Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that affects thinking and memory. While the disease usually progresses slowly, it becomes more severe with time and can be difficult to diagnose. Alzheimer’s cannot be cured, but catching symptoms early can allow for the implementation of treatment options that slow the progression of the disease.
“Our hope is that if we could identify patients who are developing the disease early, it would give us a much better opportunity to intervene with treatments, and it’s much more likely for those treatments to be effective,” Cedars-Sinai Medical Center chairman of neurosurgery Dr. Keith Black said in an interview with CNN.
Alzheimer’s is difficult to diagnose because no single test can identify the disease. Diagnosis requires knowledge of an individual’s medical history along with mental evaluations, blood tests, and ongoing neurological exams.
Watch for these warning signs and prepare to discuss them with a medical professional if you notice any of the following in yourself or a loved one:
1. Disruptions of Daily Life
Forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging, but it becomes a problem when a person starts struggling with recall on a regular basis.
Take note of memory loss that affects daily life. If you notice a loved one forgetting important dates, relying heavily on memory aids, or asking the same questions over and over, arrange for a professional evaluation.
2. Difficulty Solving Problems
Alzheimer’s can affect a person’s ability to work with numbers, follow directions, or make plans. This often manifests when the patient has trouble understanding conversations, paying bills, or even following recipes.
People may also have a more difficult time concentrating on a task while attempting to start or complete it. Making small occasional errors is part of human nature, but when simple tasks become extremely difficult or impossible to complete, it’s a sign of a serious problem.
3. Loss of Time
People with Alzheimer’s often struggle with an altered perception of time. These individuals might “lose” years, forget their age, not know the season, or have no idea how long someone has been out of the room.
“Five minutes can seem like five hours for someone with AD, so a husband may think his wife has been gone for hours or even weeks, even if it’s just been a few minutes, or he might tell his grandchild that he hasn’t seen him in five years, even though he just saw them yesterday,” Lisa P. Gwyther, co-author of The Alzheimer’s Action Plan: A Family Guide, shared with CBS News.
Stages of Progression
It’s a common misconception that Alzheimer’s only affects older people. According to the Alzheimer’s Association 2017 facts and figures:
“An estimated 5.5 million Americans of all ages are living with Alzheimer’s dementia in 2017. This number includes an estimated 5.3 million people age 65 and older, and approximately 200,000 individuals under age 65 who have younger-onset Alzheimer’s, though there is greater uncertainty about the younger-onset estimate.”
People of any age can begin to show signs of Alzheimer’s, and that’s why it’s important to recognize the symptoms. The disease has multiple stages of progression, and early detection can allow for effective treatment that slows progression sooner.
Most Alzheimer’s treatments involve a medication regimen that promotes neurotransmitter connections in the brain. Additionally, physicians work with patients’ families to create safe environments and promote regular exercise and a nutritious diet plan. While Alzheimer’s is a difficult disease to manage, early recognition of key symptoms can dramatically improve patients’ quality of life.