Aging takes a toll on the body and the mind. Many seniors unknowingly face a neurological disorder that not only disrupts but ultimately destroys brain cells. It begins slowly, showing subtle signs, and ultimately causes the brain to develop blockages and changes within actual brain cells. This neurological disorder is Alzheimer’s disease, named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer the physician who first identified the physical changes to a patient’s brain during an autopsy.
Alzheimer’s disease is estimated to affect 10% of Americans who are over 65 years old and as many as 50% of people who are over 85 years of age. Considering its prevalence, it is important to be able to spot the disease early in a loved one. The unfortunate truth is that there is currently not a cure for the disorder and the only certainty that exists with Alzheimer’s is that it will continue developing and cause the afflicted individual’s brain to deteriorate. Having said that, the earlier the disorder can be diagnosed by a medical professional, the better the quality of life you will be able to provide for your loved one.
Keep in mind that aging sometimes causes brief lapses in memory and even judgment. Not every behavior exhibited by a senior in your life is indicative of the disorder; sometimes it is the natural aging process at work and sometimes seniors simply make mistakes just like everyone else.
Signs of Alzheimer’s
· Memory loss- This is often one of the first signs of the disorders that loved ones notice. If a senior is repeatedly forgetting important dates, having trouble remembering something she was just told, or regularly asking to be reminded of basic information, it could be a warning sign of the disease.
· Challenges with problem solving- Alzheimer’s specifically affects cognitive abilities; this means the ability to think clearly. If a senior in your life is unable to calculate numbers effectively or takes longer to his mind around basic activities such as following a new recipe, he may be in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s.
· Difficulty understanding time- One telltale symptom of the disorder is a distinct confusion with time. Alzheimer’s causes you to miscalculate how much time passes or has passed. People with the disease may be left alone for a few minutes and perceive that they were alone for several hours or even lose track of what time of year it is, perhaps inquiring about holiday shopping in July.
· Poor judgment- As the brain deteriorates, so does the ability to think critically. Judgment is a relative concept, so look for changes from your loved one’s normal behavior at first, such as improper handling of finances or the inability to dress properly for an occasion or specific weather. In time the lapses in judgment will worsen and become obvious, but at first the signs will be subtle.
· Mood swings- Alzheimer’s can cause a person to appear anxious and agitated, sometimes to the point of becoming hostile. In reality your loved one is not upset with you; she is more likely confused, tired and even afraid. Unfortunately Alzheimer’s takes your ability to accurately comprehend the world around you, leaving sufferers constantly grasping to understand their surroundings and what is happening. This can cause them to be hostile and seem abusive, but remember it is neither your fault nor theirs.
· Inability to communicate- As the disease progresses, it causes people to lose the ability to accurately communicate their thoughts and feelings. They may use words incorrectly or forget what a conversation that they are involved in is about.
· Trouble with visual images- Alzheimer’s affects the functioning of the brain itself, making it difficult to interpret your surroundings. Sufferers might not understand everything they see and can be confused. This issue goes beyond basic visual troubles and extends to a misinterpretation of what is seen as well as an inability to judge distances and even define differing colors. For instance all dark colors may look alike or they may see a figure on a large screen television and think that the person is actually in the room.
· Trouble with familiar tasks- If a loved one seems to have trouble doing things that they have done many times, it may be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease. It might be something like remembering the rules to a card game they enjoy or forgetting directions to a friend’s house they visit often.
· Delusional Behavior- As the disease advances, you will likely notice a significant tendency towards delusional behavior. Some sufferers will forget what decade they are in or perceive that their house is a prison or someplace dangerous. This can cause the person to be alarmed, which can result in even more erratic behavior.
Alzheimer’s can be spotted by loved ones, but needs to be diagnosed by a medical professional. If you are seeking a diagnosis in Hudson, Trinity or New Port Richey, feel free to visit Regional Medical Center at Bayonet Point online.