The experts agree that some memory loss is one of two things we can expect as we get older. (The other thing is, um, oops, can’t recall.) But forgetting the names of the three federal agencies you will dismantle when you are elected president or occasional moments of CRS (can’t remember s—) are not necessarily early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
While the Alzheimer’s Association recommends that anyone concerned about symptoms consult a physician (early diagnosis helps with treatment, support, and future planning), it also lists the following warning signs of the disease, compared to what’s typical for most people as they grow older.
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s, especially in the early stages, is forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; relying on memory aides (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own.
What’s typical? Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems. Some people may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.
What’s typical? Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure. People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget, or remembering the rules of a game.
What’s typical? Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show.
4. Confusion with time or place. People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons, and the passage of time. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.
What’s typical? Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance, and determining color or contrast. In terms of perception, they may pass a mirror and think someone else is in the room.
What’s typical? Vision changes related to cataracts.
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing. People with Alzheimer’s may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a watch a “hand clock”).
What’s typical? Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing.
What’s typical? Misplacing things from time to time, such as a pair of glasses or the remote control.
8. Decreased or poor judgment. People with Alzheimer’s may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.
What’s typical? Making a bad decision once in a while.
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities. A person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from social activities, work projects, or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite team or remembering how to complete a hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced.
What’s typical? Sometimes feeling weary of work, family, and social obligations.
10. Changes in mood and personality. The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful, or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends, or in places where they are out of their comfort zone.
What’s typical? Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.
For more information, go to alz.org/10signs or call 800-272-3900. And remember that the list above is for information only and not a substitute for a consultation with a qualified professional.