Spotting the Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

Have you been losing the house keys or forgetting names of friends and neighbors? These kinds of memory lapses are not unusual in older adults. But if this type of forgetfulness is happening frequently, you should consider seeing a doctor.

Of course, nobody likes to think about Alzheimer’s. The question is how do you tell the difference between typical memory loss and early signs of the disease? To get started answering that question, take a look at the guideline below from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to recognize some of the early signs of Alzheimer’s:

  • Is it hard to remember things?
  • Do you ask the same questions repeatedly?
  • Do you have trouble paying the bills or with simple math problems?
  • Do you get lost in locations you know well?
  • Do you lose items or put them in unusual places?

How the doctor can help

You doctor will look at a number of factors when assessing memory loss, including:

  • A medical history that includes all your prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • Seeing how you function on everyday activities, like shopping, paying bills and driving
  • Testing you on memory, problem-solving, language and counting problems
  • A blood and urine workup
  • A brain scan, which can rule out other possible causes

While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s there are a number of approaches to treating or delaying it, including the use of support groups, physical and mental activities and medications.

Can you improve your memory? Yes!

Some memory problems can be helped. Try these activities:

  • Lower your stress. While that’s not always easy, stress produces a hormone called cortisol, which has been linked to short-term memory loss in older adults.
  • Physical activity is a great way to improve overall health, including your memory. That’s because exercise improves blood flow to the brain. Aim for 30 minutes every day. To make it more fun, invite a friend.
  • Speaking of friends—While Facebook is a wonderful way to stay in touch with people, it’s also important to get together with others.
  • Hobbies can help. Try something new like a dance class, a book club, Sudoku or other activities.

It’s not always Alzheimer’s

If you’re having trouble remembering things, that doesn’t automatically mean it’s Alzheimer’s. There are a variety of causes for memory problems, including medication side effects, vitamin B12 deficiency, tumors, infections or blood clots in the brain and other reasons. Your doctor can help with any of your questions. And if you haven’t had your annual wellness exam, this may be a good time to get it.

Alzheimer’s disease and normal aging: a comparison

Alzheimer’s

Normal aging

Frequently making poor decisions

Making poor decisions every once in a while

Difficulty handling monthly bills

Sometimes forgetting a payment

Losing track of the day or time of year

Occasionally forgetting what day it is

Having a hard time talking to others

Sometimes forgetting the right word

Frequently losing items or putting them in odd locations

Losing items from time to time

Most recent update: 1/4/2018

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