Knowing the signs of Alzheimer's disease can help a loved one get help.
We have all occasionally experienced the frustration of misplacing our car keys, forgetting someone's name or losing track of what we wanted to say. Some small memory lapses are a normal part of the aging process and are not cause for alarm.
But when someone forgets the names of family members or what the car keys are for, it may be a sign of an underlying problem: Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's is a progressive disease that attacks the brain and affects memory, thinking and behavior. More than 6 million Americans have the disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
Recognizing the symptoms
The main sign of the disease is dementia (loss of memory and intellectual function) so severe that it interferes with work and social activities. Problems usually occur in adults middle-aged and older.
According to the association, other signs of the disease include:
Difficulty performing familiar tasks.
Problems with language.
Disorientation in time and place.
Trouble planning or solving problems.
Poor or decreased judgment.
Changes in personality, mood or behavior.
Withdrawal from work or social activities.
Diagnosing the disease
There's a definite challenge in diagnosing Alzheimer's. First, there is no single screening test. And the disease can only be diagnosed definitively after death, by an examination of brain tissue.
Further, other disorders—such as depression, brain tumors, Parkinson's disease, stroke and thyroid disease—have dementia symptoms similar to Alzheimer's. In fact, doctors make a probable diagnosis of the disease by eliminating other possible causes for the symptoms.
A person experiencing dementia needs a complete medical and neurological exam, according to the association. The disease affects people in many different ways, making it difficult to predict how it will progress in any one individual.
Reaching out for help
While there is still no cure for Alzheimer's, many of the conditions that cause dementia are treatable. If your loved one shows signs that could indicate Alzheimer's, the association suggests that you schedule an evaluation with your doctor.
If your loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer's, remember that support and help are available. The Alzheimer's Association has local chapters nationwide, which provide services and programs to families affected by the disease. For information, call 800.272.3900.