Here’s how to spot early signs of dementia

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.

Dr. Daniel Litoff, an internal medicine physician at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, Ill., says we should still be alert for important warning signs of dementia.

“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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  1. This article repeatedly urges bringing your loved one signs of dementia for evaluation. Who should you bring to for evaluation and why? Is there a new treatment for Alzheimer’s? No, is the answer. The commonly known treatment is medication that does not even cure, but hopefully just prevents from getting worse quicker, which in my and many people’s experience, does not help at all. I have experience with one parent who had Alzheimer’s and an evaluation, diagnosis and treatment were of zero help. My other parent recently became forgetful and the primary physician says there’s nothing he can do for that. Which is, unfortunately, very true. If you need social work help, that is different. However, there is absolutely nothing else that can be done. Nothing. There is no cure. There is no definitive way to diagnose Alzheimer’s other than autopsy upon death. If you could recommend a specialist or exact type of qualified person who could do the evaluation AND then describe anything hopeful that would come out of that evaluation, I would GREATLY appreciate it. In addition, my parent with Alzheimer’s which was debilitating progressively over the course of 8 years, was living with what we called Dementia, the whole time. Only upon death, with an autopsy, can Alzheimer’s be diagnosed. We didn’t think it was Alzheimer’s, actually, because the signs were very non-typical of what we read about Alzheimer’s Disease, so we thought, but couldn’t be sure, that it was another form of Dementia.

  2. It is unfortunate that you have experienced this with both your parents. While you are correct, there is not a cure, there are ways to help your loved one. The way an experienced psychologist could offer assistance is early detection, proper diagnosis, education for care givers, and symptom management with the person afflicted. A person can be diagnosed with a neurocognitive disease, if applicable. Alzheimer’s is a medical diagnosis, only verifiable at autopsy. Neurocognitive diseases are not. There are multiple non-pharma ways to increase the quality of life for someone afflicted. During the course of the disease, depression and anxiety often suffered by the loved one. A psychologist should be able to identify this and work with a physician for medication management to increase their quality of life. Seek out your local Alzheimer’s chapter as there should be recommendations there or local a psychological gerontologist or neurologist. I hope this helps.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.