ALL ABOUT ALZHEIMER'S: Warning Signs     
By Betty Weiss

There is no clear-cut line between normal aging changes and warning signs of Alzheimer's.  Too often the early signs of Alzheimer's are not easily recognized or taken seriously, even by doctors.  It's expected that some people get a little pixilated as they age--it's no big deal.  But sometimes it is a big deal, a very big deal, and the family that takes a loved one, old or not so old, to a physician at the first vague signs is well advised.

Common symptoms for Alzheimer's could also be symptoms for so many other things.  Sometimes a diagnosis of Alzheimer's is made, and then changed a year or two later to something else, it can be that elusive.  It is important to be aware of these typical warning signs.   

1. Memory loss:  On occasion, almost everyone will forget an appointment, names and phone numbers, but will eventually remember later; the Alzheimer's patient will forget more and more often and not remember things later.  He will not even remember that he forgot. 

2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks: Things always done automatically become impossible.  Making a sandwich is too confusing; how many slices of bread, do you use a knife or a spoon, does the lettuce go on top, how do you get the meat inside?  People with Alzheimer's will be unable to operate household appliances safely, make a phone call or play a favorite game.

3. Problems with language:  From time to time, we all forget words but they eventually come back; Alzheimer's patients not only forget words for simple objects, they often substitute another word that is close but incorrect.  A 'car' can become a 'bus' -- a 'fork' will be called a 'dish'  a 'toothbrush' will be 'that thing for my mouth'.

4. Disorientation to time and place:  It's normal to forget the day of the week, even forget where you're driving, but those with Alzheimer's can get lost on their own street, even in their own house when they can't find the bathroom.  They don't know how they got some place and have no idea how to get back home.

5. Poor or decreased judgment: No one always has perfect judgement, but Alzheimer's patients dress without regard to the weather, wear two or three shirts, set out for work with pants over their pajamas, wear underwear on top of street clothes.  They easily lose money or give away large amounts to someone on television, a telemarketer, or paying bills they don't owe.  

6. Problems with abstract thinking:  Numbers become very confusing; they cannot remember the value of what a number represents.  Alzheimer's patients won't be able to make change, figure out a receipt, how to leave a tip or balance a checkbook.  

7. Misplacing things:  We all lose things but usually find most of them.  However, it is especially difficult with Alzheimer's patients who often 'hide' things that you may never find and then accuse others of stealing their things.  They put a shoe in the microwave, the scissors in the refrigerator.   

8. Changes in mood or behavior:  Everyone has occasion to feel sad or moody, but those with Alzheimer's can swing rapidly from happiness to tears, or calm to anger--and often for no apparent reason.

9. Changes in personality:  Sometimes, as people age, they may get a little sweeter or nastier, but Alzheimer's people often get confused, suspicious and fearful.  The most independent can turn very dependent and attach themselves to one particular person, usually the one closest in their life, a spouse or an adult child.
10. Loss of initiative:  On occasion everyone gets bored and tired of the same routine, housekeeping, work, social events, same people, same things, same activity, same conversations, but with Alzheimer's the patient may become very passive, seemingly unable or unwilling to do any normal activities, just sitting in front of the television, not really watching or involved in what's showing or sleeping the time away.

Many healthy people are unable to remember certain things as they age, but Alzheimer's symptom's are much more severe than simple memory lapses.  Alzheimer's is progressive, the symptoms worsen over time.  How fast the disease progresses and the pattern of symptoms that occur, varies by the individual.
Betty Weiss is the author of the best selling Alzheimer's Surgery: An Intimate Portrait, and When The Doctor Says, "Alzheimer's:" Your Caregiver's Guide to Alzheimer's & Dementia. She does not give medical advice.                           
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