Alzheimer’s disease affects about five million Americans, most of whom are over 65. About one in 10 people over 65 and nearly half of people over 85 have Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. It is the most common cause of dementia, a condition in which an individual’s cognitive functions deteriorate.
Dementia is the general term used for severe loss of memory that interferes with the daily activities of life. It also causes a loss of other mental abilities. Alzheimer’s is just one of at least 10 different dementias that exist. As the most common form of dementia, it is estimated that Alzheimer’s accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all the known cases of dementia.
It is possible for more than one type of dementia to coexist in the brain. When two or more types of dementia are present in the brain at the same time, the person is said to have “mixed dementia.”
Signs and symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s
There are some symptoms that may indicate early signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Keep in mind that it is normal for a person to sometimes forget important names and dates, make occasional mistakes with daily tasks, have trouble operating an electronic device, struggle to find the right word or misplace an object. These small, occasional occurrences are not a sign of dementia.
If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, visit your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Disruptive memory loss, especially recent memory.
This might include asking for the same information over and over, having no memory of events that just happened, or relying on memory aids such as sticky notes as a reminder to do everyday things.
Difficulty completing daily tasks.
Your loved one may begin having problems doing familiar things, such as using the microwave, making coffee, following a recipe or paying monthly bills. They may forget their route to work, get lost driving to the store or have trouble remembering the rules to a game they play all the time.
Confusing time and place.
Your loved one may lose track of dates, seasons and the passing of time. They may think that they are living in a time many years ago.
Problems finding words when speaking or writing.
Your loved one may have trouble starting a conversation, repeat themselves inappropriately, struggle to find the right words or call things by a made-up name to describe an object.
Placing things in unusual places.
They may misplace things and be unable to retrace their steps in order to find it. They may even accuse others of taking an item they misplaced.
Decreasing or poor judgment.
Your loved one may experience profound changes in decision-making skills. Paying less and less attention to grooming is a common symptom.
Withdrawing from social work activities.
He or she may have trouble keeping up with their favorite sports team or a beloved hobby. You may notice your loved one’s interest in activities he or she once enjoyed dwindling.
Irrational or unusually feelings and behaviors.
A person with Alzheimer’s or dementia may become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious.
It's important to note that a person with dementia often won't acknowledge or grasp the extent of these cognitive issues, while the spouse, family members or close friends will. This is lack of insight can create some friction between the individual and their family as they begin to address the concerns, especially with a medical provider.
If you believe you or a loved one is displaying signs of dementia, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician