Just the other day, I lost the keys to my storage locker. Yup, I tried retracing my steps and still couldn’t find them. So, there’s this nagging part of my brain that says, “Could be a sign of early Alzheimer’s.” It continued, “Remember how you couldn’t recall the name of that restaurant the other day?” But, at 63, I’m too young to have Alzheimer’s, right?
So, I looked it up. According to the Alzheimer’s Assn. (www.alz.org), an estimated 6.2 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s dementia in 2021. Furthermore, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s is growing — and growing fast. In fact, 72 percent are age 75 or older (which means 28 percent are under age 75).
I was reassured to learn that simple forgetfulness (the “missing keys”) and delay or slowing in recalling names, dates and events can be part of the normal process of aging. However, when memory loss prevents us from performing daily tasks and our accustomed roles in life, it becomes a health concern that needs further evaluation by health-care professionals.
There are 10 warning signs and symptoms. If you notice any of them, don’t ignore them — schedule an appointment with your doctor. So, what are the “signs”?
- 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 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.
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
Some people living with dementia might experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They might also have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They might 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.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes they might 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 record a TV show.
- Confusion with time or place
People living with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They might have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they might 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.
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. This might lead to difficulty with balance or trouble reading. They might also have problems judging distance and determining color or contrast, causing issues with driving. What is a typical age-related change? Vision changes related to cataracts.
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
People living with Alzheimer’s might have trouble following or joining a conversation. They might stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue, or they might repeat themselves. They might also 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.
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
People living with Alzheimer’s disease might put things in unusual places. They might lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. They might 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.
- Decreased or poor judgment
Individuals might experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they might 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.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
People living with Alzheimer’s disease might experience changes in the ability to hold or follow a conversation. As a result, they might withdraw from hobbies, social activities or other engagements. They might 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.
- Changes in mood and personality
Individuals living with Alzheimer’s might experience mood and personality changes. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They might 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.
In conclusion, according to the experts, early detection matters. If you notice one or more signs in yourself or another person, get checked. These are significant health concerns that should be evaluated by a doctor. Getting checked by your doctor can help determine if the symptoms you are experiencing are truly due to Alzheimer’s or some other — perhaps even treatable — condition.
Judd Matsunaga is the founding attorney of Elder Law Services of California, a law firm that specializes in Medi-Cal Planning, Estate Planning and Probate. He can be contacted at (310) 348-2995 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Pacific Citizen or constitute legal or tax advice and should not be treated as such.