How do I know if I am getting Alzheimer’s – what are the signs and symptoms?

 

A common concern

 

When doing presentations or talks on Alzheimer’s disease, a question that I am regularly asked is… “What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s – how will I know if I am getting it?” And the frequency of this question, clearly demonstrates the fear with which the disease is understandably viewed. My standard answer commences with the warning that – given that the cause of Alzheimer’s; and as yet undefined boundaries between various types of dementia, are at this stage unknown – to provide a reliable response to the question is impossible. Each of us, as individuals, reacts differently to a variety of illnesses, including Alzheimer’s. Consequently there is no simple answer to the question… “How will I know if I am getting Alzheimer’s?” However there are some commonalities, which could prove helpful in establishing diagnostic patterns; these being as follows:

Indicators of Alzheimer’s

Normal ageing indicators

No problems/functions normally

No problems/functions normally

Memory loss which disrupts daily life – forgetting recently learned information (dates & events)… asking the same information over and over again

Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later

Challenges in planning of solving problems – difficulty in developing or following a plan… difficulty in working with numbers

Making occasional errors when working with numbers

Difficulty in completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure – Sometimes difficulty in driving to a specific location… or remembering the rules of a favourite game.

Occasionally needing assistance in using microwave settings… or recording a television programme

Confusion in respect of time or place –

Lose track of seasons, dates etc…. May forget where they are or how they got there

Getting confused about the day of the week, but remembering it later

Difficulty in understanding visual images and spatial relationships – Reading, judging distances, colours ( May cause problems with driving)

Vision changes related to cataracts… Macular Degeneration… Glaucoma etc.

New problems with words in speaking or writing – may stop in the middle of a conversation… Have no idea how to continue… may repeat themselves… May call things by the wrong name (for example may call a watch a hand-clock)

Sometimes have trouble finding the right word, or name

Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps – May put things in strange places… may accuse others of stealing (This may occur more frequently overtime)… may be unable to retrace their steps in order to find something

May misplace things from time to time

Decreased or poor judgement – May pay people far more than is due… may pay less attention to grooming and keeping themselves clean

May make a bad decision once in a while

Withdrawal from work or social activities – have trouble keeping up with their favourite sports team… or how to participate in a favourite hobby… May withdraw socially (Due to their growing awareness of changes and problems that they are experiencing)

 

Sometimes feel weary of work, social engagements and even family

Changes in mood or personality – Their moods and personalities change… become confused/depressed/ fearful or anxious… may be easily upset… may become frustrated and angry… may become physically aggressive and even violent

May for example become irritable when interrupted

The above table/information is courtesy of the Alzheimer’s Association in the USA (Alz.Org)

 

How can we distinguish Alzheimer’s from the other forms of dementia.

This is easier said than done, however for me the four main distinguishing features are as follows:

People with Alzheimer’s disease, at some stage in its development, specifically tend to…

  • Wander seemingly aimlessly around properties in which they are accommodated.
  • Become more agitated in the evening (This phenomenon is known as “Sundowners Syndrome”)
  • Dress inconsistently! For example they may put their undergarments on top of the outer clothing
  • a few may even form strong emotional bonds with strangers who reside in the same care Home, or with whom they regularly meet. (In rare cases, this may even take a romantic form).  

 

Dangerous diagnostic errors

Errors of denial

There are two situations in which filial misdiagnosis occur; and these both have their origins, in fear. Firstly, adult children in families which have a history of Alzheimer’s are often fearful that they themselves may inherit the disease. Consequently, reluctant to recognise valid symptoms as a reliable predictor, they choose to discount them as a normal sign of ageing.

 

Errors of paranoia

On the other hand, we have those who fearfully misinterpret normal signs of ageing, as a portent of doom.

There are often understandably these two diametrically opposed reactions… on the one hand a reluctant search for any clue that the disease is on its way… yet on the other, a studious avoidance of unmistakeable symptoms… A true dichotomy of being torn between the devil and the deep blue sea! The result often being that a diagnostic confirmation of the disease seems to come as a surprise? And the question arises …”but why has the onset been so sudden?”   No it hasn’t! Denied and disguised by desperation, previous clues have been swept under the carpet.

 

What to do?

While the foregoing may have provided some clues as to the nature of the problem effecting loved ones (or even yourself!), diagnosing Alzheimer’s should never be undertaken on a DIY basis. Seek assistance of qualified and experienced medical specialists.

 

Article by Henry Spencer