Spotting the Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

Forgetfulness is a normal part of aging. Whether it’s misplacing the house keys or not remembering the name of your next door neighbor, memory loss is not uncommon for older adults.

But, there are differences between typical memory loss and early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Here are a few guidelines that can help you tell the difference between the two.

As stated by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), some of the early signs of Alzheimer’s are:

  • Finding it hard to remember things
  • Asking the same questions over and over
  • Having trouble with simple math problems or with paying bills
  • Getting lost
  • Losing items or putting them in odd places

While each of the above can happen to most people now and then, you should see a doctor if anything in this list is happening often.

What to expect from the doctor

A checkup for memory loss may include:

  • Complete medical history and the use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs
  • Questions to you and other family about how you’re doing on everyday things like paying bills, shopping or driving
  • Tests for skills on memory, problem-solving, language and counting
  • Blood, urine and other medical tests
  • Brain scans to rule out other possible causes

As there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, doctors typically focus on managing the disease through medications, physical and mental activities and the use of support groups.

Differences between Alzheimer’s disease and normal aging

Alzheimer’s

Normal aging

Often making poor decisions

Making poor decisions once in a while

Problems handling monthly bills

Occasionally forgetting a payment

Losing track of the day or time of year

Forgetting which day it is but remembering it later

Trouble holding a conversation

Sometimes forgetting which word to use

Frequently losing items or putting them in odd locations

Losing items from time to time

A few tips to improve memory

If you’re having trouble with your memory, consider trying some – or all – of the following activities:

  • Take a daily walk. You’ve heard it before, but physical activity is one of the best paths to overall health. Aim for 30 minutes a day. Physical activity improves blood flow to the brain.
  • Get social. Yes, Facebook is a wonderful way to stay in touch with people, but remember to go out in the world and get together with others.
  • Acquire a new skill or hobby, such as Sudoku, crossword puzzles, dancing or joining a book club.
  • Reduce stress. Of course, that can be easier said than done but the fact is that stress produces a hormone called cortisol, which has been linked to short-term memory loss in older adults.

Memory loss: It’s not always Alzheimer’s

Problems with memory can have a variety of causes, such as medication side effects, vitamin B12 deficiency, tumors, infections or blood clots in the brain and other reasons. If you are concerned about memory loss, the best course of action is to reach out to your doctor. And if you haven’t had your annual wellness exam, that may be a good place to start.

Most recent update: 1/4/2018

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