We all worry about our memory from time to time, but there is a common tendency not to talk about it out of concern for what it might mean.  Individuals often find it difficult to reveal they are experiencing problems, whether with family members, their friends, or even their physicians.  The prospect of Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia can be frightening.

I’m here to tell you that despite public perception, there are definite benefits to identifying Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages!  Studies have consistently shown that early diagnosis along with active medical management of Alzheimer’s disease can significantly improve quality of life through all stages of the disease for diagnosed individuals and their caregivers.  Early diagnosis also gives individuals a chance to participate in research opportunities and plan for the future.

The Alzheimer’s Association actively encourages individuals who think they may have early symptoms to ask their primary care physician for an assessment.  For those who are unsure whether they should be concerned about their memory problems, I would like to share the 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease:

  1. Memory changes that disrupt daily life.  One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s, especially in the early stages, is forgetting recently learned information.
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems.  Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills.
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.  Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game.
  4. Confusion with time or place.  People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.  Examples include difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast. They may not realize they are the person in the mirror.
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing.  People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a “watch” a “hand-clock”).
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.  A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing.
  8. Decreased or poor judgment.  People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities.  A person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced.
  10. Changes in mood and personality.  The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone.

If you or someone you know is experiencing one or more of the signs, please see a doctor.  You can also learn more at www.alz.org/signs or by calling 1-800-272-3900.

Alzheimer’s disease knows no social, economic, cultural or racial divides. Over 5 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease.  10 million U.S. baby boomers will develop Alzheimer’s disease.  Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive terminal illness with no cure at this time.

But there is a reason to hope.  With current research and an increased awareness of what is now known as the ‘Silent Epidemic’, more organizations and individuals are on the move to end Alzheimer’s.  Meanwhile, I encourage families and their caregivers touched by a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia, to reach out and learn about resources to support them as they go forward.

Dori Burgess is the Spartanburg Area Program Director with the Alzheimer’s Association.  The Spartanburg Area Office is located at 901 South Pine Street.  Readers may contact the association for additional information about local support services available to families, the hope offered through advances in medical research and potential risk reduction through a brain-healthy lifestyle: call 1-800-272-3900 or visit www.alz.org/sc.