November is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month. While many people use the terms Alzheimer’s and dementia interchangeably, they are not the same. Dementia is the umbrella term that describes a wide range of memory loss illnesses. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, with more than six million Americans living with the disease. The three stages of Alzheimer’s are early (mild), middle (moderate), and late (severe). Other commonly known forms of dementia include Lewy Body and vascular dementia. But what aging experts most want people to know is that dementia is not a normal part of aging.
When it comes to Alzheimer’s Disease, there are some common misconceptions, such as Alzheimer’s only impacts older people, or that those afflicted must stop driving immediately following diagnosis, or that there is no way to lessen one’s chance of contracting the disease or reduce symptoms once diagnosed.
Another myth about this devastating disease is that it only impacts older adults. In fact, early-onset Alzheimer’s occurs in those under the age of 65. While scary, if caught early, those diagnosed can have more say in their care, time to discuss potential life changes, and a higher chance of being able to take advantage of the medications available. Experts tell us that this is why early detection is promoted and suggested.
Facts About Alzheimer’s
When you or a loved one is struggling with memory problems, it can cause a lot of concern and confusion. There are conversations that you may be afraid to have, denial, and a struggle to make it to the doctor. However, there are many benefits to getting checked out and having these hard conversations, including early detection of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, more time to plan, or ruling out dementia as the cause of memory issues.
There are normal signs of aging, such as forgetting things occasionally, forgetting a name or appointment but remembering it later, or occasionally needing help with a microwave or remote. Cause for concern arises when symptoms become more severe. For example:
- Difficulty finding words
- Trouble completing complex mental tasks, for example tasks with multiple steps, balancing a checkbook, paying bills.
- Confusion about time, place, or people
- Misplacing familiar objects
- Personality changes, such as irritability or depression
- Loss of interest in important responsibilities
- Expressing false beliefs
- Changes in judgment/trouble making decisions.
Even if someone is just exhibiting one or two of these symptoms, the best way to address it is to consult a doctor. A doctor can provide a comprehensive medical exam to help identify the cause of memory changes or point you in the right direction for more testing. Vitamin deficiency, thyroid issues, medication side effects, and other things can also cause memory problems. So, speaking with a doctor can rule out other potential causes.
Early Detection, Medication, and Screenings
Speaking with a healthcare provider is also beneficial because of the wonders early detection can do for everyone involved. Early detection of memory problems can afford a person an opportunity to participate in vital care planning discussions, including legal, health, and financial decisions. It can also afford a person the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial or take advantage of mediation that can help slow the progression of symptoms and maintain a positive quality of life. Early detection allows the family to prepare, too.
Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. There are, however, several medications, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that can help slow the progression. Things you can do right now for healthy aging include eating well, not smoking and limiting alcohol, staying active, getting enough sleep, and minding your medicine. Heart health impacts brain health, so keep your heart healthy.
The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America provides free virtual memory screening that you can take advantage of should you or a loved one be experiencing memory problems. Overall, although Alzheimer’s can be scary, using these tools can help you navigate a diagnosis and the disease as a whole, with more say in the care you receive as things progress.