Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive illness in which brain cells waste away (degenerate) and die. Alzheimer's is the most common basis of dementia — a gradual yet continuous decline in cognitive, behavioral, and social skills that significantly affects an individual’s quality of life and ability to function independently.
Alzheimer’s disease can be identified in its early stages, and this is especially important since the best treatments and medication are available in the early stages. Early diagnosis also allows the individual and family members to plan for their loved one’s future.
Here are some ways caregivers can keep a lookout for the tell-tale signs of a loved one that is developing Alzheimer's.
Early Warning Signs
Identifying the early signs and symptoms is the first step towards a proper diagnosis. These include:
- Progressive loss of memory, especially short-term memory
- Reduced cognitive abilities, such as reasoning, problem-solving, making sound judgments, etc
- Loss of sense of time and orientation
- Altered mood and personality, such as irritability, depression, and hostility
- Loss of interest in daily activities
- Aphasia (difficulty in using and understanding language)
- Agnosia (decline inability to process sensory information and perception)
- Apraxia (inability to do basic motor tasks, such as walking, eating, and dressing)
- Catastrophic reactions (strong emotional responses to minor difficulties) that usually increase in the later afternoon or evening.
- Psychosis – both auditory and visual delusions and hallucinations
If you sense any of these symptoms in a loved one, it's essential to take timely action and get a proper diagnosis.
Here are some points to guide you about what to do and what to expect.
What to Expect When Visiting a Physician
Complete Medical History
To make a definitive and sound diagnosis, the physician will ask for the following:
- Details about changes in cognitive abilities, mood, and personality, behavior, when these changes started, and how they are influencing the quality of life
- Details about physical symptoms, such as vision and coordination problems
- Details of any recent illnesses, such as heart or liver disease, kidney disease, thyroid problems, etc.
- List of medications the loved one is currently taking.
- Medical history of the family and relatives with similar illnesses
- Checking for abnormalities in the lungs and other organs
- Testing vision and hearing
- Checking muscle strength, reflexes, sense, and coordination. This will help rule out similar diseases such as Parkinson's.
- Testing mental status by giving exercises involving counting, writing, reading, memorizing words, etc.
- These scans will also show the loss of brain mass linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
- An electroencephalogram (EEG) might also be ordered to detect abnormal brain-wave activity.
- This procedure helps identify specific biochemical markers for Alzheimer's. Such as amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, and neurodegeneration.
- This can include interviews and paper-pencil exercises administered by psychologists or neuropsychologists.
- These tests help assess memory, writing, reasoning skills, vision-motor coordination, and comprehension.
- Psychologists can also assess mood disorders and depression.
- Genetic testing will only be performed in cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s in the family.
- Testing for the ApoE gene can enhance diagnostic confidence, but it isn’t recommended during the screening phase.
Coping with cognitive decline can be extremely hard for a loved one, so why not make things easier for them from the start and buy the Best Day Clock from American Lifetime. It comes with a user-friendly interface, alarms, easy to read large display, options for text-to-speech, and tells the user whether it is Morning or Evening.
The Best Day Clock will not only grant some independence to loved ones diagnosed with cognitive impairment. Still, it will also make things easier for caregivers – it’s the ultimate gift for your loved ones during this stressful time.