Forgetfulness or Alzheimer’s disease?

Forgetfulness is common as we grow older. But not all memory problems are part of normal aging. They could be signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

For 61-year-old Jim Mann, clues that something wasn’t right came long before his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease three years ago. They started with things like driving the car, only to realize he had no idea where he was headed, or getting confused in what would normally have been familiar situations.

“It was important to recognize that my memory lapses were not fleeting. They were not as simple as misplacing my keys, or forgetting someone’s name. My experiences were affecting my daily living and were increasing in number and significance,” says Mann.

Ten Warning Signs

It’s important to know the early warning signs and to keep a record of when they happen. Symptoms include:

1. Memory loss that affects day-to-day function – Forgetting recently learned information, not remembering key dates and events, looking for the same information repeatedly.

2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks – Having trouble with lifelong tasks, such as preparing a meal.

3. Problems with language – Forgetting simple words or substituting words, making sentences difficult to understand.

4. Disorientation in time and space – Becoming lost on your own street, not knowing how you got there or how to get home.

5. Poor or decreased judgment – Difficulties making decisions, like wearing heavy clothing on a hot day.

6. Problems with abstract thinking – Difficulties with cognitive tasks, like recognizing what the numbers in a cheque book mean.

7. Misplacing things in unusual places – Putting things in inappropriate places, like an iron in the freezer.

8. Changes in mood and behaviour – Exhibiting varied mood swings – from calm to tears – for no apparent reason.

9. Changes in personality – Acting out of character, becoming confused, withdrawn, suspicious, fearful, depressed, anxious.

10. Loss of initiative – Becoming passive and requiring cues.

Seeing a doctor

It is important to keep a written record of your symptoms, and be open about them with your doctor. When you consult your doctor, bring someone along to help remind you of symptoms you’ve been experiencing and to take notes for you.

Your family doctor can also help rule out other treatable conditions that are sometimes confused with dementia such as depression, heart and thyroid disease.

Benefits of early diagnosis

Detecting and treating the disease in the early stages will allow you and your family to understand the source of the symptoms and to adapt to the changes caused by dementia.

It also helps to:

· actively plan for the future, including legal and financial matters as well as care options;

· access medications and treatment that can delay the progression of the disease and help maintain quality of life;

· find support available in the community.

“It boils down to taking responsibility for your own care. The earlier you admit to having mental confusion, the better off you’ll be. There is no cure for dementia, but the medication today helps keep you functioning at a reasonable level. That’s a lot better than going undiagnosed for a long period of time and missing out on some of these opportunities,” adds Mann.

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Getting support

Alzheimer’s disease impacts not one person, but entire families. The Alzheimer Society is here to help.

We are the leading not-for-profit health organization working nationwide to improve the quality of life for Canadians affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and to advance the search for the cause and cure.

We are located in every province across Canada and in over 140 local communities. We offer support, information and education including support groups that provide a safe place to share information, thoughts, feelings and experiences for both Canadians living with the disease and family caregivers.

Learn more at .