Forgetfulness can be a typical part of aging: plenty of older people have mentioned finding their glasses on top of their heads after a long search or joked about having “senior moments.” But with 5.4 million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, nearly all over the age of 65, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, those moments of forgetfulness can be unnerving rather than mildly humorous.
So how do you determine if forgetfulness, for example, is just part of the normal aging process or if it’s a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease? Here are a few signs.
Forgetting things that recently happened
The earliest symptoms, in the “mild” stage of the disease, as WebMD explains, can be not much different than normal aging or may be similar to symptoms of other medical issues. But taken together, they can be indicators of Alzheimer’s. One early sign could be when a person forgets a conversation or an event that was mere minutes or a few hours before.
In early stages, a person may have mild mood swings, experience depression or have less energy and less interest in doing regular activities. These symptoms can exhibit themselves with many other issues, but the addition of confusion or suspicion can be a signal of Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Difficulty with familiar tasks
Everyone has habits that have been so ingrained over the years that they’re almost “autopilot.” But when those little tasks start to be a challenge, Alzheimer’s could be indicated.
Trouble using words while speaking or writing
Many people who are aging sometimes will find it difficult to find the right word (and this can happen to many who are just in middle age). But people who have Alzheimer’s “may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
A pattern of poor judgment
As people get older, they may make some poor decisions occasionally, which is normal. But more frequent lapses in judgment are indicators of Alzheimer’s. This could involve habits with spending or giving out money, or consistently not dressing appropriately for the weather. Other longtime good habits of hygiene may start to be ignored.
Confusion over time and place
Older people who are retired may find it difficult to keep track of the day of the week, since long-held workday routines may be gone. But Alzheimer’s may cause people to start being confused over the concept of the passage of time, including understanding when an event is if it’s not “happening immediately,” the Alzheimer’s Association says.
According to WebMD, wandering is a symptom that may manifest itself in someone with moderate Alzheimer’s. As the disease progresses, this new habit can be dangerous.
As WebMD notes, sleep disruption can happen to anyone at any age. But, again, combined with other symptoms, it can paint a picture that indicates Alzheimer’s, particularly if it’s an issue the person hasn’t dealt with previously.
Difficulty with vision and “spatial relationships”
Many people as they grow older may need reading glasses, bifocals or trifocals. Some may have vision changes that are related to cataracts. But understanding and processing images and how things relate to each other can be a problem with those with Alzheimer’s. As the Alzheimer’s Association puts it, “They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast, which may cause problems with driving.”
Those with Alzheimer’s disease require special care and attention. Caregivers can educate themselves on what they can do to help those they love. And there are facilities that can give specialized care, as well. Places like Pheasant Run Alzheimer’s Special Care Center and Barrington Place provides their residents with support that will meet the particular needs of each. One program both of these facilities run, for instance, is exclusive to the center: Meaningful Moments surrounds patients with reminders of their pasts and helps them connect with family, friends and volunteers.