Signs of Alzheimer’s disease may be confused with signs of dementia. The difference between the two is that dementia refers to a set of symptoms such as a loss of thinking, reasoning skills, and memory. Dementia may or may not be caused by Alzheimer’s, which is a disease in itself.
As we age it is normal to have some changes in memory. However these memory changes should not interfere with daily life. Some early signs of dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease include the following:
• Loss of memory. People may forget important dates or recent experiences to such a degree as to interfere with daily life. While we all may forget details of a conversation or event, people with Alzheimer’s may forget the whole thing.
• Problems with language. While most of us struggle with finding the right word at times, people with Alzheimer’s may forget how to use basic words or what basic words mean. For example, it’s normal to forget where your keys are. It is not normal to forget what keys are used for.
• Changes in personality. Sudden mood swings can be a sign of dementia caused by Alzheimer’s. People may become suddenly emotional, withdrawn, angry or euphoric for no reason. Uncharacteristic behavior, such as mistrusting family members or trusting strangers, is a sign to watch out for.
• Confusion and disorientation. A common sign of Alzheimer’s is that people get lost in places they are very familiar with. Confusion may also interfere with normal daily tasks such as cooking or bathing.
• Hygiene problems. People with Alzheimer’s may suddenly stop bathing and/or start wearing stained clothing.
• Strange behaviors. People may start putting things in the wrong places, such as food in the wardrobe or toothbrushes in the refrigerator.
If someone you know is exhibiting these signs, it is a good idea to set up an appointment with a doctor for an assessment. As yet there is no definitive test for Alzheimer’s, so your healthcare provider will make the diagnosis based on the constellation of symptoms as well as some tests, including the following:
• Blood and urine tests
• Neurological exams
• Mental status tests
• Imaging tests
You will also be asked to provide details about when the symptoms started, concurrent health conditions and medications, and any important changes in your loved one’s life, such as retirement, death of a spouse, etc.
It is very important that you feel comfortable working with your physician and other health care providers, because Alzheimer’s can go on for years. You’ll need to find a team of caregivers and service providers you can trust.