It’s no secret that you’re getting older. Now that the years are adding up on you, you might be making jokes about telltale aging signs, like forgetting things or needing more sleep. To an extent, these small signs are just a normal part of the process. However, if you’re noticing a lot of uncharacteristic memory problems or confusion, it might be time to take a step back. You could have Alzheimer’s disease, and here’s how to tell.
The Big Picture
Alzheimer’s is a progressive, severe form of dementia that takes its toll on the sufferer’s everyday life. It usually starts with mild memory problems and hampered judgment, maybe forgetting one or two familiar names or misplacing things more regularly.
After a while, however, family members and loved ones start to notice that the uncharacteristic memory lapses aren’t just forgetfulness. They realize it could be something more serious, and that’s when they start looking into Alzheimer’s.
Depending on how close the loved ones are to the aging person, though, the disease could have already progressed into the later stages. Many times, if people with Alzheimer’s are just honest with themselves about their confusion and abilities, they can recognize the disease at an earlier stage and combat it to stay more independent for longer.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease. As of right now, it’s also the 6th leading cause of death in the US.
While no one hopes that this disease will come their way, it’s not an unlikely event as you age. You should know your risk and learn to recognize the signs.
How to Tell if You Have Alzheimer’s
To pinpoint if you’re developing Alzheimer’s, you should understand the stages that patients typically go through.
Stage 1: Normal, asymptomatic behavior
You might be wondering why experts would include this stage, but it’s important. At this point, the brain will have started losing vital neurons, causing deterioration. Because this process has just begun, however, you won’t notice any outward symptoms.
Stage 2: Mild Impairment
In this stage, you or your loved ones may not notice a significant difference. If you do, you might pass it off as normal aging. You might forget a word during conversation or lose something around the house.
Stage 3: Mild dementia
At this point, people are starting to notice the changes. You might have difficulty in conversation, remembering words, losing valuable items or planning and organizing your activities. You may even ask questions repetitively or forget names of new acquaintances easily.
Stage 4: Moderate decline
The signs are now getting more obvious. You might have trouble distinguishing colors, remembering life details or managing your finances. If you’re noticing any of these symptoms, you should not be driving or making financial transactions alone.
Stage 5: Moderate to severe dementia
Here, you may have trouble remembering your address, and simple tasks like ordering food at a restaurant might seem confusing. You may not know how to dress appropriately for the weather, and you’ll need a good amount of help and reassurance.
Stages 6-7: Severe decline
In these stages, you will have considerable confusion about your surroundings. You’ll also need someone to help you when going out as well as with small tasks like bathing and dressing. If you’ve caught the dementia ahead of time, you can prepare for these events by setting up a caretaker and planning out the details.
These are the basic characteristics of Alzheimer’s, although some experts prefer to broaden them into just 3 stages. While you may have some uncertainty and fear about what these stages mean, you can plan ahead of time and work to slow the disease’s progress.
5 Questions to Ask Yourself
If you’re still wondering whether you could have Alzheimer’s, ask these 5 questions about yourself:
1. How often are you forgetting?
As you’re aging, you will forget a date or misplace an item from time to time. If your forgetfulness is starting to be commonplace and raising eyebrows from your loved ones, there might be a deeper problem.
As a follow-up question, how uncharacteristic is this forgetfulness? If you’re usually organized and sharp but are now struggling, look into it.
2. Are you confused?
Do you feel disoriented or disheveled by your surroundings? What about your concentration at work, while reading, or while holding a deep conversation? If it’s Alzheimer’s, you’ll feel confused in these activities and might also struggle with thoughts about the future.
3. How’s your mood?
While you’re normally a happy, laid-back person, maybe you have struggled more with stress or anger lately. You should question yourself if people are noticing big changes in your personality, such as fear, anxiety, anger or depression.
4. How are you doing socially?
If you’re struggling to hold conversations, remembering names and words, these could be early signs. Because words and conversation are challenging, you might also withdraw and avoid talking at social events altogether.
5. Have you made poor decisions lately?
You might have spent more money than you should have, decided not to bathe or placed items in unusual spots. If these and any of the above symptoms keep occurring, then you should check in with your doctor as a precaution.
Aging can be a happy period of life with fun memories and sweet family time. However, as common as Alzheimer’s is in older people, you should look out for the disease’s early signs.
Then, if you are diagnosed early, you can plan ahead for your loved ones and take the vital steps necessary to slow Alzheimer’s down. Chances are that your concern is just a precaution, and you can enjoy all the happiness that becoming older and wiser has to give.
This article first appeared on AskDrManny.com.