Tuesday, July 05, 2011
By Mr. Noah Kaminer, Administrator
Devorah, a healthy mother and grandmother, was only 65 when her children began noticing strange things. First, she left the house and forgot she had a cake in the oven – only to be reminded when she returned to a smoke filled home and a blaring alarm.
Next, she lost her cell phone, only to find it a week later in the freezer sitting proudly next to her challahs. The final straw came when a few months later she insisted her son was her husband, except that her husband died 5 years prior. Her children were quite concerned.
It’s often tricky to tell an Alzheimer’s symptom from the normal signs of aging. As people get older, some degree of memory loss is natural. Not all forgetfulness indicates dementia or Alzheimer’s. But Alzheimer’s is more than just simple forgetting. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease usually develop slowly and gradually worsen over time, progressing from mild forgetfulness to widespread brain impairment. The earlier you recognize the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and get help, the better your chances of getting care and maximizing quality of life.
The Alzheimer’s Association has a list of 10 general warning signs of Alzheimer’s.
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life – forgetting recently learned things, forgetting important dates or events, forgetting appointments, asking for the same information over and over, relying on memory aides (e.g., reminder notes or alarms).
- Difficulty planning or problem solving – difficulty following a familiar recipe, keeping track of monthly bills, balancing a checkbook, difficulty concentrating on things.
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks – trouble driving to a familiar location, remembering the rules of a favorite game, remembering how to use the microwave or even start a car.
- Confusion with time or place – lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time, may forget where they are or how they got there – even in their own neighborhood, may live more in the past.
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships – vision problems, difficulty reading, they may pass a mirror and think someone else is in the room not realizing it’s them in the mirror.
- Problems with words – may have trouble following a conversation, may stop in the middle and have no idea how to continue, may repeat themselves or struggle to find the right words (e.g., calling a toothbrush, that thing for the mouth).
- Misplace things – may put things in unusual places, may lose things and be unable to go retrace their steps to find it, may accuse others of stealing.
- Decreased or poor judgment – may use poor judgment when dealing with money, may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean, may wear clothing wrong (e.g., winter coat in the summer or socks on top of shoes).
- Withdrawal from work or social activities – may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, or work, may totally withdraw from society.
- Changes in mood and personality – may become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious, may be easily upset at home or irritable when a routine is disrupted.
Since there is no single definitive medical test to diagnose Alzheimer’s, a physician will take a thorough family and medical history, perform a physical exam, a neurological exam, run lab tests, and administer various mental status examinations to estimate memory loss. These steps will help rule out other medical or dementia related causes which are unrelated to Alzheimer’s. With newer medical imaging procedures such as brain imaging and scans, diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease is less of a guessing game.
While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, if symptoms are diagnosed early enough, treatment can delay the onset of more debilitating symptoms. Early diagnosis is the first step towards treatment and management, potentially slowing progression and prolonging independence.
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