Recognizing the Early Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s in a Loved One

Wondering if a senior family member is developing Alzheimer’s? Here are a few of the early warning signs of the disease.

grandpa with delicious turkey for thanksgiving dinner with happy family

In the course of our busy lives, we all misplace belongings or have trouble remembering a new acquaintance’s name. It’s easy to blame it on the hectic pace many of us keep. When memory loss begins to impact daily life, however, it shouldn’t be written off as a normal part of growing older.

In fact, memory loss that impairs a person’s ability to carry on a regular routine may be a sign of something more serious. It could be due to an infection somewhere in the body, a thyroid deficiency, or even Alzheimer’s disease. Some of the conditions that are linked to memory loss can be reversed with proper treatment. For others, like Alzheimer’s, early intervention may allow the symptoms to be better managed.

How Common Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, accounting for as many as 80% of all cases. According to a 2019 report by the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.8 million people in this country have Alzheimer’s. As baby boomers continue to reach retirement age, researchers believe the number of people diagnosed with the disease will soar.

While the symptoms associated with mid- and late-stage Alzheimer’s are clearly noticeable, the earliest signs aren’t as easy to recognize. If you are concerned a senior loved one might be developing Alzheimer’s, learning more about the common warning signs may be helpful.

Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Memory problems: This is the symptom people are most familiar with. A senior in the early stages of Alzheimer’s will likely have trouble recalling recently learned information. Two examples are a new grandchild’s name or a doctor’s appointment. You may find yourself answering the same questions over and over. This is because Alzheimer’s impacts short-term memory early in the disease process.
  • Change in disposition: If an older loved one who has always been friendly is becoming surly or suspicious, it’s something worth discussing with their doctor. While they may just be going through a difficult time, a change in disposition can also be an early sign of Alzheimer’s.
  • Making mistakes with finances: A red flag people often miss is when an older adult starts making mistakes managing their money. They might neglect to pay some bills while paying others several times. Other times, a senior in the early stages of Alzheimer’s might make unwise financial decisions, like buying a car they can’t afford. Falling victim to scams is another warning sign.
  • Difficulty with communication: An older adult in the early stages of Alzheimer’s may develop problems with written and verbal communication. Common examples are forgetting words or names, calling objects by the wrong title, or struggling to compose a letter or email.
  • Withdrawing from favorite activities: When a senior first begins to recognize something is wrong, they may not want to admit it or ask for help. It can lead them to drop out of favorite organizations and even skip attending religious services. They may be embarrassed because they have difficulty holding up their end of a conversation or remembering people’s names.
  • Becoming lost in familiar places: When a senior has Alzheimer’s disease, they may have trouble finding their way around, even in places they know well. When an older adult is confused or unable to find their way to or from a familiar destination, like the post office or an adult child’s home, it’s time to schedule an appointment with their primary care doctor.
  • Storing belongings in strange places: Have you found an older family member’s personal belongings in strange places? Placing things in odd locations can be a red flag for Alzheimer’s. A senior in the early stages of the disease may struggle to keep track of their glasses, car keys, and wallet or purse. Because their short-term memory might be impaired, they are often unable to retrace where they were during the day and thus have trouble finding misplaced items.

Confronting the reality that a family member may have Alzheimer’s disease is daunting. It’s one reason adult children sometimes delay talking with a parent. While it’s possible the senior has the disease, there are other conditions that mimic Alzheimer’s. Their physician will assess for those conditions before arriving at a diagnosis.

Finally, if Alzheimer’s is the diagnosis, early intervention may help slow the progression of the disease and give your family an opportunity to better plan for future care needs. A memory care community, like the one on The Wesley Community’s campus, allows an adult with dementia to live their best quality of life despite the disease. To learn more, call us at (518) 587-3600.