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Identifying the Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's

August 06, 2018

As we get older, it’s common to forget a name or appointment date a little more often than we did in the past. And we may feel a bit overwhelmed by technology – like a new television remote or smartphone. But what if you find yourself confused about where you are, or forget what you were just talking about with someone? These could be signs of something more serious than routine issues of aging. Alzheimer’s disease is one possible cause of these symptoms.

Although this can be a frightening possibility, it’s very important not to hide your concerns. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, getting a diagnosis early can help you or a loved one start a treatment plan that can make some symptoms less severe. It also can give you time to participate in important conversations. You and your loved ones, along with your doctors, will want to talk about your care, living options, financial considerations and legal arrangements.

Early Signs of Alzheimer’s

Memory loss is the symptom we think about most with Alzheimer’s. However, it’s only the first in a list of 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s prepared by The Alzheimer’s Association:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
  • Changes in mood and personality

Not everyone with Alzheimer’s will have all of these symptoms, and some of these signs can be present in other kinds of dementia. They can even be caused by treatable conditions like depression, drug interactions, and some vitamin deficiencies. This is why talking with your doctor is so important.

Your doctor might suggest several tests to rule other out other possible conditions or refer you to an Alzheimer’s specialist. (You can find such specialists through your local Alzheimer’s association, and the National Institute on Aging also funds a number of Alzheimer’s Disease Centers at research hospitals across the United States.) Other specialists might include neurologists, psychiatrists and psychologists who might recommend the following:

  • Physical and neurological exams to test reflexes, muscle tone, sight and hearing, coordination and balance.
  • Lab tests, including blood tests to help rule out other potential issues.
  • Tests to assess memory and thinking.
  • Brain imaging to rule out other possible disorders, including tumors, and possibly detect plaques or other abnormalities that are at the heart of Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s Care

If your eventual diagnosis is Alzheimer’s, you’ll need to work with your primary care physician and specialists on a treatment plan. This might include one or more medications. According to the National Institute on Aging, these drugs can slow down such symptoms as memory loss, especially for people in the early or middle stages of the disease. Other medications might be suggested to help with depression, aggression and anxiety.

But you also can improve the quality of your life with Alzheimer’s – or that of a loved one – through nonmedical approaches as well. Just like everyone else, Alzheimer’s patients can benefit from regular exercise, good nutrition and drinking enough fluids. Also, staying engaged with others, including joining a local or online support group, can help you understand your diagnosis better and learn how others are living their lives with the disease.

Anthem understands the special challenges caregivers face after a loved one’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and we’ve put together some tips for caring for a loved one with dementia. Providing this support can be even harder when you’re also looking after a young family, and this video has some ideas to make that job easier. The message in both these resources is simple – you’ve got to remember to look after yourself in order to give your loved one the best possible care.