Everyone experiences memory lapses from time to time, especially as they get older. However, the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease gets progressively worse over time, eventually affecting a person’s ability to function or perform daily activities. Along with difficulty thinking or concentrating, Alzheimer’s may cause irritability, mood swings and bouts of anger, anxiety and fear.
A person with Alzheimer’s disease may:
- Repeat statements or questions over and over
- Forget conversations and events
- Routinely misplace possessions
- Get lost in familiar places
- Forget the names of family members or everyday objects
- Have trouble finding the right words to express their thoughts
Alzheimer’s patients often experience difficulty organizing their thoughts or dealing with abstract concepts such as numbers. Multitasking is especially challenging, as is managing finances or bill payments.
Difficulty making decisions
The disease gradually erodes a person’s ability to make reasonable decisions in everyday situations. For example, patients may make poor choices during social interactions or wear clothing that is inappropriate for the weather. They may also have difficulty responding effectively to day-to-day problems such as unexpected driving conditions or food burning on the stove.
Difficulty planning and performing familiar activities
As the disease progresses, basic tasks that require sequential steps such as planning or cooking a meal become a struggle. Eventually, people with advanced Alzheimer's disease often forget how to perform once-routine activities such as bathing or dressing.
Depression and mood swings
Alzheimer’s disease can cause changes in personality and behavior, and frequent changes in mood can be emotionally taxing for friends and families who serve as caregivers. They may notice problems such as:
- Distrust in others
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of inhibitions
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive degenerative disorder that causes brain cells to shrink (atrophy) and die. About 5.8 million people in the U.S. age 65 and older live with Alzheimer’s.
Memory loss and confusion are the primary symptoms of the disease, and it is the most common cause of dementia (continuous decline in thinking and behavioral and social skills that affect a person’s ability to function independently) in the elderly.
Early signs of Alzheimer’s include forgetting recent events or conversations. Over time, these memory lapses become more frequent, and symptoms gradually become noticeable. As the disease progresses, a person with Alzheimer’s will develop severe memory impairment and lose the ability to perform activities of daily living.
How to differentiate between Alzheimer's disease and normal aging
Most people have minor memory glitches as they get older. So just because someone forgets a name or why they walked into the kitchen, this does not mean they have Alzheimer’s disease; it could just be a normal sign of aging.
The main thing to look for with the disease is whether the person is having trouble handling everyday tasks such as using familiar house appliances, paying bills, managing finances or other routine activities.
What you can do and when to see a doctor
If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one and think you see signs of Alzheimer’s disease, you should consult with a doctor. Your doctor can make a thorough assessment, as well as explain options for managing symptoms. Today, many new diagnostic techniques are available to help with the early detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s. For example, a blood test can determine the presence of specific proteins that may indicate whether there are plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease in the brain.
While there is no cure or treatment for this condition, drugs may help slow down the disease progression. Different rehabilitation programs and services can also help affected people and their caregivers.
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