More and more people are aware of and concerned about Alzheimer’s disease. Unquestionably, this awareness and concern is a good thing, but it can also cause confusion and lead to needless worry. When a young adult forgets an appointment, a deadline or the name of a movie, they may be excused as “being too busy” or “having too much to think about”. The same lapse of memory in an older person may cause those around them to immediately think of Alzheimer’s. It is important to know that the normal age-related memory changes experienced by many people are not a sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is not a normal sign of aging.
Many factors related to health and lifestyle can affect memory. Depression, thyroid problems, overuse of alcohol, some types of vitamin deficiencies and use of “recreational drugs” are a few of the factors that can cause memory problems in people of any age. These causes are treatable, reversible and not necessarily a sign of early Alzheimer’s or dementia. On the other hand, people with those early signs of Alzheimer’s often have trouble in recognizing that there is a problem and resist looking into the possible causes. A spouse, family member or a close friend will often see the symptoms before the patient does.
It is important that these loved ones intervene in the situation; early detection means a better chance of benefiting from treatment and more time to plan a course of action. Diagnosing Alzheimer’s requires a careful medical evaluation by a trained physician and should be done as early as possible when symptoms appear. You should get medical help if you or a loved one displays any of these signs–
- Memory loss that is actually disrupting daily life, not simply “absent mindedness.” This includes frequent loss of recall when it comes to recent events, important dates or appointments.
- Difficulty in solving problems or making decisions. This may show up in something as simple as the inability to follow a recipe or to repeat familiar tasks like dialing a phone number.
- Problems with communication, verbal or written. Early Alzheimer’s may show up as difficulty in carrying a conversation. A person may stop mid-sentence and not know how to continue, lose track of a conversation altogether or repeat the same phrases over and over.
- Confusion about time or place. A person developing Alzheimer’s may find themselves not knowing where they are or how they got there. They may be convinced that it is some time in the past.
- Other symptoms may include difficulty reading, judging distance, recalling locations of familiar places or performing common tasks like making a bed.
Many of these symptoms are a matter of degree. We all forget some directions, have a memory lapse or experience difficulty following a set of instructions. However, when these signs appear over and over, it is time to get a qualified medical opinion. The bottom line is this: only a trained doctor can make this diagnosis and he or she can’t do it if the patient is not seen and examined. The physician can rule out other causes of memory problems and refer you or your loved one to specialist help, if needed.
Thankfully, there are sources of help. Getting reliable information about diagnosis and treatment options, support groups and living facilities is essential. A good place to start might be the Alzheimer’s Association, a non-profit, voluntary health organization that concentrates on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association provides a directory of local resources in communities across the United States. If you live in or near a major population center, chances are that there is an office near you. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services maintains a website devoted to disseminating trustworthy information about the symptoms, diagnosis and stages of Alzheimer’s and resources available for dealing with it. Quality websites like WebMD and its Alzheimer’s Disease Health Center can also be a great source of information.
As a lay person, a spouse or family member, you are not able to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease on your own. However, you can play a key role in getting to the medical professional who can! If you have any doubt, do not put this off.
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