You’ve noticed changes in your parent. He gets lost in his own neighborhood. He has trouble remembering the names of people he’s known for years. You suspect he’s in the early stages of dementia and wonder what to expect.
Alzheimer’s disease is a common form of dementia that affects over 6 million Americans. It’s a progressive illness that worsens over time. The disease disrupts communication between the neurons in the brain, causing cell death and loss of function. This affects parts of the brain that control memory, language, reasoning, judgment, and behavior. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease vary from person to person and depend on the stage of the disease.
How Alzheimer’s Disease Progresses
Over time, Alzheimer’s disease causes a cumulative decline in cognitive function and physical health until a person becomes severely impaired and dies. There are seven stages of the illness. The earliest is the preclinical stage, where the brain changes, but the person with dementia does not show symptoms.
In the mild stages of the illness, a person may have minor memory lapses, forget names, or misplace things. Other indicators are difficulty recalling recent events or getting lost in familiar places.
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, your loved one might need help with basic tasks like hygiene. They may ask daily where they are or fail to recognize family members. In the final stage, there is an intense decline in the person’s cognitive ability and physical function. They might lose the ability to communicate and need care day and night.
Early Signs Of Alzheimer’s Disease
If you’re wondering if your parent has dementia, here are some early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease:
Frequent Memory Lapses
We all have occasional memory lapses as we age. But frequently forgetting names, appointments, or recent events, or having trouble with familiar tasks, could be the early stages of dementia.
Gently bring up your concerns and encourage your parent to see a doctor. Sometimes, other factors cause memory loss. These include stress, depression, medication side effects, or other treatable health issues. A doctor can perform tests to rule out other causes and diagnose Alzheimer’s disease or different types of dementia.
Trouble With Logic or Problem-Solving
If your loved one has trouble with basic tasks like making a favorite recipe, it could be Alzheimer’s. The disease can affect the ability to think logically or make decisions. Step in tactfully if you observe a loved one struggling to perform tasks requiring logic, like managing their finances.
Confusion and Disorientation
Being disoriented is an indicator of Alzheimer’s disease. If your parent gets lost in familiar areas, can’t remember faces, or follow the passage of time, they may have dementia.
Difficulty with Language
Communication changes associated with dementia include frequently repeating things and having trouble finding words.
Mood Swings or Personality Changes
Pay attention if your loved one has mood swings or personality changes. Alzheimer’s disease can cause mental health issues like depression or anxiety. Sometimes, aggressive behavior and swearing are symptoms of dementia.
Trouble With Routine Tasks
Alzheimer’s disease affects the part of the brain that controls motor function. People with Alzheimer’s may struggle with basic tasks like dressing, cooking, and maintaining personal hygiene.
Early Detection Leads to Best Results
Don’t wait to seek professional help if you suspect your parent has Alzheimer’s. It’s essential to get a diagnosis and care team in place early. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Still, some medications and therapies can help manage the symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease.
An early diagnosis also allows you to manage financial planning needs, establish a power of attorney, develop advance directives, and anticipate care needs. It’s best to introduce changes, like moving to a care community, in earlier stages of the disease. Some senior communities have a rich recreational and social activities schedule that residents enjoy most while they are still more independent.
What Do I Do Now?
Don’t hesitate to seek help and information from reliable sources if you think your parent has Alzheimer’s. Taking action early and learning about the disease and its stages can prepare you for the journey ahead and help your parent enjoy a better quality of life.