SYRACUSE — Recognizing and taking steps to address the warning signs of Alzheimer’s and other dementias can be extremely challenging — especially in the early stages. It’s easy and common to dismiss cognitive changes in oneself or a family member as “normal aging.”
“Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging,” says Katrina VanFleet, LMSW, chief program officer for the Alzheimer’s Association, Central New York Chapter.
“With normal aging, you may forget where you parked your car — that happens to all of us. But if you get in your car and get lost coming home — that’s not normal,” VanFleet said.
Alzheimer’s is a fatal progressive disease that attacks the brain, killing nerve cells and tissue, affecting an individual’s ability to remember, think, plan and ultimately function. Today, more than 5 million Americans, including 410,000 people in New York, are living with Alzheimer’s. By 2050, that number is projected to skyrocket to nearly 14 million.
To help families identify signs early on, the Alzheimer’s Association offers 10 warning signs and symptoms, a list of some common signs that can be early symptoms of Alzheimer’s or other dementias:
• Disruptive memory loss. Forgetting recently learned information, asking the same questions over and over and increasingly relying on memory aids.
• Challenges in solving problems. Changes in one’s ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers, such as having trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills.
• Difficulty completing familiar tasks. Difficulty completing daily tasks, such as organizing a grocery list or remembering the rules of a favorite game.
• Confusion with time or place. Losing track of dates, seasons or the passage of time.
• Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. Vision problems, which may lead to difficulty with balance or trouble reading.
• New problems with words in speaking or writing. Trouble following or joining a conversation or a struggle with vocabulary. For example, calling a “watch” a “hand-clock.”
• Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. Putting things in unusual places and being unable to go back over one’s steps to find them again.
• Decreased or poor judgment. Changes in judgment or decision-making when dealing with matters such as money and grooming.
• Withdrawal from work or social activities. Changes in the ability to hold or follow a conversation can result in a withdrawal from hobbies or social activities.
• Changes in mood and personality. Mood and personality changes, such as confusion, suspicion, depression, fearfulness and anxiety.
It’s important to note that exhibiting one or more of these signs does not mean someone has Alzheimer’s. In fact, these signs may signal other, possibly treatable, conditions. However, it’s important to talk to your doctor to understand what is driving cognitive changes so you can better manage the condition — whatever the diagnosis.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers two easy-to-use resources to learn more about memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It’s 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900 is staffed around the clock by specialists and master’s-level clinicians offering confidential support and information to people living with the disease, caregivers, families and the public. The Association’s website, alz.org, offers in-depth information about the disease and local support to guide individuals and families towards answers and solutions to disease-related challenges.