It might not be Alzheimer’s after all
BY MARK K. CAMPBELL
Just because you entered a room and can’t remember why, it’s unlikely that you have dementia.
Melissa Griffin, education outreach coordinator for the North Central Texas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said most of the time, such a forgetful incident is a “typical age-related change.”
She gave 10 dementia “warning signs” – and reasons why they might not be warning signs – at her talk.
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
This is one of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease that often occurs early on. Forgetting recently learned facts and asking for the same information over and over are red flags.
Typical age-related change: Forgetting dates or names but remembering them later. Griffin said, “If you remember that you forgot, you’re OK.”
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems.
Having issues with monthly bills or a recipe proving difficult can be a concern.
Typical age-related change: Occasional checkbook errors.
3. Difficulty with familiar tasks at home or work.
Be concerned when issues of managing a budget or remembering rules of a favorite game arise.
Typical age-related change: Occasionally forgetting how to use the TV remote.
4. Confusion with time and place.
Troublesome traits include not knowing dates or seasons or how they got somewhere.
Typical age-related change: Not knowing the day of the week but figuring it out later.
5. Trouble fathoming visual images and spatial relationships.
Difficulty reading, judging distances, and determining colors are Alzheimer’s signs.
Typical age-related change: Normal vision changes, i.e., cataracts.
6. Problems with words when speaking or writing.
Often this occurs when stopping in the middle of a conversation and being unable to return to it. Or calling an everyday object by another name (“watch” = “hand clock”)
Typical age-related change: Only occasionally having an issue coming up with the right word.
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
Alzheimer’s patients often leave objects in unusual places (i.e., eyeglasses in the freezer). It becomes more frequent over time.
Typical age-related change: Being able to retrace steps when something is misplaced.
8. Decreased or poor judgment.
Giving huge amounts of money to others or falling for scams are indicators here.
Typical age-related change: Making a bad decision once in a while.
9. Withdrawing from social situations or work.
Not completing hobbies or having issues with work projects or following a favorite sports team are possible dementia red flags.
Typical age-related change: Sometimes getting weary with work or family obligations.
10. Changes in mood or personality.
Watch for flaring emotions like anger, fear, anxiousness, suspicion, and confusion when normal life patterns are altered.
Typical age-related change: Having specific ways of dealing with emotion when a routine is disrupted.
Dealing with dementia
Griffin said short-term memory is one of the first signs of oncoming dementia.
She noted that difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia, using a candy aisle analogy.
Dementia is the entire aisle; Alzheimer’s is a single candy bar.
Alzheimer’s is the No. 1 dementia disease – accounting for 60 percent of dementia cases – with age being the greatest risk factor.
Also to consider are lifestyle – being healthy decreases risk – and, to a lesser degree Griffin said, genetics.
There is more information on the subject at www.alz.org/10signs or by calling (800) 272-3900.