Given all the attention Alzheimer’s is getting these days, it wouldn’t be unusual for anyone to fear they are developing it. When you have ‘a senior moment’ you may laugh about it with your friends and family, but you may also be among the numerous people who are secretly afraid it may be an early sign of dementia.
Two groups of people are especially vulnerable to this fear - those who have a loved one with dementia and those who work with dementia patients. If you belong to one or both of these groups you witness signs of dementia daily, and as a result, become highly attuned to them. You may begin to interpret some of your own memory issues, no matter how minor or infrequent, as early warnings that you, too, are developing the illness.
Most of us have had moments of concern after being unable to remember someone’s name, forgetting why we went into a room, not being able to find our car keys or glasses, or find a document we had in our hands just minutes earlier. How are we to know whether these are normal sign of aging or whether they may be something more ominous?
The Alzheimer’s Association has a document listing the ten warning signs on its website. The signs are:
1. Memory loss that affects daily life
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
4. Confusion with time or place
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
8. Decreased or poor judgment
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
10. Changes in mood or personality
The important feature of this document is that after a brief description of each symptom, there is information about “What’s a typical age-related change?” After studying this document, one might conclude that generally speaking it isn’t what signs of dementia we have that matter. Rather, it’s their frequency, severity and the extent to which they interfere with our daily activities that count.
It’s important to realize that there are numerous other medical conditions that can mimic dementia. A very few of these—all of which are treatable—are discussed in an AARP article entitled, “8 Treatable Conditions that Mimic Alzheimer’s” They are:
1. Medication-related symptoms
2. Depression or another mental health disorder
3. Urinary tract infections
4. Thyroid disease
5. Vitamin B-12 deficiency
7. Alcohol-related symptoms
8. Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH)
So if you have serious concerns about your memory you should see a primary care physician or a neurologist as soon as possible. It’s the only way to find out if it’s just normal aging, some other health problem (such as one of those listed above), or if it’s in fact Alzheimer’s. If it is Alzheimer’s it’s important to know that because treatments work best if started early and because knowing the diagnosis early will give you time to plan for the future while you’re still able to do so.
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of the uplifting book, “Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy,” and co-author (with neurologist Daniel C. Potts, MD, FAAN) of “Finding Joy in Alzheimer’s: New Hope for Caregivers.” Her website (ComeBackEarlyToday.com) contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer’s caregivers.
This article was originally published on the Alzheimer’s Reading Room.