Worried It’s Alzheimer’s? 8 Symptoms to Watch For

Worried It’s Alzheimer’s? 8 Symptoms to Watch For

Applying the word “Alzheimer’s” to your parent can be uncomfortable, even if  the signs, or symptoms, have been adding up for some time. It’s much easier to  gloss over strange behavior: “Oh, Mom’s just getting older.”Or to rationalize:  “Well, we all forget things sometimes.”

Only a qualified physician can conclude with high certainty that a living  person has Alzheimer’s disease. But the following eight symptoms are strongly  associated with the disease. If you detect these signs in your parent, it would  be wise to seek a medical evaluation.

1. Memory lapses

  • Does your parent ask repetitive questions or retell stories within minutes  of the first mention?
  • Does she forget the names of recent acquaintances or younger family members,  such as grandchildren?
  • Are memory lapses growing progressively worse (such as affecting information  that was previously very well known)?
  • Are they happening more frequently (several times a day or within short  periods of time)?
  • Is this forgetfulness unusual for your parent (such as sudden memory lapses  in someone who prided herself on never needing grocery lists or an address  book)?

Everyone forgets some things sometimes. But a parent may have Alzheimer’s  disease if you notice these kinds of lapses. Having problems with memory is the  first and foremost symptom noticed. It’s a typical Alzheimer’s symptom to forget  things learned recently (such as the answer to a question, an intention to do  something, or a new acquaintance) but to still be able to remember things from  the remote past (such as events or people from childhood, sometimes with  explicit detail). In time, even long-term memories will be affected. But by then  other Alzheimer’s symptoms will have appeared.

2. Confusion over words

  • Does your parent have difficulty finding the “right” word when she’s  speaking?
  • Does she forget or substitute words for everyday things (such as “the  cooking thingamajig” for pot or “hair fixer” for comb)?

Of course it’s normal for anyone to occasionally “blank” on a word,  especially words not often used. But it’s considered a red flag for Alzheimer’s  if this happens with growing frequency and if the needed words are simple or  commonplace ones.

This can be a very frustrating experience for the speaker. She may stall  during a conversation, fixating on finding a particular word. She may replace  the right word with another word. This substitute could be similar enough that  you could guess at her meaning (“hair dryer” instead of “hairdresser”),  especially early on in the disease process. Or it could be completely different  (“bank” instead of “hairdresser”) or nonsensical (“hairydoo”).

3. Marked changes in mood or personality

  • Is your usually assertive parent more subdued (or vice versa)?
  • Has your usually reserved parent may become less inhibited (or vice  versa)?
  • Does your parent withdraw, even from family and friends, perhaps in response  to problems with memory or communication?
  • Has she developed mood swings, anxiety, or frustration, especially in  connection with embarrassing memory lapses or noticeable communication  problems?
  • Has she developed uncharacteristic fears of new or unknown environments or  situations, or developed a distrust of others, whether strangers or familiar  people?
  • Do you see signs of depression (including changes in sleep, appetite,  mood)?

Mood shifts are a difficult sign to link decisively to Alzheimer’s disease  because age and any medical condition may spark changes in someone’s mood,  personality, or behavior. In combination with other Alzheimer’s symptoms,  however, changes such as those described above may contribute to a suspicion of  the disease.

A person with Alzheimer’s may also become restless and/or aggressive, but  usually in later stages of the disease.

4. Trouble with abstract thinking

  • How well does your parent handle relatively simple mathematical tasks, such  as balancing a checkbook?
  • Is she having trouble paying bills or keeping finances in order, tasks she  previously had no problem completing?
  • Does she have trouble following along with a discussion, understanding an  explanation, or following instructions?

Abstract thinking becomes increasingly challenging for someone with  Alzheimer’s, especially if the topic is complex or if the reasoning is  sequential or related to cause and effect.

5. Difficulty completing familiar activities

  • Has your parent begun to have trouble preparing meals?
  • Is she less engaged in a hobby that once absorbed her (bridge, painting,  crossword puzzles)?
  • Does she stop in the middle of a project, such as baking or making a repair,  and fail to complete it?
  • Has she stopped using a particular talent or skill that once gave her  pleasure (sewing, singing, playing the piano)?

Activities with various different steps, however routine and familiar, can  become difficult to complete for a person with Alzheimer’s. Your parent  might become distracted or lose track of where she is in the process, feeling  confused. Or she might just lose interest altogether and leave a project  unfinished.

Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia is especially suspect when the  difficult or abandoned activity is something the person formerly delighted in  and excelled at, or used to engage in frequently.

6. Disorientation

  • Has your parent begun to be disoriented in new or unfamiliar environments  (such as a hospital or airport), asking where she is, how she got there, or how  to get back to a place she recognizes?
  • Has she become disoriented in an environment she knows well?
  • Does she wander off and get lost in public (or get lost when driving or  after parking)?
  • Does she lose track of the time, day, month, or year? For example, after  being reminded about a future doctor’s appointment over the phone, she may start  getting ready for the appointment right away. Or she may have trouble keeping  appointments and remembering other events or commitments.

These examples of disorientation are all typical Alzheimer’s symptoms, more  so in later stages of the disease but sometimes early on as well.

7. Misplacing items

  • Does your parent “lose” items often?
  • Do they turn up in unusual places (such as finding a wallet in the  freezer)?

Losing track of glasses, keys, and papers happens to most adults sometimes,  whether due to age or just a busy lifestyle. However, it may be a symptom of  Alzheimer’s if this behavior escalates and if items are sometimes stored in  inappropriate or unusual places, and your parent doesn’t remember having put  them there.

8. Poor or impaired judgment Has your parent recently  made questionable decisions about money management? Has she made odd choices  regarding self-care (such as dressing inappropriately for the weather or  neglecting to bathe)? Is it hard for her to plan ahead (such as figuring out  what groceries are needed or where to spend a holiday)?

Difficulty with decision-making can be related to other possible symptoms of  Alzheimer’s, such as lapses in memory, personality changes, and trouble with  abstract thinking. Inappropriate choices are an especially worrisome sign, as  your parent may make unsound decisions about her safety, health, or  finances.

Many of these Alzheimer’s symptoms go unnoticed for a long time. That’s  because they’re often subtle or well concealed by your parent (or the other  parent), who may be understandably freaked out by the changes she’s noticing in  her own behavior. Some patterns of behavior take time to make themselves  obvious.

If you suspect Alzheimer’s, keep track of what you’re noticing. Ask others  who know your parent what they think. Encourage your parent to see her  doctor.