Is it Alzheimer’s?

Most people become a little more forgetful as they grow older and find it more difficult to recall facts and faces. But with statistics showing that half the people over age 85 will develop Alzheimer’s disease, it’s only natural that seniors worry about some symptoms, especially if they seem more forgetful than usual.

Simple Forgetfulness Is Not a Cause for Concern

There is a distinct difference between memory loss that occurs naturally as we grow older and the changes in reasoning displayed by someone with Alzheimer’s. For instance, it’s normal to occasionally forget the PIN number on your ATM card or where you parked your car. Forgetting what an ATM card does or what kind of car you own is not. It’s normal to miscount your pocket change when paying your bill at the grocery store, but trying to purchase a cartful of groceries with a one-dollar bill is not.

When to Be Concerned?

The dilemma for seniors and their caregivers is that there is no clear-cut line between normal memory changes and the very first warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease. There are though some behaviors that, when seen together, might cause concern. A caregiver might become worried if a loved one exhibits a combination of these symptoms:

  • Misplaces objects
  • Has difficulty with orientation or spatial relationships
  • Has trouble driving
  • Has difficulty following a conversation
  • Has become more aggressive or irritable
  • Has difficulty with routine household tasks.

The importance of these symptoms is underscored if they are accompanied by other changes, such as weight loss, loss of appetite, loss of balance and loss of bladder control.

Taking Action

If you’re worried that you or a loved one may be developing Alzheimer’s disease, don’t be alarmed. Memory problems can be caused by depression and anxiety, medications and thyroid irregularities as well as by Alzheimer’s. At the same time, don’t hesitate to call and make an appointment with your physician. Be prepared to answer the questions your doctor is likely to ask:

  •  How often does memory trouble arise?
  • Has daily routine become more erratic?
  • Are simple tasks harder to perform?
  • Is there difficulty counting or managing money?

The tests that physicians now use to assess the presence of Alzheimer’s are much more extensive and accurate than they were in the past—so ask your doctor for a comprehensive neuropsychological test, rather than a brief screening. Even if Alzheimer’s is diagnosed, a comprehensive exam will give you the insight you need to make the adjustments that will improve quality of life now, and help make plans for a future that gives you and your loved ones the support they need.