We all have memory slips and occasionally misplace our keys, and that tends to happen more often as we get older. This can make it difficult to distinguish between normal age-related changes in memory and cognition and the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease, which often appear while people are still able to drive, work, handle finances and take part in social activities. In other words, people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s may have a few slip ups but otherwise function independently, so it’s easy to discount the lapses as “no big deal.”
So how do you know when someone you love may be dealing with something more than normal age-related memory loss and instead need care for Alzheimer’s disease?
Here are 10 Warning Signs that the Alzheimer’s Association offers as a helpful tool for making that call:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease, especially in the early stages, is forgetting recently learned information. Other signs include forgetting important dates or events, asking for the same information over and over, and increasingly needing to rely on memory aids or family members for things they used to handle on their own.
What’s a typical age-related change? Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.
What’s a typical age-related change? Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
People with Alzheimer’s disease often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, they may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game.
What’s a typical age-related change? Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show.
- Confusion with time or place
People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there and have difficulty navigating to familiar locations and getting lost.
What’s a typical age-related change? Getting confused about the day of the week, but figuring it out later.
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast, which may cause problems with driving.
What’s a typical age-related change? Vision changes related to cataracts.
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
People with Alzheimer’s disease may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a “watch” a “hand-clock”).
What’s a typical age-related change? Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
A person with Alzheimer’s may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time.
What’s a typical age-related change? Misplacing things from time to time and retracing steps to find them.
- Decreased or poor judgment
People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgment or decision making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.
What’s a typical age-related change? Making a bad decision once in a while.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
A person with Alzheimer’s disease may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced.
What’s a typical age-related change? Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations.
- Changes in mood and personality
The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone.
What’s a typical age-related change? Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.
Help for Memory Concerns
Roper St. Francis offers free, confidential memory screenings to evaluate your memory, ability to solve simple problems and other thinking skills. Information from the memory screen is preliminary and educational in nature, not diagnostic. Results should be shared with a person’s primary care doctor, to identify and address any concerns that might require additional testing.
To schedule a free memory screening at the Roper St. Francis Clinical Biotechnology Research Institute (CBRI), call (843) 724-2302.
To find a Roper St. Francis doctor you are comfortable talking with about memory concerns, call (843) 402-CARE (2273).