How to spot the earliest signs of Alzheimer's in a loved one

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For some people who develop Alzheimer’s, the first signs of the disease don’t include memory loss. 

The earliest symptoms can appear as issues that are easily mistaken for a different ailment. Sometimes they are simply shrugged off as normal, age-related changes.

But it’s during those early stages of Alzheimer’s that treatment is likely to do the most good. That’s why it’s important to learn to recognize the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Earliest Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

Family members and friends can help senior loved ones by becoming familiar with early symptoms. Merely keeping an eye out for forgetfulness just isn’t enough to detect important – but subtle – changes including:

1. Poor Judgment

If your loved one seems to be exhibiting poor judgment and it’s uncharacteristic of them, that behavior can be a warning sign. For example, you may find them believing everything telemarketers say. Or they might be making purchases from a telemarketing phone call without stopping to think about what they are doing.

2. Weakened Ability to Solve Simple Problems

Anyone can make a mistake when balancing a checkbook. But when it becomes an ongoing issue, it may be a potential warning sign. Abstract thought process can be damaged early during the development of Alzheimer’s.

3. Withdrawal from Social Circles

When a senior loved one no longer seems to enjoy socializing, look deeper. It could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have forgotten how to participate in their favorite hobby, turning time spent with long cherished friends into a confusing, embarrassing ordeal.

 4. Confusion Over Visual Images and Spatial Relationships

Difficulty reading, judging distance, or passing by a mirror and thinking it’s someone else may all be early warning signs, too. Note that vision changes due to the normal aging process are different than problems with visual and spatial relationships.

5. Growing Problems Finding the Right Words

Does your senior loved one frequently stop mid-sentence because they have lost their train of thought? Everyone has an occasional problem finding words but when it’s persistent, it could be an early symptom. Remember, we’re looking for patterns, not just one time occurrences.

6. Trouble Keeping Track of Dates or Seasons

Getting confused about the day of the week happens to us all, especially if it’s after a holiday. But if it’s a consistent problem for your senior loved one, it could be a concern.

7. Personality Changes

Preferring routine is a normal, age-related change. But when a senior is easily upset by small changes to their daily routine or when activities that take them out of their comfort zone cause agitation, it can signs of a problem.

8. Memory Problems

The symptom most commonly associated with memory loss is forgetting things that were just learned, heard or experienced. This involves the short-term memory and it is typically impaired fairly early in the disease process.

9. Misplacing Belongings and No Ability to Retrace Steps to Find It

Anyone can misplace something. Many of us do so on occasion. But it can be a warning sign when your loved one can’t retrace his or her steps to find it. This is memory loss that disrupts daily life, partly because it occurs over and over again.

10. Trouble With Routine Tasks

When someone is losing track of what used to be familiar, that could be another indicator. Forgetting how to check their email or what steps to take to turn on a microwave are two common examples.

Learn More by Listening

If you have a loved one you feel may be exhibiting early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important to consult a doctor. Early intervention may lead to treatments that help you better manage symptoms.

As a caregiver, you can learn more by listening to Episode 5 in the Sunrise Senior Living series of health podcasts. It’s full of useful information about the early signs of Alzheimer’s as explained by Rita Altman, Senior Vice President of Memory Care & Program Services.