VirginiaLynne was a caregiver for in-laws with Alzheimer's, and she shares her extensive research in dementia and elder care to help others.
Key Warning Sign: Change
Change is the key warning sign. Ask yourself, "Has the person's ability to remember ordinary daily activities changed from before?"
Are You Worried?
Do you have a history of family members with Alzheimer's? Perhaps you are worried that you or someone you love seems to be forgetting more than usual. I was a caregiver for my husband's mother and father, who both had Alzheimer's, so I understand your emotions, concerns, and fears. It took almost two years for my husband and I to realize that his parents had Alzheimer's and get appropriate help. During those two years, we struggled to understand all of the changes in his parents and to deal with many difficult situations. Since then, I have carefully researched all of the signs and symptoms of this disease in order to help other people to make sure they get an appropriate diagnosis as early as possible.
In this article, I hope to provide you with enough information to decide if you need to seek additional medical help. I include:
- Early warning signs.
- Simple, easy memory tests you can give to someone without them necessarily knowing what you are doing.
- Explanation of the importance of early detection and what to do about it.
- Simple ways to improve cognitive ability (which my husband and I are already doing to help delay any memory impairment we might face).
20 Warning Signs
The key warning sign is change. The earliest symptom of dementia is a weakening in the ability to process information, especially new information. This is a sign we missed in my in-laws, who were completely unable to function after moving from their home in Arizona to a new home near us. The fact that they were not able to remember how to get to the store just down the street, and were not able to unpack any of their things should have been a warning sign for us. Here are some other typical warning signs:
- Losing sense of smell or taste, or changes in those senses.
- Having trouble remembering names more than before.
- Losing things like car keys or glasses more often than before.
- Forgetting where the car is parked more frequently.
- Not being able to remember how to get to a store or friend's house.
- Not being able to remember the title of a movie that was just watched.
- Substituting a word because the person can't remember the one they wanted.
- Forgetting appointments or phone calls more frequently.
- Needing to re-read something because they forgot it, or writing lots of reminders (my husband's father had notebooks full of reminders for himself, which made us realize after his diagnosis that he had been dealing with memory loss for several years).
- Repeating questions because they forgot the answer.
- Having people tell them that they already said that.
- Feeling depressed without a particular cause.
- Not remembering whether they took medications.
- Buying too much of something, or buying things they forgot they already have.
- Having more difficulty in organizing events, or paperwork.
- Finding it more difficult to finish complicated tasks.
- Not feeling motivated to finish a project they started.
- Being more irritable and less in control of emotions.
- Having more trouble learning a new task, like how to use a new phone.
- More difficulty in handling finances than before.
Warning Signs of Alzheimer's Poll
Mild Cognitive Impairment
People who answer "yes" to some of the above early warning signs may not have dementia that interferes with daily living, but they may have mild cognitive impairment (MCI) which means they:
- Do have at least one area of impaired memory function.
- Often can continue normal daily living, although close family members may notice a difference in their memory.
- Have trouble remembering anything new.
- Won't necessarily progress to having Alzheimer's, but have a 10 to 15 times higher chance of developing the disease each year.
Looking at my in-law's financial records and other papers after I became their caretaker, I realized that while Michael and Nicole had managed to live independently in Arizona, they had been having memory troubles for several years. Because of MCI, they had made some erratic financial decisions and also had some medical problems that we did not know about at the time. We wished that we had known about MCI and could have gotten them help earlier and kept them healthier longer.
Dementia vs. Alzheimer's
Dementia is defined as significant memory loss which interferes with daily life. About 70% of people with dementia will eventually be diagnosed with Alzheimer's (which is one of the main causes of memory loss).
What is Mild Cognitive Impairment?
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) was a term coined by Dr. Ron Peterson of the Mayo Clinic to refer to memory impairment which is less than dementia, but not quite normal.
- Dementia is defined as having two areas of impairment which affects daily living.
- People with mild cognitive impairment may be able to function quite well in normal daily living but they have enough damage to their brain that they do not function the same as before.
For example, people with MCI might be able to balance a checkbook but would have trouble keeping track of all their finances and bills. They may not be able to keep good records for their taxes or may spend more money than they have in income.
We experienced this problem with my in-laws, who almost gave all of their money away to the Salvation Army several years before we realized they had Alzheimer's. Fortunately, the gentleman they contacted guessed there was a problem with their mental capacity and denied their donation. This gracious man actually spent a great deal of time looking for our contact information in order to let us know about the situation. We were so grateful to him, even though we still didn't realize at that time that they had Alzheimer's.