The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Health & Fitness

December 17, 2012

Speaking of Health: Understanding Alzheimer’s disease

— As we age, it’s normal to experience occasional forgetfulness and even some confusion. But when you begin to have consistent issues with thinking, reasoning and remembering, it could be a sign of a more serious condition known as dementia.

According to the National Institute on Aging, dementia is the loss of cognitive function and behavioral abilities to the point that it interferes with daily life. The good news is that minor lapses in memory are not typically indicative of dementia.

The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease – a condition where brain cells decline in function. Understanding Alzheimer’s will help you to be better prepared as a caregiver, patient or supporter.

What are the signs? Alzheimer’s disease usually begins as mild cognitive impairment, which slowly progresses into serious functional difficulties. The major warning signs for Alzheimer’s include:

1. Memory loss. This is one of the most common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. People with Alzheimer’s often:

  • Forget recently learned information
  • Miss appointments or events and don’t recall them later
  • Misplace items and set them in strange locations
  • Eventually forget the names of familiar people and objects
  • Experience confusion about time and place

2. Problems with reasoning and thinking. Individuals with Alzheimer’s often find it increasingly difficult to work with numbers, balance their finances or think abstractly. This may lead to frequently missed bill payments.

3. Changes in behavior. Due to changes in the brain over the course of the disease, Alzheimer’s can cause shifts in behavior and personality including:

  • Confusion
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Aggression and irritability
  • Fear and paranoia

4. Disorientation. People with Alzheimer’s may forget the day, month or year. They may also begin to misinterpret their surroundings and become confused as to where they are – and why.

5. Trouble communicating. Those suffering from Alzheimer’s may experience difficulty recalling the correct name of an object. For example, they might call a shovel a “scooping thing.” This cognitive impairment can hinder their ability to express thoughts clearly and may impact social interactions. Occasionally, this is the first sign of Alzheimer’s.

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