Some people have “a mind like a steel trap.” They can repeat verbatim a conversation that took place years ago (then again, if no one else can recall what was said, who can verify its accuracy?). They never forget a name or an important date. They correct your memories of events you both attended.
These people can be annoying. Especially if they’re relatives.
Kidding aside, memory is capricious, which makes it all the more difficult to definitively identify symptoms of Alzheimer’s or another form of memory loss.
One man states, “I owned two businesses, one with six locations and up to 250 employees. I forgot the same stuff when I was 25 that I forget now, 40 years later. I never remembered a client’s name, other than the ones I liked. Was bad with directions, would get lost even when I had been there before. And many other things that are signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Yet none of these things ever stopped me from being successful. We remember things that catch our interest or that are important to our livelihood. I block out 90 percent of the ‘noise’ that goes on around me.”
Symptoms or States of Being?
This man makes a valid point: in the digital age, especially, there is so much extraneous “noise” that without a filter, we’d all be overwhelmed and unable to process anything.
How, then, do we know what behaviors constitute Alzheimer’s warning signs?
- Impact on daily life. In the above account, not recalling clients’ names or directions didn’t affect the gentleman’s success in business or in life. On the other hand, if you can’t remember attending your grandson’s birthday party last weekend, or keep putting you car keys in the microwave, these are red flags that something is amiss.
- Changes to vision or language. The earliest signs of Alzheimer’s may be so vague they go unnoticed, except by the person experiencing them. If a senior is beginning to perceive spatial changes in their visual field, they might need a different eyewear prescription. But if their eye doctor says everything checks out, the problem could originate in their brain.
Similarly, if someone is starting to struggle with finding the right words or phrases to express themselves — or repeating the same story several times in the same conversation — this could signal the beginning of brain deterioration.
- Difficulty completing everyday tasks. Mom never had any trouble buying the week’s groceries. Lately, though, she isn’t making a grocery list as she’s done for decades, and she’s bringing home an odd assortment of products, not what she typically buys. This may be an early sign of brain changes.
- Getting lost on familiar ground. Dad loves to walk. Even in the rain, he takes what he refers to as his “daily constitutional.” Exercise is essential for a senior’s physical and mental health, except… he seems to be somewhat confused about where he lives. A neighbor saw him looking up at houses on the street, and asked if he needed help. Wandering or getting easily lost are early cues to memory impairment.
- Withdrawal from social engagement. Social isolation is a major cause for concern among older adults, and can lead to depression and cognitive decline.People with hearing loss or other types of impairments that make social interaction more difficult may choose not to engage because it’s just too hard to communicate.
But the early stages of Alzheimer’s can also cause someone to withdraw from social engagement. When brain degeneration makes it hard to remember names, or follow the thread of a conversation, many people find it simpler and safer to avoid interaction.
- Personality changes. Sometimes seniors can seem recalcitrant, though this lack of cooperation may be due to fear, sadness — or pain. A change in medication can also affect mood and personality. However, if a normally calm and sweet-tempered elder becomes aggressive, suspicious of others, starts hallucinating, or hitting out, it’s possible they have early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
Steps to Take Next
If you suspect your loved one may be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, the first step is a comprehensive physical and mental health exam. Ask your loved one’s primary care doctor for a referral to a specialist. Brain health professionals who can test for memory loss include:
- Geriatricians. Primary care physicians with additional training in geriatrics: medical care for diseases and conditions common among older adults.
- Neurologists. Trained in nervous system disorders, including issues with the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves. Neurologists typically receive formal training in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
- Neuropsychologists. Psychologists who administer various tests to assess cognitive abilities, including memory, attention, language, reading, and problem-solving skills. Most practicing clinical neuropsychologists have a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in clinical psychology and additional training in neuropsychology. They typically work closely with other specialists and primary care physicians during the diagnostic process.
Customized Memory Care at Kensington Park
Here at Kensington Park, we provide exceptional Alzheimer’s care in a loving community that honors the essence of who your loved one is and has been, yesterday, today and tomorrow. We create individualized service plans that are specially tailored to each resident based upon their personal desires and needs — not only physical, but also cognitive, and spiritual, as we believe each to be of equal importance.
Our comprehensive program includes:
- Healthy, nutritious meals, lovingly prepared by our Director of Dining, Morissa Harris, using fresh herbs and produce from our own garden, which our Kensington Park residents maintain.
- Exercise. We know that pairing movement with music radically improves cognitive flexibility. In a groundbreaking documentary, elders with memory loss who had been unresponsive came alive when they heard the music of their youth through headphones.
- Engagement and enjoyment. Activities and friendships have been shown to reduce stress, preserve wellness, keep the mind sharp, and increase feelings of self-worth, especially for seniors.
- A good night’s sleep. Sleep activates the glymphatic system, which cleans our brains of the proteins that cause Alzheimer’s disease.
We look forward to welcoming your loved one home to Kensington Park!