Is it age-related memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease?

According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, as of today, there are over half a million Canadians living with dementia, plus about 25,000 new cases diagnosed every year. By 2031, that number is expected to rise to 937,000, an increase of 66 percent.

It starts with education and awareness.

The month of September serves as an opportunity to get involved and show your support of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, with September 21st coined World Alzheimer’s Day.

Along with support, this time of the year provides us with a chance to delve deeper into education and awareness around the disease itself. Many use the terms of Alzheimer’s and dementia together or interchangeably; while they are not always the same, Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia.

Dementia is classified as ‘a term for a set of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. Symptoms may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language, severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. A person with dementia may also experience changes in mood or behaviour.’

Noticing the subtle signs.

At this point, it’s important to note that dementia is a progressive disease. You don’t wake up one morning and notice a startling change, it can be subtle; it may take time. For many, changes over long periods can be harder to distinguish. So, what are the early symptoms of onset Alzheimer’s that you can watch for?

1. Memory loss interrupting daily routine.

Some memory loss comes with age. Occasionally forgetting a name or an upcoming appointment, but remembering it later, can be an example of this. Yet, if memory loss starts interfering with daily life, it could be time to talk to your doctor.

One of the most common, early signs of Alzheimer’s disease is forgetting learned information. Forgetting important dates and events, asking the same questions over and over, or increasingly needing to rely on reminders (electronic or written notes) can be telltale signs.

2. Planning and problem-solving challenges.

At the start, many people beginning to experience the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia may have trouble with planning ahead or working with numbers. Making an occasional miscalculation can be anyone’s mistake. However, continued errors, or trouble keeping track of monthly bills and associated calculations when running a household could mean something more serious.

Also, finding it hard concentrating on one task, or following specific directions could be additional signs. Perhaps you now have trouble with following a recipe or directions while driving; tasks that took much less time to comprehend before now.

3. Inability to complete familiar tasks.

People with early to mid-stages of Alzheimer’s will start to have trouble completing tasks that are part of their daily routine. Sometimes, this can mean having a hard time organizing a usual shopping list, traveling to a familiar place, or discussing the characters or plot of a favourite TV show. Asking for help every now and then is normal, but it shouldn’t be a routine discussion about tasks that you used to find simple to complete.

4. Lost sense of time and place.

Having to ask someone to remind you of the day or date is common. People experiencing signs of Alzheimer’s, however, can start to really lose track of time and place. Often, this could mean having trouble understanding something that isn’t happening right now, at this moment. Losing track of dates, seasons, or the passing of time or going somewhere and forgetting how you got there, are all strong examples.

5. Lost sense of spatial and visual awareness.

For most, a decline in vision comes with aging. Perhaps, you now wear a set of reading or prescription glasses you didn’t need when you were younger. Yet, vision problems and a declining ability to sense distance, colour, or contrast of the things around you, causing possible issues driving, reading, or with balance, could be another sign of Alzheimer’s.

6. Trouble with language, or finding words.

People living with a developing form of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, could start having difficulty with language. Perhaps, you notice trouble starting or continuing a conversation, or you lose track mid-sentence and opt to repeat what you have already said. Even the loss of ability to recall familiar words can be a telling sign, like having to call a “watch” a “hand-clock.”

7. Losing things often, trouble re-tracing steps.

The first thing someone usually says when you lose something is, “Why don’t you try re-tracing your steps?” and it usually works. Although, if you find you are misplacing items quite a lot then have trouble re-tracing the steps it took you to find yourself in that position, it could be another sign that the disease has progressed. This is especially true if you find yourself thinking that a friend or family member maybe stole these items from you and that’s why you can’t find them.

8. Increased lack of judgment.

We’re all guilty of making a poor decision every now and then, like neglecting an oil change or forgetting to set a morning alarm and showing up to work a little disheveled. It happens. This is different than regularly displaying behaviours that might cause concern, like having a decreased sense of how to handle money or a noticeable decline in personal hygiene.

9. Loss of social skills, desire for interaction.

As the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia progress, those living with the disease may become more socially isolated. Whether it’s because of a lack of social cues, a lessened sense of empathy, or the continued difficulty of following a conversation at this point, many choose to withdraw. It’s normal to want to spend some time alone and recuperate, but if it’s become a habit, then it could be time to seek some support.

10. Mood swings and personality changes.

With all or even some of the combined signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, life can become challenging. It’s easy enough to understand how living with these symptoms daily can become increasingly overwhelming. Due to the condition, some individuals may become greatly confused, suspicious, depressed, anxious, fearful, or even angry. This means they could become more sensitive and temperamental when upset, or taken out of their comfort zone. Disruption to routine can be frustrating, but it shouldn’t cause extreme mood swings or a significant change in personality and character.

The Alzheimer Society offers some excellent resources for finding help and support. Please consult your doctor for personalized medical advice. At Seasons, our memory care program is specifically designed to care for seniors living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease in a dedicated, secure area within our residence. Memory care community residents receive specialized, Assisted-Living care services that can help provide personalized, person-centered care for you or a loved one.

Book a personal visit to best determine if Seasons is the right fit.

Sources: Alzheimer’s AssociationKindly Care & Alzheimer Society Canada.