As we get older, we all have an occasional senior moment. You can’t find your car keys. You leave your shopping list on the kitchen counter. You can’t recall a name. It’s frustrating but it’s completely normal – especially when you consider the brain has over one hundred billion cells, fifteen thousand connections, and forty-five chemical messengers. You can expect an occasional disconnect from time to time.
Though most times these memory blanks are more aggravating than anything, sometimes they signify something more.Significant memory loss and cognitive function are not a natural part of aging.
When people notice marked forgetfulness in their loved ones, the fear of Alzheimer’s begins to rear its ugly head. However, there are other diseases that mimic early Alzheimer’s disease such as central nervous system disorders, metabolic conditions, substance abuse, psychological factors, and brain infections. That’s why it’s crucial to seek expert advice if you or someone you love is showing signs of significant cognitive decline. Only a trained medical professional can determine the onset of Alzheimer’s.The Alzheimer’s Association lists ten warning signs of Alzheimer’s
- Changes in memory that disrupt daily life.
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks.
- Problems with speaking and writing words.
- Confusion with time or place.
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
- Decreased or poor judgment.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities.
- Changes in mood and personality.
- Problems with abstract thinking.
Though there is no single test for Alzheimer’s, exhibiting the above symptoms will alert a skilled physician to the need of further testing. The Stages of Alzheimer’s DiseaseStage 1:
No impairment. Normal memory and cognitive function.Stage 2:
Minimal impairment. Any memory lapse or change in behavior or thinking is hardly noticeable. Stage 3:
Early confusion or mild cognitive impairment. There may be subtle problems that affect the ability to function. Often the patient tries to hide difficulties such as word retrieval and misplacing objects. Learning new concepts or tasks becomes difficult. Depression may set in.
Late confusion or mild Alzheimer’s. A decline in mathematical abilities makes taking care of finances problematic. Recent events and conversations are easily forgotten. Though the patient still knows family members and self, home management tasks or shopping, ordering food are affected. At this stage denial sets in and the patient becomes defensive and withdraws from social interaction. Living independently becomes a challenge. At this stage an accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is possible.Stage 5:
Early dementia and moderate Alzheimer’s. Cognitive decline is more severe and the patient requires assistance. Independent living can’t be managed and the patient can’t recall personal history or phone number and address. Frequent disorientation and a decline in judgment skills is present. Dressing and feeding has to be supervised. Stage 6:
Middle dementia or moderately severe Alzheimer’s. A total lack of awareness of the present is typical. Has difficulty recalling the past with accuracy. Can’t dress or bathe independently. Incontinence occurs and dramatic personality changes set in. Though family members look familiar to them, the patient can’t recall who they are. May become agitated frequently and experience hallucinations.Stage 7:
Severe dementia and failure to thrive. Intellectual ability is severely limited and communication is restricted to short words, mumbles, and cries. Can’t get around without help. Body systems begin to shut down, swallowing is difficult, and the brain can’t interpret sensory input. The patient requires total support 24 hours a day.
Though these stages are useful in understanding the progression of Alzheimer’s, each individual is different. Not all patients experience all the symptoms and the time in each stage may vary from person to person. It may take 8 to 10 years to progress through each stage and in rare cases, a person may live up to 20 years from the time changes in the brain first occur.