Alzheimer’s Early Warning Signs

During this June month of Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness, we invite you to be on the alert for, and recognize the early signs of Alzheimer’s.

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10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s

During this June month of Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness, Signature Health Services invites you to be on the alert for, and recognize the early signs of Alzheimer’s and to seek a doctor’s help if you see any one or more of these common warning signs.

Memory loss that disrupts daily life may be a symptom of Alzheimer’s or other dementia. Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. There are 10 warning signs and symptoms. If you notice any of them, don’t ignore them. Schedule an appointment with your doctor or call Signature for assistance with getting proper diagnosis and developing a management plan.

1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life

One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease, especially in the early stage, is forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events, asking for the same questions over and over, and increasingly needing to rely on memory aids (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own.

What’s a typical age-related change?

Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.

2. Challenges in planning or solving problems

Some people living with dementia may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.

What’s a typical age-related change?

Making occasional errors when managing finances or household bills.

3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks

People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes they may have trouble driving to a familiar location, organizing a grocery list or remembering the rules of a favorite game.

What’s a typical age-related change?

Occasionally needing help to use microwave settings or to record a TV show.

4. Confusion with time or place

People living with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.

What’s a typical age-related change?

Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.

5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships

For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. This may lead to difficulty with balance or trouble reading. They may also have problems judging distance and determining color or contrast, causing issues with driving.

What’s a typical age-related change?

Vision changes related to cataracts.

6. New problems with words in speaking or writing

People living with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have trouble naming a familiar object or use the wrong name (e.g., calling a “watch” a “hand-clock”).

What’s a typical age-related change?

Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.

7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps

A person living with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. He or she may accuse others of stealing, especially as the disease progresses.

What’s a typical age-related change?

Misplacing things from time to time and retracing steps to find them.

8. Decreased or poor judgment

Individuals may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money or pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.

What’s a typical age-related change?

Making a bad decision or mistake once in a while, like neglecting to change the oil in the car.

9. Withdrawal from work or social activities

A person living with Alzheimer’s disease may experience changes in the ability to hold or follow a conversation. As a result, he or she may withdraw from hobbies, social activities or other engagements. They may have trouble
keeping up with a favorite team or activity.

What’s a typical age-related change?

Sometimes feeling uninterested in family or social obligations.

10. Changes in mood and personality

Individuals living with Alzheimer’s may experience mood and personality changes. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, with friends or when out of their
comfort zone.

What’s a typical age-related change?

Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.

Get checked. Early detection matters

If you notice one or more signs in yourself or another person, it can be difficult to know what to do. It’s natural to feel uncertain or nervous about discussing these changes with others. Voicing worries about your own health might make them seem more “real.” Or, you may fear upsetting someone by sharing observations about changes in his or her abilities or behavior. However, these are significant health concerns that should be evaluated by a doctor, and it’s important to take action to promptly figure out what’s going on.

Testing Protocol for Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

Laboratory and imaging tests can rule out other potential causes or help the doctor better characterize the disease causing dementia symptoms.

The entire set of diagnostic tools is designed to detect dementia and determine with relatively high accuracy whether Alzheimer’s disease or another condition is the cause. Alzheimer’s disease can be diagnosed with complete certainty after death, when microscopic examination of the brain reveals the characteristic plaques and tangles.

Tests

It’s painless and usually a quick process to diagnose Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. The most usual tools include these:

A diagnostic work-up would likely include the following tests:

Physical and neurological exam

Your doctor will perform a physical exam and likely assess overall neurological health by testing the following:

  • Reflexes
  • Muscle tone and strength
  • Ability to get up from a chair and walk across the room
  • Sense of sight and hearing
  • Coordination
  • Balance
  • Lab tests

Blood tests may help your doctor rule out other potential causes of memory loss and confusion, such as a thyroid disorder or vitamin deficiencies.

Mental status and neuropsychological testing

Your doctor may conduct a brief mental status test or a more extensive set of tests to assess memory and other thinking skills. Longer forms of neuropsychological testing may provide additional details about mental function compared with people of a similar age and education level. These tests are also important for establishing a starting point to track the progression of symptoms in the future.

Brain imaging

Images of the brain are now used chiefly to pinpoint visible abnormalities related to conditions other than Alzheimer’s disease — such as strokes, trauma or tumors — that may cause cognitive change. New imaging applications — currently used primarily in major medical centers or in clinical trials — may enable doctors to detect specific brain changes caused by Alzheimer’s.

Imaging of brain structures include the following:

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to produce detailed images of the brain. MRI scans are used primarily to rule out other conditions. While they may show brain shrinkage, the information doesn’t currently add significant value to making a diagnosis.

Computerized tomography (CT). A CT scan, a specialized X-ray technology, produces cross-sectional images (slices) of your brain. It’s currently used chiefly to rule out tumors, strokes and head injuries.

Imaging of disease processes can be performed with positron emission tomography (PET). During a PET scan, a low-level radioactive tracer is injected into the blood to reveal a particular feature in the brain. PET imaging may include the following:

Fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) PET scans show areas of the brain in which nutrients are poorly metabolized. Identifying patterns of degeneration — areas of low metabolism — can help distinguish between Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

Amyloid PET imaging can measure the burden of amyloid deposits in the brain. This imaging is primarily used in research but may be used if a person has unusual or very early onset of dementia symptoms.

Tau Pet imaging, which measures the burden of neurofibrillary tangles in the brain, is only used in research.
In special circumstances, such as rapidly progressive dementia or very early onset dementia, other tests may be used to measure abnormal beta-amyloid or tau in the cerebrospinal fluid.

Get the help you need

If you notice any of the warning signs above, call Signature at 800-277-8291 for assistance in contacting a diagnostic physician, or contact your primary care physician. Early identification, treatment, and training can help you better manage and cope with this illness.

For more information on how Signature Health Services can provide you with the best in home healthcare, please call (800) 277-8291 or email information@signaturehealthservices.net.

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