More than 5 million people in the US suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease, and it is currently the 6th leading cause of death in this country—more than prostate and breast cancer combined. By the year 2050, it’s believed that the number of people 65 and older with Alzheimer’s will triple, leading to significant effects on society.
The onset of Alzheimer’s generally occurs at age 65 or older but can occur earlier. Alzheimer’s is a progressive and insidious decline in cognitive functioning which interferes with the ability to function at work and in daily activities. In addition to impairment in cognitive functioning, Alzheimer’s also affects an individual’s mood and personality.
Early symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Memory impairment (being forgetful)
- Repetition (asking the same question or telling the same story over and over)
- Fluctuation in level of cognitive functioning (confused especially toward evening)
- Frequently misplacing and losing objects
- Fixated on events that happened in the remote past (grandpa talking about his military time)
- Change in personality (more withdrawn and depressed)
These symptoms are suggestive of Alzheimer’s. If your loved one is displaying these symptoms, contact their primary care physician (PCP), so that a screening for Alzheimer’s can be completed.
Input from family and care givers is crucial for diagnosis of Alzheimer’s; therefore you should always accompany your loved one to their medical appointments. The PCP will have many questions for the patient and for the family. Be prepared to discuss your observations and concerns with the PCP. After a thorough examination and discussion with you and your loved one, the PCP will likely order lab tests and imaging studies before making the diagnosis.
Remember to exercise patience and kindness when dealing with an individual who has Alzheimer’s. They have an illness and cannot help what they are doing/saying. Avoid getting into power struggles with them.
For more information and for support throughout your journey, contact your local Alzheimer’s Association, or visit www.alz.org.
Dr. Mehrzad is a geriatrician specializing in the unique health needs of seniors. He is currently accepting patients at his practice at Deaconess Primary Care for Seniors – North Park.