Written by Julie Taylor
My grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s quite a few years ago. What makes me sad for her (and hopeful for future generations) is that if it were today, she may have lead a much better quality of life. She was diagnosed shortly before turning the age of 60. Normally, you wouldn’t think of someone that young having Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s can start to affect a person as much as 15 years before anyone notices.
It is very important to know the early warning signs so that detection or diagnosis can be made earlier. But don’t confuse the early warning signs with your typical age related changes. Some of the early warning signs include:
1. Memory loss that disrupts your daily life. This means that if you can’t remember something you just recently learned or you are always asking for the same information repeatedly.
2. Challenges in planning or problem solving. This isn’t just your typical age related occasional errors, etc. You are struggling with tasks that require you to use numbers such as bills or recipes and it’s taking much more time than usual.
3. Familiar tasks become difficult to complete. Tasks that you perform at home, work or leisure become a struggle. Driving to a familiar location is included in this warning sign.
4. Confusion with time or place. You are forgetting such things as where you are, how you got there, what season or date it is or just having trouble understanding something if it’s not happening right now.
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. Typical age related change includes cataracts. Alzheimer’s is much deeper than that. You may walk by a mirror and think it’s someone else. This also includes difficulty reading or determining color.
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing. You may have trouble following a conversation or be speaking and totally forget what you were saying or you keep repeating yourself. If you occasionally forget a word, that’s typical age related.
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. Misplacing items from time to time is normal, but if you can’t retrace your steps or even accuse someone else of stealing items, you may be suffering from early stages of Alzheimer’s.
8. Decreased or poor judgment. We all make bad decisions once in a while. In the case of Alzheimer’s, you are continually making bad decisions such as giving money to people you don’t know who call you over the phone to tell you you’ve won the lottery, but you have to send money to receive your winnings. I am sure we’ve all heard of those scams used on the elderly. I just read one in my local newspaper.
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities. You may start to feel the need to avoid social interaction because of the changes you are experiencing and the uncomfortableness in social situations – not being able to converse with strangers, for example.
10. Changes in mood and personality. You may become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious, especially outside of your comfort zone.
Alzheimer’s doesn’t have to seem like your life is over. You can still experience improved memory, a clearer mind, less confusion, better planning skills, easier time of tracking events, regained conversational skills, and a happier time with friends and family. The well researched and entertainingly written novel Still Alice by Lisa Genova gave me a heart achingly new insight into Alzheimers and the value of ‘with Alzheimers’ life for sufferers and family alike.
Which is good news for me, having a history of Alzheimers increases my risk of the disease, along with brain injury, which is an added risk and always at the back of my mind. For my grandmother, she lasted for over 15 years after her diagnosis and ‘the difficult years’ at the end of her life lasted for at least 5 of them. My aunt looked after her most of the time and it was very hard on her indeed. Thanks Pat!
So if you notice any of the above mentioned symptoms, please see your family doctor – the earlier the better! Medicine today can make a very big difference.