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What To Look Out For and What Not To Worry About

Worried About Developing Dementia or Alzheimer’s?

I am reaching an age where everyone I know is worried about developing dementia, Alzheimer’s, or some other degenerative brain disease. 

In the last two years, two close friends have gotten the bad news: one friend was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and the other with Alzheimer’s.  Both individuals are in their early 60s.  And, I think this is only the tip of the iceberg.  

Over time, approximately half of my peers will be diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disease.  

Clearly, among baby boomers, degenerative neurological disease is more than an epidemic (to the extent that there is something more than an epidemic).  It will be the leading cause of disability and poor quality of life for everyone I grew up with and have known my entire life. 

But, how do we know if we are developing dementia (the most common type of brain disease)?  Is there a way for us to self-screen (assuming we are being honest in our self-assessment)?  

As it turns out, the Alzheimer’s Association has published a great deal of helpful information about the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.  They even provide instruction on how to distinguish normal aging from a degenerative neurological disease.  So, if you are honest about your mental status, you can do a quick self-screening assessment.  

Below is a summary of what I found from the Alzheimer’s Association.

What are Alzheimer’s and Dementia?

When a person has dementia, their decline in memory and other cognitive abilities is severe enough to interfere with daily life.  Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and is a progressive brain disease that results in losing brain cells and function.  

Also, everyone’s journey is different.  Not everyone will experience the same symptoms, and some people with dementia may only experience one or two of the ten warning signs.  

Dementia/Alzheimer’s Warning Sign #1

Memory Loss That Disrupts Daily Life

A common symptom of early Alzheimer’s disease is forgetting recently learned information, important dates or events, or asking the same questions repeatedly.  A common coping mechanism used by many seniors is to overly rely upon memory aids (such as notes and electronic devices).  

Appropriate age-related change

Sometimes forgetting names or appointments but remembering them later.  

Does this warning sign apply to me?

Probably not.

I am not meaningfully different now than I was in my 20s. I often forget names and appointments and am overly reliant upon my smartphone, but that has always been the case.   And, sooner or later, I remember the name or date that I forgot.  

Dementia/Alzheimer’s Warning Sign #2

Challenges in planning or solving problems

Warning sign

People with dementia have difficulties developing or following a plan.  They also have problems working with numbers.  This will most likely manifest as trouble concentrating or making and following a budget.  

Appropriate age-related change

Making occasional errors when managing finances or household bills.  

Does this warning sign apply to me?

No. 

I never balance the family checkbook (that has not changed with age).  But, I manage the finances for this firm and a couple of other companies.  So, I think I am okay with these criteria.  

Dementia/Alzheimer’s Warning Sign #3

Difficulty completing familiar tasks

Warning sign

Difficulty completing routine tasks is a common dementia symptom.  This includes driving to a familiar location, organizing a grocery list, or remembering the rules of a game.  

Appropriate age-related change

Needing help using complicated kitchen appliances or recording a TV show. 

Does this warning sign apply to me?

No. 

I have no problem with these tasks (although my wife might disagree – especially since she doesn’t trust me to organize the grocery list).  

Dementia/Alzheimer’s Warning Sign #4

Confusion about time or place

Warning sign

Alzheimer’s patients lose track of dates, seasons, and time.  They may forget where they are or how they got there. 

Appropriate age-related change

Not knowing the day of the week but figuring it out.  

Does this warning sign apply to me?

No. 

I am pretty good about knowing where I am, how I got there, and how long things take.  Also, I rarely forget the day of the week.  

Dementia/Alzheimer’s Warning Sign #5

Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships

Warning sign

Vision problems are often a sign of Alzheimer’s, including difficulty with balance, trouble reading, and problems judging distance and determining color or contrast.  The ability to drive may be impaired.  

Appropriate age-related change

Cataracts.

Does this warning sign apply to me?

No. 

My vision has gotten clearer as I age.  And, I am still a pretty good driver (and I drive a lot).  I have good depth perception and can mentally manipulate the shape and size of objects in my head.  

Dementia/Alzheimer’s Warning Sign #6

New problems with words in speaking or writing

Warning sign

Alzheimer’s patients may have trouble following or joining a conversation, including stopping in the middle of a conversation and having no idea how to continue or repeating themselves. Vocabulary is a challenge.  

Appropriate age-related change

Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.

Does this warning sign apply to me?

No. 

I have no problems speaking (even though sometimes I forget the correct word).  

Dementia/Alzheimer’s Warning Sign #7

Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps

Warning sign

Changes in judgment or decision-making include using poor judgment when dealing with money or paying less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.

Appropriate age-related change

Making a bad decision or mistake once in a while, like neglecting to change the oil in the car.

Does this warning sign apply to me?

No.

Misplacing things was a big issue when I was much younger (in my 20s), but I learned coping mechanisms that I still rely upon.  This issue hasn’t gotten worse over my lifetime.  

Dementia/Alzheimer’s Warning Sign #8

Decreased or poor judgment

Warning sign

Changes in judgment or decision-making include using poor judgment when dealing with money or paying less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.

Appropriate age-related change

Making a bad decision or mistake once in a while, like neglecting to change the oil in the car.

Does this warning sign apply to me?

No.

The quality of my decision-making (whether good or bad – and according to my children it has always been uniquely bad and subjected them to “Dad-related humiliation” over the years) hasn’t changed.  In fact, I have thought of new ways to embarrass my now-adult children.  

Dementia/Alzheimer’s Warning Sign #9

Withdrawal from work or social activities

Warning sign

People living with Alzheimer’s disease may experience changes in the ability to hold or follow a conversation. As a result, they may withdraw from hobbies, social activities, or other engagements.

Appropriate age-related change

Sometimes feeling uninterested in family or social obligations.

Does this warning sign apply to me?

No. 

That hasn’t changed at all.  

Dementia/Alzheimer’s Warning Sign #10

Changes in mood or personality

Warning sign

Individuals living with Alzheimer’s may experience mood and personality changes. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful, or anxious, especially when taken outside their comfort zone (which, over time, gets smaller and smaller).  

Appropriate age-related change

Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.

Does this warning sign apply to me?

No. 

I love change and uncertainty.  I seek out things to do that take me out of my comfort zone. 

Do I have Alzheimer’s?  

I do not know.   

The most I can say after performing this self-assessment is that I do not have obvious symptoms.  But that is much different from being sure I don’t have the disease.  

Alzheimer’s is a long-term condition, and victims may have the disease for up to 20 years before showing symptoms.  And that is why Alzheimer’s is such a terrible disease.  It may be lurking in the background and slowly killing our brains without us knowing.    

What should you do if you have symptoms of Alzheimer’s/dementia? Do not ignore these symptoms.  You should immediately see a neurologist so that you can be appropriately evaluated.  Even if you only suspect that you are showing symptoms, get evaluated.

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