When an aging loved one makes an occasional mistake, like misplacing the car keys or forgetting a word, you may not think much of it. Everyone has forgetful moments, after all. However, when those little slips become more frequent (or more serious), you may begin to wonder if there’s greater cause for concern—and rightly so. It can be difficult to distinguish the signs of Alzheimer’s disease from the normal side effects of aging.
Dementia is a broad term that encompasses many different types of symptoms related to the loss of memory or other cognitive skills. Alzheimer’s is a degenerative neurological (brain) disease that represents about 60%-80% of dementia cases. This form of dementia affects more than 6 million Americans, initially through mild memory loss but ultimately diminishing a person’s ability to navigate everyday life.
Alzheimer’s presents in different ways for different people, and in most cases, cellular damage in the brain has already occurred by the time noticeable signs of Alzheimer’s are present. It’s a progressive disease, which means that over time, symptoms will worsen. There is no cure. However, there are a number of treatments and therapies available, many of which are more effective the sooner signs of Alzheimer’s are detected and lead to a diagnosis.
Alzheimer’s most frequently affects the part of the brain responsible for learning first, so problems grasping new information or retaining short-term memory can be a sign that your loved one is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Other mild or early-stage signs of Alzheimer’s include:
As Alzheimer’s progresses, symptoms typically become more pronounced, and someone with Alzheimer’s may require additional care and supervision. Symptoms of moderate or mid-stage Alzheimer’s include:
Severe or late-stage Alzheimer’s patients become fully dependent on others. They may have little to no remaining communication abilities. You may also notice weight loss and increased sleeping, along with declining bowel and bladder control. Many people with Alzheimer’s also have increased difficulty swallowing as they progress into late stages of the disease. This can affect their ability to properly swallow foods and drinks and can result in aspiration pneumonia, which can be life-threatening.
You may find it difficult to determine whether the behaviors you see are normal forgetfulness or true signs of Alzheimer’s. Talking with your loved one’s doctor about your concerns and what you’ve observed will open the door for an evaluation and diagnosis. An official diagnosis will give you a better idea of which stage of Alzheimer’s your loved one is in and what kinds of support and therapy options are available.
In addition to the medical team, you may find it useful to talk with others who share your experience. Local dementia and Alzheimer’s organizations are good resources for this type of support.
It’s also a good idea to begin looking at resources for additional care your loved one may need in the future, such as a senior living community with dedicated memory care services. At Springpoint’s memory care communities in New Jersey and Delaware, we focus on what each resident can do over what they can no longer do, so together we’re making the most of every day. Contact us to learn more about our compassionate approach to memory care.