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The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease can be pretty scary, which is why some people avoid seeing their doctor when the symptoms first appear. However, there are compelling practical reasons to seek answers early rather than dismiss them as unimportant or not address them for fear of confirming your suspicions.
One reason to start the process early is that your symptoms may have a different cause. Side effects from medicine, mold toxicity, stress, hearing and vision loss, vitamin deficiency, mini-strokes, brain tumors, and more all cause symptoms that may mimic early signs of dementia. Discovering the root cause of the problem will be instrumental in finding the right treatment.
Another reason to seek medical treatment early is that dementia from Alzheimer’s, like other complex conditions, often takes many visits to specialists over months. Doctors need to order tests and observe behaviors over time to rule out some of the causes mentioned above.
Finally, Alzheimer’s dementia usually takes years, sometimes decades, to progress from mild to severe. Detecting Alzheimer’s early has benefits such as more time to plan, seek therapies, and enroll in medical trials. People with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s are often not included in clinical trials.
Below are seven early symptoms of Alzheimer’s that indicate you should make an appointment with your doctor. Remember that none of these symptoms are unique to Alzheimer’s or dementia.
1. Memory Loss that Disrupts Daily Life
We all occasionally forget someone’s name when we haven’t seen them for a while or forget about minor appointments. However, suppose you constantly forget recently learned information, important events, and the names of your best friends and family members. In that case, this is a sign that your brain signals are interrupted.
The difference between normal forgetfulness and cognitive impairment is in the severity and frequency of memory loss. Forgetting and then remembering a detail five minutes later differs from forgetting something important and never remembering. For example, you may increasingly rely on notes to function, or your friend says something like, “remember when I fell yesterday,” and you don’t recall.
According to Penn Medicine, you may notice mild memory loss before others do. However, friends, family, and people with whom you interact daily will see when it becomes more severe. Listening to their concerns may be hard, and yet it is vital to your well-being that you do.
2. Challenges in Planning or Solving Problems
Most simple mistakes should not set off alarm bells, but an overall change in your ability to concentrate or do familiar tasks should alert you to problems. You should talk to someone if you struggle or find yourself making significant errors in routine tasks. These tasks could include planning a vacation or party, creating a budget, following a recipe, or doing a project.
3. Getting Confused, Lost, or Losing items
Have you ever “lost” your sunglasses only to find them on your head? We all have. Have you ever set down your cell phone or wallet and had to retrace your steps? That is pretty common too. If it is a daily occurrence and you need help finding the items again, consider the possibility that the challenge has progressed beyond normal forgetfulness.
We all need to reference a map or use an app in unfamiliar places. Getting lost on your home turf should alert you to a bigger problem. Likewise, many retired people don’t track the days of the week as they did before. However, if you are confusing months, seasons, or years, call your doctor to determine why.
4. Difficulty in Conversations
Assuming you can hear well and are familiar with the topic, you should be able to follow and participate in conversations without problems. Stopping in the middle of a conversation because you lost the thread is cause for concern. If you find yourself “faking it” a lot, get your hearing checked first. If your hearing is fine, proceed to investigate cognitive challenges.
5. Decreased or Poor Judgment
Scammers and unethical sales prey on older adults who fail to recognize when someone is taking advantage of them. If you recently spent a large sum of money without buying something of value, ask for help investigating the situation. If you were the victim of a scam or bought something you shouldn’t have, your lack of judgment might indicate a cognitive decline.
6. Not Participating in Typical Life
The cognitive decline from dementia requires your brain to work extra hard to participate in activities you used to enjoy. The effort is exhausting, and you may decide it’s easier to withdraw. If you are withdrawing from activities that you used to enjoy, ask yourself why and answer honestly. People decrease participation for many reasons, including depression, pain, social anxiety, and alcohol problems. All of these issues deserve your attention. Medical and lifestyle changes can help tremendously, whether you are withdrawing from mental exhaustion or another reason.
7. Changes in Mood and Personality
Our brains are the command center for emotions, behaviors, and cognition. Alzheimer’s Disease disrupts how brains normally function in all aspects. Contact your doctor if you feel increasingly moody, apathetic, and irritable. Again these symptoms stem from many medical problems, including side effects from some medicines.
After Calling the Doctor
Making an appointment with your physician should be the first step after recognizing one or more of these symptoms. Together you can investigate the cause and create a treatment plan. Next, call a friend, family member, or community support person. Regardless of where this journey takes you, you will want someone to talk with along the way. Finally, call an elder law attorney. We will guide you through asset protection, advanced medical directives, and more. These documents are important even if your symptoms are not related to Alzheimer’s. If they are associated with Alzheimer’s, you must create them in your best cognitive capacity.