By Alzheimer’s Association of San Diego/Imperial County
The San Diego/Imperial County chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association is proud of the fact that our area receives more research grants from the association than any other region in the United States. Research being conducted right here in this region currently totals more than $12 million. We are at the forefront of the search for a cure.
While a cure may still be many years away, current researchers are close to a blood test that will diagnose the disease years before any symptoms are apparent. And recent studies have also concluded that a combination of activities that contribute to good health also can put off symptoms of Alzheimer’s in those who may have it for many years (more on that in a future column).
One of the most frequent questions arising among visitors and calls to the Alzheimer’s Association office relates to diagnosing the disease. People in every community throughout San Diego are concerned about cognitive loss among older adults in their families and among friends. One of the classes offered by the association mentions 10 signs of dementia. Have you noticed any of these warning signs?
Memory loss that disrupts daily life. One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s, especially in the early stages, is forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; relying on memory aides (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own. Forgetting names or appointments occasionally, but recalling them later, is a normal sign of aging.
Challenges in planning or solving problems. Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before. Occasional errors when balancing a checkbook are also just a normal sign of aging.
Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure. People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game. Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show, though, is not necessarily a sign of Alzheimer’s.
Confusion with time or place. People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there. What is a sign of typical aging? Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.
Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast. In terms of perception, they may pass a mirror and think someone else is in the room. They may not recognize their own reflection. Vision changes related to cataracts, however, are not necessarily a sign of Alzheimer’s.
New problems with words in speaking or writing. People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a watch a “hand clock”). Having trouble finding the right word occasionally is often a sign of normal aging, however.
Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time. Misplacing things occasionally, such as a pair of glasses or the remote control, is also a normal sign of aging.
Decreased or poor judgement. People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgement or decision making. For example, they may use poor judgement when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean. Occasional bad decisions may be typical of aging, however.
Withdrawal from work or social activities. A person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. But sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations can be another normal sign of aging.
Changes in mood and personality. The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone. What’s a typical sign of aging? Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.
If you have questions about any of these warning signs, the Alzheimer’s Association invites you to call their 24-hour helpline at 800-272-3900, find us online at alz.org/sandiego, or visit our local office for a safe, confidential one-on-one consultation. Early diagnosis provides the best opportunities for treatment, support and future planning.
—Since 1982, the Alzheimer’s Association San Diego-Imperial chapter has been providing free educational programs and support services to our neighbors throughout our community who are living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, and to their care partners. The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading nonprofit organization funding dementia research, providing care and support, raising the public’s awareness of the disease and rallying our elected officials to advance public policies to better the lived of the families that we serve.