Don't Ignore Early Signs of Alzheimer's Disease

Too often, people deny the signs or fail to act when they see possible symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. But getting an early diagnosis can make all the difference.

Your aunt was confused at the dinner table. Your husband forgot how to set the alarm clock. Is it Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer's is a brain disease that affects memory, thinking and behavior. Too often, people deny the signs or fail to act when they see the symptoms. But putting off a diagnosis is not wise. Studies show that the sooner that treatment starts, the better the results.

It may be hard to take the first step toward finding out that you or a relative has Alzheimer's. You could also find out, though, that the symptoms stem from another problem. Poor memory could be a sign of a treatable thyroid disease, drug interaction or depression.

Getting an early Alzheimer's diagnosis also lets families plan for the future while the person with the disease can still have a say. More important, early treatment with medication may stabilize or slow the rate of mental and physical decline. Delays in taking the medication can reduce its benefits.

Ignoring Alzheimer's presents safety threats, too. If an affected person drives, uses the stove or takes medicine, he or she could harm himself or others if no one is monitoring the symptoms. Or the person could become the victim of a scam.

Check with a doctor
Don't confuse dementia with normal age-related memory loss. Forgetting where you put your keys once in a while is not Alzheimer's; forgetting what to do with your keys likely is. Signs of Alzheimer's can include:

  • Inability to perform routine tasks
  • Problems with using language
  • Odd changes in mood or behavior
  • Trouble with abstract thinking
  • Poor judgment
  • Confusion about time or place
  • Loss of initiative

If you are in doubt about any symptoms, talk to a doctor about it. If it is a relative who denies something is wrong, you may have to talk to the doctor alone.

Sometimes, memory and behavior problems are dismissed as "normal aging." If you are still concerned, you may wish to seek a second opinion. 

The only way to know for sure whether it's Alzheimer's is to look at brain tissue after someone has died. But a doctor skilled in treating older adults can make a "possible or probable" diagnosis in most cases after asking some questions and performing tests.

Early treatment
There is no cure for Alzheimer's. But five drugs have been approved that can help keep the symptoms at bay for an average of six to 12 months. These drugs help prevent problems with memory, language and critical thinking from getting worse in about half of those who take them early in the disease.

Other research suggests that managing heart disease risk factors can help to delay the course of Alzheimer's. This includes high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Regular exercise has also been shown to promote cognitive health.

So, don't look the other way if you or someone you care about may have Alzheimer's. It's a hard truth to confront, but doing so will yield long-term benefits. Managing Alzheimer's symptoms greatly improves quality of life at all stages of the disease - both for the person who needs care and his or her family.




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