Alzheimer’s disease and old-age dementia are two conditions that primarily affect elderly individuals. Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by impairment of memory and disturbances in reasoning. Those suffering from the disease mentally regress until they eventually exhibit similar behavior to that of an infant. Various scientists and doctors are of the opinion that Alzheimer’s disease may be caused by an increased production or excessive accumulation of beta-amyloid–a specific protein–which leads to the ongoing death of brain cells. The disease should never be considered a normal and unavoidable factor in the aging process, as are certain types of old age dementia.
Numerous individuals who live to be 90 or older do not develop Alzheimer’s. Instead, the disease should be regarded as an abnormal condition that requires treatment and early intervention in order to slow its progress. Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, recognizing its early signs and symptoms will ensure that the best treatment available can be pursued. Old-age dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are sometimes associated with similar symptoms. However, there are some distinct differences.
Loss of memory is one of the early signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. However, this symptom does not present itself the same way with both conditions. Difficulties with long-term memory may be a sign of old age dementia, but in early Alzheimer’s patients the pattern is different: dementia often starts with long-term memory problems, while the forgetfulness associated with Alzheimer’s disease usually begins with short term memory problems. For example, a person may forget something that happened only the day before, but still be able to remember an event from years ago.
This is because Alzheimer’s essentially deletes a person’s memory beginning with the most recent information stored and working back until the person may recall events from several decades ago, but be unable to remember what he or she did that very morning. This distinct pattern of forgetfulness is one of the hallmark symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and should not be confused with the symptoms of dementia, which follow a more random pattern.
Certain symptoms can be attributed to either disease, however. For example, family members should be concerned if an older relative suddenly forgets the name of a grandchild or other loved one, or made plans the day before to meet someone for a lunch date or similar activity and now has no recollection of the conversation. Those suffering from either disorder may exhibit signs of confusion as well, such as walking away after placing something on the stove or allowing a bathtub to overfill because they forgot the water was running.
Familiar Tasks Become Difficult to Complete
In the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, an individual may have trouble with how certain objects are used and the way specific tasks are executed. For example, a person may attempt to use a rake to remove snow from a vehicle or try to clean fine china with steel wool. This generalized confusion can also lead to a person becoming lost after taking a walk in his or her own neighborhood.
Language problems and trouble forming simple sentences is also sometimes an early sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia. In certain cases, the person will insert a random word into a sentence and use it in place of the correct word without realizing that this is what he or she has done.
Time and Season Disorientation
Among early Alzheimer’s disease symptoms is forgetting seasons, holidays and dates. In the beginning, birthdays, anniversaries and other dates that the person has always known by heart may completely bypass him or her unless someone else calls attention to the event. Later on, patients become confused about seasons and may forget from one day to the next whether it is cold or hot outside. For this reason, apparel often presents bewilderment to those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, and therefore the wearing of inappropriate clothing is always a cause for concern with an older individual.
Early Alzheimer’s or dementia patients may also place items in inappropriate locations, such as storing a watch in the medicine cabinet overnight or tucking car keys away in the refrigerator. Unfortunately, the next day the person typically does not know where to look for the lost items because he or she has no memory of where they were put the day before. This particular symptom can result in a host of problems when the person handles valuable objects. This is because the memory is not yet impaired to the point where the person does not recognize the object; however, he or she is not mentally cognizant enough to make sure the items are not placed in unsuitable locations.
Early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease may also include distinct behavioral or personality changes. For instance, a deeply religious or highly conservative individual may suddenly begin using coarse language or swearing. This is a change in behavior that should never be ignored, as it is typically always a sign that something is terribly wrong. Additional personality changes that should not be ignored include constant crying, anger and suspicion for no obvious reason, or combative behavior. Anyone who notices the aforementioned signs and symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease or dementia in a friend or loved one should contact a medical professional to schedule an evaluation.