President Ronald Reagan named November Alzheimer’s Awareness Month in 1983, when about three million people were living with the disease. Today, nearly six million people have Alzheimer’s disease, and the Alzheimer’s Association predicts that 14 million people will have it by the year 2050. While research continues, seniors and caregivers in San Diego should be alert to the ten early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and how they differ from the normal issues of aging.
Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, killing more people than breast and prostate cancer combined. This year, the National Institutes of Health will spend $2.4 billion dollars for research on Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and expects to spend even more in 2020. There is still no way to prevent, slow or cure the disease. San Diego’s sixty thousand Alzheimer’s patients and their companion caregivers know that managing the disease and its progression is the only solution available right now.
There is cause for optimism, however, for the elderly in home care and those providing home care in San Diego. Scientists and researchers are making breakthroughs all the time, and just last month, one of San Diego’s leading biotech firms made a big announcement. Per the San Diego Union-Tribune, BioGen revealed that they were sending a new drug to the FDA for approval. Aducanumab is an antibody that is meant to remove clumps of the beta amyloid protein in the brain, which would slow the progress of the disease. (See our blog World Alzheimer’s Month: Part 1 for a description of how plaque and protein overgrowth inhibits correct brain function.) The clinical trials for aducanumab had been deemed unsuccessful in March. A review of the data over the summer showed the drug had a positive effect for a certain cohort of patients, prompting BioGen to revive its research.
Until there is a cure, early detection is the key to managing an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Seniors, family and home care companions for seniors may be unsure about the difference between the typical symptoms of aging and the more serious signs of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. After all, getting older can naturally affect memory, problem-solving and overall ‘sharpness’. According to the Alzheimer’s Association (from their website), there are ten early clues that warn of Alzheimer’s disease:
- “Memory loss that disrupts daily life: One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease, especially in the early stage, is forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events, asking for the same questions over and over, and increasingly needing to rely on memory aids (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) 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 living with dementia 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 managing finances or household bills.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks: People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes they may have trouble driving to a familiar location, organizing a grocery list or remembering the rules of a favorite game.
- What’s a typical age-related change? Occasionally needing help to use microwave settings or to record a TV show.
- Confusion with time or place: People living 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.
- 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. This may lead to difficulty with balance or trouble reading. They may also have problems judging distance and determining color or contrast, causing issues with driving.
- What’s a typical age-related change? Vision changes related to cataracts.
- New problems with words in speaking or writing: People living with Alzheimer’s 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 trouble naming a familiar object or use 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 living with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. He or she may accuse others of stealing, especially as the disease progresses.
- What’s a typical age-related change? Misplacing things from time to time and retracing steps to find them.
- Decreased or poor judgment: Individuals may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money or pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.
- What’s a typical age-related change? Making a bad decision or mistake once in a while, like neglecting to change the oil in the car.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities: A person living with Alzheimer’s disease may experience changes in the ability to hold or follow a conversation. As a result, he or she may withdraw from hobbies, social activities or other engagements. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite team or activity.
- What’s a typical age-related change? Sometimes feeling uninterested in family or social obligations.
- Changes in mood and personality: Individuals living with Alzheimer’s may experience mood and personality changes. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, with friends or when 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.”
You can download the 10 Warning Signs Worksheet from the Alzheimer’s Association website here.