Monday, May 17, 2010

Ten Symptoms of Early Stage Alzheimer's

By Bob DeMarco Alzheimer's Front Row

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Most of the Alzheimer's caregivers I know can look back and identify symptoms and behaviors that they now know were early signs of dementia.

One of the things that caregivers learn is that the sooner that Alzheimer's is diagnosed the better the potential outcome. A failure to spot Alzheimer's early can be disastrous.

We have about ten people on this list that were fortunate and were put on the combination of Aricept and Namenda at the time of their diagnosis. All of these persons seem to be functioning quite well.

I am certain that there are exceptions to this experience. Nothing that is currently available as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease is perfect. Sometimes drugs like Aricept and Namenda don't work at all. This does not mean that they shouldn't be investigated and tried.

If I knew then what I know now, my mother would have been on the combination of Aricept and Namenda from day one -- Aricept and Namenda from Day One -- This is my Belief

I also learned over the years that typically when an elderly person starts to act out behaviors that are early signs of dementia little or nothing is done. You often hear these words or explanation -- they are just getting old.

Personal care doctors are not good at diagnosing Alzheimer's and neither are spouses or children. This happens because Alzheimer's is usually hard to diagnose until a "big problem" or "big event" occurs that calls for an investigation into that problem or event.

Neither the doctors, spouses or children are to be blamed for the inability to spot Alzheimer's early. Alzheimer's disease, in most cases, sneaks in and is sinister in its ability to hide.

Alzheimer's can confuse anyone and everyone. It can even confuse a veteran Alzheimer's caregiver -- Alzheimer's Patients Can Deceive Outsiders with Their Behavior.

In an early stage of dementia a person can still function in a fashion that appears normal. Driving, shopping, living alone. However, their memory is deteriorating and they begin to evidence behaviors that are not "normal" even if they are "OLD".

The confusion about Alzheimer's like behavior occurs because early dementia is like a chicken/egg disease. What counts more? The bizarre behaviors like meanness, worries about money, shuffling the feet? Or, the perception that the person can function normally and perform tasks like driving and shopping? Most people will opt for a simple explanation -- they are just getting old. This explains the new and different behaviors they see.

I am in the habit of saying, if you are worried that there is something wrong, there is probably something wrong. I came to this conclusion because I worried for years before finally taking action with my mother. I now know many caregivers -- they are me, and I am them.

The day you say to yourself, they are just getting old is the day to schedule serious memory testing and behavior testing from a doctor that is a specialist. The personal care physician is not the "right" doctor to do this testing.

Please share the information below with others. Let's look at it this way. If we help one single person we made a difference. Of course, nothing wrong with thinking big.

My name is Bob DeMarco, I am an Alzheimer's caregiver. My mother Dorothy, now 93 years old, suffers from Alzheimer's disease. We live our life one day at a time.
What kinds of behaviors should you expect from a loved one who has just been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer's disease? Johns Hopkins discusses 10 common symptoms of early Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's disease is progressive, meaning it worsens over time. Alzheimer's is also terminal, meaning all who develop it will eventually succumb to it. As Alzheimer's rides its course, it renders those who suffer from it increasingly dependent on the care of others.

This is true for all people who develop Alzheimer's, but the particular symptoms and the degree to which they show themselves vary among individuals. For convenience, the progression of Alzheimer's is often divided into three stages: early/mild, middle/moderate, and late/severe.

The symptoms and signs of Alzheimer's have been identified by observing people with Alzheimer's disease as a group. An individual may not show all of the symptoms in each stage of progression. For example, many -- but not all -- Alzheimer's patients develop severe psychiatric problems, such as delusions and hallucinations. Among those who do, the symptoms appear in the middle to late stages of Alzheimer's.

It may help friends and family to familiarize themselves with the typical stages of Alzheimer's disease so that they know what to expect in the coming years. The early/mild stage of Alzheimer's is characterized by declining ability to form new memories, impaired ability to organize and manipulate complex ideas, and, sometimes, by personality changes.

Symptoms Mild Dementia/Early Stage Alzheimer's disease
  • Diminished short-term memory
  • Misplacing belongings in odd places; losing valuable belongings, like wallet or purse
  • Difficulty finding the right word: "Tip of the tongue" syndrome
  • Person seems "not himself" and shows uncharacteristic behaviors
  • Lapses in judgment
  • Difficulty with mental arithmetic and handling money
  • Disorientation in unfamiliar places or situations
  • May become apathetic or withdrawn, avoiding social situations
  • More difficulty with routine tasks at work or at home, or may take longer to complete tasks
  • Irritation or anger in response to increasing memory lapses
Specific Examples
  • Asks the same question repeatedly within the same conversation
  • Puts car keys away in refrigerator
  • Unable to recall word for "car" and then says in frustration, "The thing you drive to work in."
  • A normally shy person becomes uncharacteristically outgoing or talkative at a family gathering
  • Agrees to buy services or products he/she doesn't need from telephone sales person
  • Finds it difficult to balance checkbook or figure out correct amount of money to pay for an item while shopping
  • Forgets to eat, skips meals, or eats the same food every meal
Source: John Hopkins, Memory, Health Alert

Bob DeMarco is the editor of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. Bob resides in Delray Beach, FL.

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