It’s easy to confuse the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease with the normal signs of aging. But it’s one thing to make a mistake balancing your checkbook or forget part of a conversation. It’s another thing altogether to lose the ability to work with numbers at all, or forget where you are or how you got there.
Many people put off talking to their doctor for years after they notice early Alzheimer’s symptoms in themselves or someone they love. They may feel that, since the disease can’t be cured, there’s no point in getting an early diagnosis. They may worry about breaking the news to loved ones. Or they may simply be in denial about the problem. But the sooner you get a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, the sooner you can get treatment — and while it’s true that there’s no cure for the disease, medications like rivastigmine can delay the progression of symptoms related to thinking, memory, judgment and language.
There’s also a possibility that your symptoms may not be Alzheimer’s at all, but those of another, more treatable, form of dementia, a drug interaction or a vitamin deficiency. How can you tell if you might be developing Alzheimer’s? Early warning signs of the disease include memory problems, worsening judgment, personality changes and even vision problems.
Disruptive Memory Loss
It’s normal for an older person — or a person of any age — to sometimes forget about an appointment or have trouble remembering a new acquaintance’s name. It’s not normal for a person to forget important things, like the date of a wedding anniversary or the name of a spouse or loved one.
People in the early stages of Alzheimer’s may forget recent events and conversations entirely. They’ll ask the same questions over and over even after they’ve been given the answers multiple times. They may repetitively tell the same story again and again. They may become entirely dependent on writing things down to remember them. They may lose things and not be able to find them again, since they can no longer retrace their steps.
A person who is suffering from Alzheimer’s-related dementia may no longer be the same person he or she once was. He or she may withdraw socially and give up hobbies he or she once loved. Mood swings are common among people suffering Alzheimer’s. They may become angry or upset for no reason. It’s also not unheard of for people in the early stages of this disease to become suspicious of loved ones and overly trusting of strangers.
Alzheimer’s can affect a person’s ability to judge distance, color and contrast. As a result, they may start struggling to read or have trouble driving. Perception problems may cause them to lose the ability to recognize their own reflection.
Problems with Language
Everyone forgets a word from time to time, but a person with Alzheimer’s will begin having real trouble participating in conversations. It could become harder for him or her or follow or join in on a conversation, due to repetitive speech or forgetfulness. They’ll also have trouble remembering everyday words, and may develop a very difficult-to-follow way of speaking.
If someone you care about suddenly begins dressing poorly or stops keeping up with basic hygiene, that’s a sign of early-stage Alzheimer’s. Many people who have always been neat and tidy in their personal appearance begin wearing dirty, stained clothes or stop taking baths as Alzheimer’s symptoms emerge.
The disorientation that comes with Alzheimer’s disease may make a person get lost, even in a familiar part of town. He or she may lose track of dates or entire seasons and have trouble keeping track of the passage of time or understanding what just happened or what’s about to happen.
Loss of Problem-Solving Ability
The cognitive changes that occur in the early stages of Alzheimer’s can make it hard for a person to work with numbers or make and follow plans. A person suffering Alzheimer’s may suddenly begin having trouble finishing a familiar recipe, sticking to a monthly budget or remembering the rules of familiar games. It can become difficult to complete the most mundane daily tasks.
It’s hard for a person suffering from these symptoms to lead a normal social life. He or she may no longer be able to perform the cognitive tasks necessary to participate in favorite hobbies or activities or keep up with a beloved sports team. Language and other cognitive problems can also make it hard to socialize, so a person struggling with Alzheimer’s symptoms may begin to isolate him or herself out of frustration.
Knowing the early signs of Alzheimer’s is important. With early detection and treatment, you can delay the progression of the disease and take a more active role in planning your own care. Don’t let fear stop you from seeking medical care — see your doctor right away if you think you’re developing symptoms of Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia.