Here are warning signs of dementia, according to physicians.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting 6.5 million Americans. “Diagnosing dementia and its many types can be challenging for physicians,” says Glen Stevens, DO, Ph.D. “It is estimated that 5% of individuals over the age of 65 have severe dementia, and 10 to 15% are at least mildly impaired. As the size of the elderly population expands, the number of individuals with dementia will inevitably increase. Early and accurate diagnosis is the major objective in dementia evaluation.” Here are five warning signs of Alzheimer’s according to experts.
1. Keeping Track of Finances
Making bad financial decisions or leaving bills to pile up could be a sign of dementia, especially if it’s out of character. “We were hearing a lot of anecdotes about patients who didn’t even know that they had dementia when some of these adverse financial events were happening,” says Lauren Hersch Nicholas of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Then the whole family might find out when they’d lost a home or a business, or suddenly a new scammer had been added to other accounts and was taking their savings.”
Confusion that progresses to the point where it interferes with everyday life can be a symptom of Alzheimer’s, doctors say. One example is constantly going off track when you’re trying to talk about something. “So the thing that we typically see as people age is pulling up information rapidly, pulling up names and words rapidly, but then it comes back to you later, either you get off topic or you see a hint, those sorts of things,” says neurologist James Leverenz, MD. “One of the common questions I’ll ask my patients and their families [is], ‘Does the memory come back if you get a hint?’ And they go, ‘Yeah, then the name will come to me,’ that sort of thing. That tends to get worse as you get a little bit older, again, getting back to that ‘dementia’ term, when that gets so bad that we start to interfere with your ability to manage your day-to-day functioning, that’s when we start to get a little bit more worried about the dementia component.”
Disorientation is a common sign of Alzheimer’s. “The real issue with AD is perception of time,” says Lisa P. Gwyther, co-author of The Alzheimer’s Action Plan: A Family Guide. “Five minutes can seem like five hours for someone with AD, so a husband may think his wife has been gone for hours or even weeks, even if it’s just been a few minutes, or he might tell his grandchild that he hasn’t seen him in five years, even though he just saw them yesterday.”
4. Difficulty Following Speech
If you find it increasingly difficult to follow speech in a noisy environment, it could be a sign of Alzheimer’s. “While most people think of memory problems when we hear the word dementia, this is far from the whole story,” says Dr. Katy Stubbs from Alzheimer’s Research UK. “Many people with dementia will experience difficulty following speech in a noisy environment – a symptom sometimes called the ‘cocktail party problem’.”
5. Memory Loss
Memory loss—especially when memory hints no longer work—is strongly correlated with Alzheimer’s disease. “In Alzheimer’s the most typical presentation is not only the memory loss, but that when we get those hints later, it still doesn’t come back to us,” says Dr. Leverenz. “It’s as if the event or the discussion had not happened. We all forget things a few times or may need a few hints to pull up an event or some sort of specific memory information. But we worry more about it when you’ve had a conversation with say, a parent, and they don’t remember that conversation later and even with hints, it’s not coming back to them. That’s sort of one of the things that we worry about.