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Most of us have been there. We’ve misplaced our car keys, or forgotten the name of the new receptionist at the doctor’s office.

Sometimes we laugh it off as “senior moments,” while other times we panic and assume it’s the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, and we’re just going to get worse.

Hopefully, this article will help you understand when a memory lapse is just a momentary issue, and when it’s cause for concern.

Here are the top 5 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease:

1. Memory Loss

Forgetfulness is a normal part of aging, but when it becomes so frequent or so severe that it disrupts daily life, that’s a sign that something is wrong.

Forgetting important dates or events like your birth date or Thanksgiving Day is one troubling sign. Other common early signs of Alzheimer’s are forgetting recently acquired information and  constantly needing things to be repeated.

Don’t worry: forgetting a name or an appointment from time to time is normal and expected, as long as you remember it later.

2. Difficulty with long-term planning and problem solving

Your loved one can’t follow a familiar recipe anymore, or is losing track of their regular bills? If they’ve previously managed these tasks just fine, this may be an early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. Monitor their ability to concentrate, work with numbers, and follow a plan to a successful conclusion. If they continue to have difficulty, take them for an evaluation.

Don’t worry: making a mistake when you’re balancing your checkbook every now and then is not a sign of Alzheimer’s disease.

3. Confusion, especially with time or place

Alzheimer’s disease causes intense confusion as it progresses. Early signs are losing track of dates and seasons, as well as the passage of time. It’s concerning if your loved one doesn’t understand when you tell them something will happen “in two weeks.”

Don’t worry: it’s normal to sometimes forget what day of the week it is and need to count backward to remember.

4. Lost ability to retrace steps

Usually when people misplace something, they can retrace their steps to find it. If you can no longer do that, or you find yourself putting things away in inappropriate places, you should get evaluated for dementia. This can happen more and more frequently as time passes.

Don’t worry: we all tend to misplace things when we’re distracted, and as long as you can find them most of the time, you’re okay.

5. Social withdrawal

As daily life gets harder and once familiar tasks and hobbies become more difficult to keep up with, many people with early Alzheimer’s start withdrawing from the people and things they used to enjoy. They may or may not suspect why keeping up with life has suddenly become so difficult, so fear and/or depression may also play a part.

Changing moods and personalities is also an Alzheimer’s symptom, and can accelerate social withdrawal.

Don’t worry: sometimes feeling like you need a break from family or social obligations is normal, and not a sign of Alzheimer’s disease.

 

If you notice these signs of Alzheimer’s in an elderly loved one, or you’re experiencing them yourself, go for a medical examination immediately.

Keep in mind that lack of sleep, stress, and some illnesses can also cause these symptoms. If you are under age 65 and find yourself constantly forgetting important information, misplacing items, and making mistakes, rule out the other possible causes.

Ask yourself: Are you not sleeping enough? Are you under a lot of stress? Have you been feeling sick lately? Are you taking any medications that are known to cause dementia-like symptoms?

If the answer is “yes” to any of these, first try resolving those problems and see if your symptoms go away.

If you’re ever unsure about your symptoms, consult your doctor as soon as possible.

To continue our coverage of Alzheimer's disease this month, we're going to talk about the risk factors of the disease.

There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, however there are medications available to reduce symptoms. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner you can start these treatments and maintain your quality of life for as long as possible. Knowing you're at risk and keeping an eye out for the first symptoms can help you get a diagnosis early on. That gives you time to try the different available treatments, get your affairs in order, and make more memories with your loved one.

Are you at higher risk of Alzheimers' disease? Read on to find out.

Alzheimer's Disease Risk Factors

The first two risk factors are not really something you can control, and they're the two factors that are the most certain. They are:

  1. Age. Increasing age is the most significant risk factor of Alzheimer's disease. Most cases are diagnosed after age 65, and your risk of developing the disease doubles every five years past that. 
  2. Family history. Having a parent, brother, or sister with Alzheimer's makes you more likely to develop it yourself. Each additional family member with the disease increases your risk. When any disease runs in a family, it could be caused genetic or environmental factors—or both. When it comes to the hereditary factors, researchers have found genes that increase the risk of Alzheimer's. To learn more about genetic research into Alzheimer's disease, visit the Alzheimer's Association.

Current Alzheimer's research indicates that Alzheimer's disease is caused by a mix of genes and other risk factors. These include:

  • traumatic brain or head injury
  • heart disease 
  • diabetes
  • history of stroke
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol

As you can see, there is a strong vascular connection to Alzheimer's disease. That's because the brain has a rich network of blood vessels that nourish our brain cells to keep our most vital organ going. Clearly, the best way to elminate this risk factor is to keep your cardiovascular system as healthy as possible. This involves maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle. Speak to your doctor for specific guidance based on your health and situation. 

You may have heard that aluminum exposure can cause Alzheimer's disease. This is a theory that emerged in the late 1960s as a possible cause of the disease. Studies on the subject have not found any connection between everyday aluminum exposure and Alzheimer's disease, so you can use your aluminum pans without any risk!

Remember that having all the risk factors does not mean you will develop a disease, nor does having none of the risk factors (except age) protect you from Alzheimer's disease. Risk factors just tell you that you have a higher chance of a specific disease, so you can try to reduce those factors you can actually change, and stay vigilent about signs and symptoms. 

In our next post, we'll talk about the early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease—and what's just a part of normal aging.

 

I just came across a fantastic article from David Surico writing for McKnight's

New method predicts Alzheimer's in two-year window

A new study has led to a breakthrough in the process to identify people who will fall victim to Alzheimer's disease.

The research predicted with 90% accuracy which mild cognitive impairment sufferers would develop Alzheimer's disease within two years. Findings were published in the current issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

The combination of brain imaging analysis and a neuropsychological assessment allowed the team to uncover which subjects would develop Alzheimer's and those who would not. Sylvie Belleville, Ph.D., Director of Research at the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal, an institution affiliated with Université de Montréal, led the study.

Read more.

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