Here’s how to spot early signs of dementia
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can be a scary thought as you age, but early signs don’t always mean an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
According to 2017 research published in the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, seniors with just one or two early signs of Alzheimer’s disease may not develop full-blown dementia in their lifetimes. The researchers found seniors who had multiple early signs of the disease – things like brain shrinkage, mild memory loss and high levels of amyloid protein in the brain – were at the highest risk. However, seniors with only one of these signs had a much lower risk. This, in part, depends on each person’s age and life expectancy, but for most people, a single early sign of Alzheimer’s is no reason to be afraid of mental decline right away.
“The most common sign is difficulty with everyday tasks requiring short term memory,” says Dr. Litoff. “This includes missing appointments, forgetting to pay bills, misplacing items at home and forgetting where they are, getting lost when driving, repeating questions multiple times and so on. If family and caregivers notice behaviors like these, they should bring their loved one to a physician for evaluation.
Dr. Litoff says simple tests in the office can differentiate between someone with mild forgetfulness versus early signs of dementia.
Seeing these signs can be frightening, but it’s best to avoid uncertainty and take your loved one to a doctor right away. Your doctor can also talk to you about ways to keep your brain healthy and protected against Alzheimer’s or dementia as much as possible. Dr. Litoff says the most important step is to live a healthy lifestyle and protect your heart.
“A healthy heart equals a healthy brain,” he explains. “Many patients with dementia have vascular disease of the brain. Strokes are one of the causes of vascular disease, but they can be prevented by treating high blood pressure and cholesterol. You can also prevent diabetes, another cause of vascular disease, by avoiding obesity and exercising 30 minutes a day, five days a week.”
Some studies have shown that doing simple activities to keep your mind active can also help, and this is an excellent habit to develop early in life.
“The most important thing to remember is that dementia is a disease – it’s not inevitable, and it’s not part of normal aging,” says Dr. Litoff. “If you see signs of cognitive decline in a loved one, they should be evaluated.”
However, mild forgetfulness or aging alone are no guarantee that someone will develop dementia in the near future, or at all. Each person’s case is unique, and your doctor can help you take steps to remain as healthy and happy as possible as you age.
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health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.