September is World Alzheimer’s Month, a great opportunity to raise awareness and knowledge about a disease which affects so many people. Learning to recognise some common early Alzheimer’s symptoms can help with its management and potentially slow its progress. It can also provide the person with essential support and care as soon as possible.
Alzheimer's is one of the most common forms of dementia, a syndrome which affects 1 in 6 people over the age of eighty. In fact, Alzheimer’s Disease International states that 44 million people across the globe are thought to have Alzheimer’s or a related form of dementia. Despite these startlingly high figures, they claim that only 1 in 4 have been diagnosed. By recognising and acting on the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s, we can help to get the person treatment and care, slowing the disease and reducing the confusion and anxiety it can cause.
What are the First Symptoms of Alzheimer’s?
Each individual is different and this can affect the symptoms they show in the earlier stages. However, there are some common identifiable signs which can suggest the onset of Alzheimer’s or a different type of dementia.
Loss of memory
Forgetfulness is something which everyone can experience, and with age it is normal for this to deteriorate slightly. However, significant lapses in memory that become more frequent over time can indicate what the person is in the early stages of dementia. This is one of the most common, noticeable symptoms for diagnosis.
Signs of memory loss include:
- Separating fact from fiction
- Recognising people
- Remembering past events
- Struggling to retain new information
Research from Alzheimer’s Association has shown that the disease harms and kills cells in the brain, causing a loss of communication between the remaining cells and reducing the amount of essential chemicals which are transmitted. This changes the brain chemistry and affects the person’s ability to interact and behave.
Because of this, you might notice changes in the person’s attitude. They may become more anxious, restless or aggressive than they were in the past or show a lack of enthusiasm/motivation that isn’t normal for them. This can become more apparent as the condition develops. Frustration can also be a cause of these changes, as it becomes increasingly harder to pinpoint exactly what they want and communicate this with you.
It is important to note that some of these symptoms don’t necessarily mean the person is developing Alzheimer's or another form of dementia. For example, many of these symptoms are also associated with depression. In either case, seeing a doctor is essential so the person can receive the best help for their situation.
Disrupted sleep becomes more common as we age, however it is also associated with the onset and development of some types of dementia. It is a lesser known early Alzheimer’s symptom, however research has shown that trouble sleeping can get worse as the disease progresses. Activities such as establishing a daily routine can help to manage this as they encourage the person to use their energy throughout the day.
Scientists are hard at work trying to find ways to diagnose dementia before there are noticeable signs. Promising studies involve looking at subtle changes in walking styles or identifying associated protein levels through blood tests.
What to do if you think someone you know might have dementia?
If you or someone you know is showing these early symptoms of Alzheimer’s, we would recommend seeking help from doctors as soon as possible. Early diagnosis can help to manage the condition and even slow it down. There are different ways to alleviate the symptoms and slow progression, including drug therapies and changes in diets and exercise.
Great organisations such as Alzheimer’s Society can offer you the support and information on how best to manage dementia, and there are many products and aids which can help those with the condition. To learn more, visit their site for online guides and a national helpline.