Female caregiver helping patient

Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

As we celebrate World Alzheimer’s Day on September 21, it’s heartening to think of the major medical advances in diagnosis and treatment that have been made since the disease was discovered in 1906. We now understand the damage that the condition causes starts well before memory loss and other cognitive issues become apparent. During this time, someone with Alzheimer’s can appear normal, but complex changes are taking place in their brain. At Sagewood, we can help identify the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease as soon as possible, helping gain more time for individual treatment and possible inclusion in clinical trials.

Who Gets Alzheimer’s?

Most people think that dementia is a normal part of aging and while this is untrue, age is certainly a risk factor. Of over 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, the majority of Alzheimer’s patients are 65 years or older. In fact, every five years past 65 years of age, the number of those affected doubles.

Because the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease vary from person to person, it can be hard to tell if memory lapses — the most common first sign — are a typical part of aging, or a sign of something more serious. Some people have problems with their vision, others experience disorientation or withdraw from social situations. The following checklist identifies the most common early symptoms of  Alzheimer’s.

Forgetfulness but remembering later. Forgetfulness that disrupts daily living.
Making a mistake once in a while. Decreasing ability to plan or solve problems.
Needing occasional help with tasks. Decreasing ability to complete familiar tasks.
Forgetting the date or time but remembering later. Lasting confusion with dates or time, and with where they are and how they got there.
Vision changes due to age. Difficulty judging distance or understanding an image. Difficulty driving.
Getting a word wrong or forgetting a word, only to remember it later. Difficulty joining in or following a conversation. Repeatedly asking the same question or calling things by the wrong name.
Losing or misplacing something and retracing steps to find it. Misplacing items in unusual places. Losing items and accusing others of taking them. Inability to retrace steps to look for an item.
Occasional bad decision making. Increasingly poor judgement with money and possessions. Less attention to hygiene and appearance.
Needing occasional time to oneself. Withdrawing from social situations because of fear of not keeping up.
Occasional irritability when routines are disrupted. Personality changes and uncharacteristic behavior such as aggression, anxiety, suspicion or fear.

Checklist adapted from Alzheimer’s Association 

What Can You Do to Help Someone with Alzheimer’s?

Female caregiver helping patient while wearing mask

Because it’s a progressive disease, the early signs of Alzheimer’s will intensify over time. Your loved one’s condition will likely change and may become more challenging from a caregiving point of view. Apart from the purely physical undertaking of caregiving, there’s also an emotional toll. It’s important to take time for yourself to rest and recharge when you can. At home, there’s much you can do to support your loved one.

  1. Reduce clutter and simplify the living space
  2. Move and speak more slowly for your loved one
  3. Use distraction to smooth over confusion
  4. Treat your loved one with dignity
  5. Give them a task or activity to do, so they are not bored
  6. Remember to praise achievements, no matter how small
  7. Deflect confrontation with tact and humor
  8. Acknowledge their feelings
  9. Never threaten abandonment
  10. Comfort them if they show fear
  11. Understand that they may use fantasy to cope with the situation
  12. Make sure that you and others refer to your loved one by name
  13. Avoid memory questions, e.g. “Remember when?” to limit frustration
  14. Always approach from the front so they can see you
  15. Be patient and repeat yourself if necessary
  16. Use statements, “Let’s go now.” Instead of questions, “When do you want to go?”
  17. Make positive statements unless it’s a safety issue
  18. Call objects and people by name, instead of referring to them as ‘it’ or ‘she.’
  19. If a task seems too complex, break it into smaller parts
  20. Give your loved one plenty of time to understand and process information

What Happens Next?

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can be overwhelming for a family, and it’s hard to know where to start planning for the future. When it’s necessary to find outside care, it’s wise to choose a community such as Sagewood that offers successive levels of senior services. This avoids having to move your loved one as their needs become more complex. Lean on our compassionate team members  — they’re here to help — and they’ll provide counselling, resources and support so your family can navigate the journey together.

Choosing Specialized Care

Memory care is a special kind of long-term care for those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of age-related dementia. At Sagewood, we offer a nationally recognized philosophy of memory care. It’s called Heartfelt CONNECTIONS — A Memory Care Program®.  It honors each person’s strengths, abilities and life story, and encourages a better quality of life through friendships and familiar activities.

Contact us to learn more about the 5-Star-rated Acacia Health Center, a beautifully designed senior health center offering northeast Phoenix’s most innovative memory care program. Here, residents enjoy restaurant-style meals, along with social, cultural and recreational activities geared to their interests and abilities. Almost all suites are private, and we offer family suites for visiting, plus outdoor spaces to enjoy the sunshine, sit in quiet contemplation or chat with friends. It’s a safe, comfortable setting where your loved one will feel at home, and you can trust they’ll be in good hands.