With all this news, you may be worried about your own brain health or that of your loved ones. After all, with more than six million Americans having Alzheimer’s, it’s more common than any of us would like to imagine.
I mean, struggling to remember words and details can be scary. When is it normal for your age versus a sign of Alzheimer’s? Knowing where the line is between the two is complicated, and it is a question that nobody wants to ask themselves.
Only an expert like a neurologist or geriatrician can make a diagnosis, but there are red flags that could indicate it’s time to schedule an appointment for some tests. To help you know what you’re dealing with, a neurologist shares how some early signs of the disease differ from the normal effects of aging.
1. Forget recently learned information
Forgetting an appointment or a person’s name, and being able to remember it later, is a typical change you’ll see in older people, according to Anjali N. Patel, DO, a cognitive and memory neurologist at the Atlantic Neuroscience Institute. and the Overlook Medical Center. An early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, on the other hand, is “forgetting recently learned information (or) repeating the same question,” she explains. In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, that’s the most common sign in the early stages.
Dr. Patel gives an example. “If someone has a doctor’s appointment coming up, you can ask multiple times about the date and time of the appointment,” she says. “The person can repeat the question right away, after a few minutes, or the next day. This can change”.
2. Feeling confused, suspicious, anxious/fearful, or depressed
Some emotional ups and downs are normal for all of us. Particularly once our days begin to follow a predictable pattern, “we can become irritated when routine changes or is interrupted,” says Dr. Patel. That’s typical with age (and quite understandable in general!).
However, if you notice someone losing control over how they express their emotions, overreacting, or having rapid mood swings because they don’t understand a situation, it’s more likely an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, he continues. An example of a confusing event is traveling to a new location, which can cause intense reactions in an Alzheimer’s patient.
3. Consistently make misjudgments
Many of us have made mistakes here and there by falling for spam or struggling with a budget. But a red flag is if it is consistent. Dr. Patel says, “People can miss a payment once, make a mistake once in a while,” and that’s typical. However, it could be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease if “patients can’t handle a budget (or have) poor judgment, (such as) giving out personal information to strangers.”
4. Hiding items and/or accusing others of stealing items they cannot find
Not being able to find something, whether it’s the remote control or a cute pair of earrings, can be stressful and confusing. Even the most organized people probably know the struggle. According to Dr. Patel, it’s okay if the person can retrace his steps to find the item.
But when “patients put objects in unusual places, can’t find the object again, and may accuse others of taking items,” he says, it’s possibly an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease. She explains how this happens, saying that patients often lose or misplace items, assume someone must be taking their things, and then hide those items in unexpected places for “storage.”
5. Struggling to keep up with a conversation
Having trouble thinking of the right word (and eventually coming up with it) is a typical age-related change people can experience, says Dr. Patel. However, when patients have trouble following a conversation, constantly call things by the wrong name, or regularly lose their train of thought, they may be seeing early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
6. Noticing significantly less comprehension of visual images
As we get older, our vision can change due to cataracts. Buying a new pair of glasses can be a regular item on your to-do list. However, Alzheimer’s disease can be a concern if safety issues arise, such as “having difficulty judging distance, leading to car accidents, (or) stall episodes,” she says.
7. Losing track of time and events
If your loved one isn’t sure of the exact date or day of the week, there’s no need to worry, according to Dr. Patel. She cautions more about patients who “have difficulty understanding when events occurred (and) lose track of the month/year/season,” as that could be a potential sign of Alzheimer’s disease.
This could be viewed in several different ways. “They may forget recent events, like visiting family or going on a trip,” she adds. “The person may remember past events in greater detail and may believe that those earlier events occurred more recently.”
what to do next
If you think you or a loved one may be showing possible early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, make an appointment with a neurologist. They may use imaging, cognitive or blood tests, and other neurological tests and evaluations to determine if that is what is happening.
And if it is, know that all hope is not lost. The FDA approved an Alzheimer’s drug in 2021 and prevention research is underway, from artificial intelligence technology to a study on the benefits of folate and predictive blood tests. You are not alone in this.