others.
Their ability to follow conversations may reduce and this will impact their ability to engage socially and could result in the withdrawal from social activities and even from their hobbies and interests if they feel unable to participate or keep up with what is going on around them
Poor (or decreased) Judgement
Individuals with Alzheimer’s may begin to have a decreased ability to make decisions and judgments, especially when comparing this to their previous abilities.
An individual’s decisions in relation to money or personal hygiene (for example) may become questionable and even poor as time progresses and the Alzheimer’s develops.
If you are concerned, make sure you reach out, whether to a professional or a personal friend or family member (if you are not quite ready to speak to a professional or are unsure who to speak to at first).
You do not have to do this journey alone and the quicker and earlier you can get you and your loved one assistance, the better.
There are so many resources available, and although not all of them are signposted easily, some are and organisations (such as ours!) are always happy to help.
Some other resources you may find useful:
Australia – https://www.dementia.org.au/
Canada – https://alzheimer.ca/en
New Zealand – https://alzheimers.org.nz/
USA – https://www.alz.org/