Did you know that nearly 6.5 million Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? The recent publication from the Alzheimer’s Association of “2022 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures” confirms this fact. Alzheimer’s is the number one cause of dementia, representing nearly 70 percent of all diagnosed cases. The numbers are staggering and should concern anyone aged 50 and older.
The Mayo Clinic, a trusted online source for medical information, defines dementia as a term that describes various signs, symptoms, and stagesaffecting a person’s memory, thinking ability, and social skills that can impact the ability to successfully manage functional daily life tasks.
It’s important to note that experiencing memory loss doesn’t mean you have dementia! You are not alone if you struggle with locating your car in a large parking lot or figuring out the tip when you eat at a restaurant. These memory lapses are entirely normal! Dementia symptoms vary, but some of the common signs include significant and persistent cognitive and psychological changes.
Cognitive changes can include difficulty with:
- remembering recent or well-known events or facts
- communicating or remembering common words
- visual and spatial skills, such as becoming confused or disoriented while walking or driving
- complex, multi-step tasks
- planning or organizing
- motor functions
Psychological changes can include:
- gradual or sudden personality changes
- depression and anxiety
- exhibiting inappropriate behavior
- easily agitated or prone to paranoia
- experiencing visual or auditory hallucinations
Should I See a Doctor?
If you or a family member/loved one exhibits signs or symptoms linked to dementia, or its stages described above, it’s essential to speak with a doctor. There are several medical and health-related conditions that can create symptoms mimicking dementia, and a doctor can best determine what the root cause may be.
What Causes Dementia?
Dementia occurs because of damage to nerve cells in the brain. Depending on the area where the damage has occurred (and the extent of the damage), dementia can cause different symptoms which point to different signs to look out for. While people with dementia may exhibit some similarities, how the condition affects each person is unique. However, the medical community has agreed on certain risk factors that may contribute to how dementia affects a person. Some risk factors are fixed and cannot be changed, while others can be addressed to reduce risk.
Dementia risk: Fixed Factors
- Age. Dementia risk increases as you age.
- Family history of dementia.
- Down Syndrome. People with Down Syndrome have a greater risk of developing early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Dementia risk: Changeable Factors
While more research is needed, addressing the following health and lifestyle factorsmay help reduce dementia risk and slow the onset of symptoms or signs associated with stagesof it.
- Keep an active mind.
- Stay physically and socially active.
- Stop smoking.
- Eat a well-balanced diet and ensure you’re getting enough vitamins and nutrients.
- Treat hypertension, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
- Work to achieve a healthy weight for your age, gender, and body type
- Practice good sleep hygiene, and address snoring or sleep apnea.
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) offers a quick and easy 7-symptom guideline
7 Common Signs of Dementia Symptoms
- Difficulty with ordinary, everyday tasks
- Frequently repeating stories, questions, or information
- Difficulty communicating
- Frequently becoming disoriented or lost
- Having noticeable personality changes
- Easily confused about dates, times, or places
- Exhibiting inappropriate or uncharacteristic behavior
If you believe a family member or loved one is exhibiting symptoms of dementia, it’s important to meet with their doctor to assess the signs and stages of it. In addition, visiting the doctor can help determine if it’s another medical or behavioral health condition causing dementia-like symptoms. It’s also important to note that certain medications may have unintended side effects that negatively impact memory, coordination, and mental health.
When visiting the doctor, it’s essential to share information about symptoms you have experienced or witnessed. You’ll also want to be able to provide both a personal and family medical history. To diagnose dementia, doctors will use a combination of the following tests and tools:
• Neuropsychological and cognitive tests to evaluate mental functioning.
• Blood, urine, or saliva tests to check levels of various vitamins, chemicals, and hormones.
• Brain scans to look for changes in the brain structure or to identify if a stroke has occurred or a tumor is developing.
• A mental health evaluation can help determine if depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, or a substance use disorder is causing the symptoms.
• Genetic tests are crucial if the person exhibiting symptoms is under the age of 60.
Having a family member or loved one receive a diagnosis of dementia can be a shock, but it’s important to remember that you are not alone. There are many online and community resources that can help families or spouses develop a plan for managingspecialized in-home care. The most important step is to be aware of dementia symptoms and signs and seek a qualified medical opinion. Early intervention can make a difference and improve a person’s quality of life regardless of diagnosis.