Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease or dementia at home is challenging and can be stressful at times. Research has shown that caregivers themselves often are at increased risk for depression and illness, especially if they do not receive much support from family, friends or the community. It is critical for people with dementia and their families to receive information, care and support as early as possible. To help family members recognize warning signs of Alzheimer's disease, the Alzheimer's Association has developed a checklist of common symptoms.
Memory Loss. One of the most common early signs of dementia is forgetting recently learned information or experiences. While it's normal to forget appointments, names or telephone numbers, those with dementia will forget such things more often and not remember them later.
Difficulty performing familiar tasks. People with dementia often find it hard to complete everyday tasks that are so familiar we usually do not think about how to do them. A person with Alzheimer's may not know the steps for preparing a meal, using a household appliance or participating in a lifelong hobby.
Problems with language. Everyone has trouble occasionally finding the right word, but a person with Alzheimer's disease often forgets simple words or substitutes unusual words, making speech or writing hard to understand. If people with Alzheimer's are unable to find their toothbrushes, for example, they may ask for "that thing for my mouth."
Disorientation to time and place. It's normal to forget the day of the week or where you're going. But people with Alzheimer's can become lost on their own street, forget where they are or how they got there, and not know how to get back home.
Poor or decreased judgment. No one has perfect judgment all the time. Those with Alzheimer's may dress without regard to the weather...Individuals with dementia often show poor judgment about money, giving away large amounts of money to telemarketers or paying for home repairs and products they don't need.
Problems with abstract thinking. Balancing a checkbook may be hard when the task is more complicated than usual. Someone with Alzheimer's might forget completely what the numbers mean and what needs to be done with them.
Misplacing things. Anyone can temporarily misplace a key, wallet or purse. A person with Alzheimer's may put things in unusual places: an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl.
Changes in mood or behavior. Everyone can become sad or moody from time to time. With Alzheimer's, people can show rapid mood swings : from calm to tears to anger and back to calm : for no apparent reason.
Changes in personality. People's personalities ordinarily change somewhat with age. But a person with dementia can change a lot, becoming extremely confused, suspicious, fearful, or utterly dependent upon a family member.
Loss of initiative. It's normal to tire of housework, business activities or social obligations from time to time. The person with dementia may become very passive, sitting in front of the television for hours on end, sleeping more than usual, or not wanting to engage in normal activities.
If you recognize these warning signs in yourself or in a loved one, consult a physician. Early diagnosis of Alzheimer's or other disorders contributing to dementia is an important step in getting appropriate treatment, care and support services.