Know the 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s

The last two of the 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s include withdrawal from work or social activities and changes in mood and personality. These two signs go hand in hand. As the person with Alzheimer’s is increasing unable to hold a conversation, follow a favorite sports team or participate in a much loved hobby, it may be hard to determine if signs of depression and mood swings are a result of the isolation or the disease.

For someone who is an avid baseball fan, this sign might be visible with confusion about the rules or trouble remembering who the star pitcher is. Involvement in hobbies might become harder and eventually impossible to continue enjoying. Missed meetings at work or an inability to stay on task, on budget and meet deadlines might be new occurrences for someone used to receiving accolades for performance.  Withdrawal from these activities may be a sign that continuing to be social, deal with the stress of a job or follow the steps required for a hobby are just too difficult.

In addition to the sign of withdrawing from work and social activities, changes to mood and personality are important to watch for. We all sometimes feel sad, anxious or depressed; however, someone with Alzheimer’s will have a more dramatic and sometimes an unexpected  reaction to what’s going on around them. Loud noises, large crowds, and unfamiliar surroundings can trigger anxiety, fear, anger and also increase the risk for wandering in order to get away from noise and people. In addition to mood and personality changes, Alzheimer’s also leads to confusion, suspicion, as well as being fearful and anxious. Family and friends report seeing significant changes in someone who was always cheerful and happy. The change can be very dramatic and unexpected with the person becoming angry and even aggressive. Sometimes that aggression is directed toward someone else. The opposite can also be true of a parent, aunt or uncle who has been characterized as grumpy or even mean all of their life, and now as Alzheimer’s progresses they appear docile, sweet and uncharacteristically loving.

The key to recognizing many of the 10 Warning Signs is the change seen by family and friends, however, if you have concerns about experiencing these signs yourself, your best first step is to see your doctor. Putting the whole picture together can be a challenge even for a healthcare professional and will require a series of tests and exams. While doctors can now be 90% accurate with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, your own recognition of new trouble you’re having as well as what friends and family are telling you can help complete the puzzle and give you a chance to seek treatment and plan for your own future.

Please visit our Web site to learn more about the disease, the programs we offer you and your family, links to ongoing research and clinical trials that you might find interesting, and our Helpline to call or email for additional information. You are not alone.

 

Linda Mitchell,
Alzheimer’s Association
President and CEO

Decreased or Poor Judgment

One of the 10 Warning Signs of great concern to adult children of those with Alzheimer’s is the decrease in judgment apparent as the disease progresses.

This warning sign is more obvious if someone has always been really frugal and especially careful with their finances. Watch for sudden increases in spending or giving large sums of money away to perfect strangers who call or happen by the house. The key is whether this is unusual behavior and if so the risks should be discussed, not only related to financial issues but the personal risk of inviting a stranger into the house could be of concern as well.

Poor judgment isn’t limited to financial issues however. Decision making in general is affected and may include things like not wearing weather appropriate clothing, the inability to determine when it’s safe to cross a busy street, going for a walk alone or even being unable to choose from a large menu.

While sometimes all of us feel as if we’ve made a bad choice or misplaced trust in someone we shouldn’t, a person experiencing the eighth of the 10 Warning Signs will be unable to make decisions at all and the pattern of using poor judgment will only increase.

Knowing the 10 Warning Signs can help rule out what is typical and what isn’t. If you are worried about more than one change in yourself or someone you know, see your doctor. The Alzheimer’s Association can help. Call 800-272.3900.

Linda Bloom,  MS, MBA has worked as Regional Director for the Southern Colorado office of the Alzheimer’s Association for the past two years serving 18 counties in the southeastern part of the state.

Two of the Most Recognizable Changes in a Person with Dementia

By Teresa Black

As Alzheimer’s progresses two of the most recognizable changes occurring are 1) new problems with words in speaking and writing and, 2) misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.

The first of these two signs exhibits itself as problems with speech which includes talking as well as understanding what’s being said. Initially it may be simply having trouble finding words, especially nouns that identify common objects. For instance friends and family may notice a loved one is unable to ask for more coffee. Instead they point and ask for another cup of “that stuff” (coffee).

Problems with words can also be seen with someone who starts to withdraw from conversations or during social outings. The person with dementia begins to struggle with understanding what is being said. It becomes too hard to follow whatever it is the group is discussing. When asked a question, putting an answer together with words in a way that makes sense is simply too difficult. This might be why a loved one repeats the same questions over and over. They just don’t understand what’s being asked and can’t formulate an answer. As a result, the person gradually goes from being a participant to spectator. The change can be so gradual that it is often missed by the casual observer.

Reading and writing can also be a challenge. Reading the same line over and over again without comprehension, taking all morning to read one story in the newspaper or being unable to finish a novel are all indications of new problems. Leaving sticky note reminders may work for some period of time for the person with the disease but eventually it becomes clear they can no longer read what’s been posted. Additionally handwriting may change and eventually be illegible. It can be startling when even a signature becomes unrecognizable.

Another of the 10 Warning Signs is the inability to retrace your steps when you’ve misplaced something. Many of us walk into a room and say to ourselves “now what did I come in here for?” After a minute or two we’ll remember the reason. Or we’ve put our car keys down and can’t remember where. The difference between us and someone with Alzheimer’s is that ability to think through where we’ve been and what we’ve done allowing us to locate those misplaced keys.

While there are typical changes that occur as we age, knowing the 10 Warning Signs can help rule out what is typical and what isn’t. If you are worried about more than one change in yourself or someone you know, see your doctor. The Alzheimer’s Association can help. Call 800-272.3900.

Teresa Black has served as the Western Colorado Regional Director for the Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter since 2009. The office is in Grand Junction, and supports individuals and families throughout a nine-county area serving Mesa, Montrose, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Delta, Garfield, Gunnison, Pitkin and Lake counties. Teresa holds a Bachelor’s degree from Colorado Christian University and a Master’s from Colorado Mesa University.

Warning Sign of Alzheimer’s: Understanding Spatial Relationships and Visual Images

As the symptoms of Alzheimer’s become more pronounced, friends and family may begin to see a decrease in coordination or what appears to be a problem with vision. The ability to make sense or understand visual images and spatial relationships is the fifth of the 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s. This sign is exhibited by spilling or dropping things more often, having trouble with balance, tripping over curbs, area rugs, or mistaking dark patterns in carpeting or tile floors for holes, and trouble reading.

When someone begins having vision problems, it’s important to get a checkup by a family physician or an optometrist especially as problems with reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast increase. Families in Association education classes and support groups share examples of a loved one who can’t find their coffee cup right in front of them on the breakfast table or a husband who was a scratch golfer and now struggles with following their golf ball on the course. This warning sign also reveals itself in the concept of seeing your own reflection in the mirror. You may think someone else is in the room or even have a conversation with the person you see reflected there.

As we age we may experience typical changes to our vision. Putting the whole picture together is important; however, in order to determine if the changes are more serious and related to Alzheimer’s or another medical condition like cataracts or macular degeneration. That is one of the reasons it’s important to see your family doctor to determine whether there is another medical reason for issues related to trouble with vision and spatial relationships or if in fact the problems are occurring because of this most common form of dementia.

If you are worried about more than one change in yourself or someone you know, talk with them about the 10 Warning Signs and what they might be experiencing themselves. The Alzheimer’s Association can help. Call 800-272.3900 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Marcia Shafer is the Northeastern Colorado Regional Director of the Alzheimer’s Association Colorado Chapter.  The office in Evans, near Greeley, serves the counties of Kit Carson, Lincoln, Logan, Morgan, Phillips, Sedgwick, Washington, and Weld. Marcia has lived in Colorado for 38 years and has worked for the Alzheimer’s Association for 2 years. She has a M.Div. from the Iliff School of Theology and is taking graduate courses in Gerontology from UNC.