Everyone is forgetful at times. For most humans, this is true regardless of our age or mental health status. It is also true that as we age, our risk of dementia increases. By the time we reach the age of about 85 – we have had an almost 35-percent average of this age group clearly being afflicted with this degenerative disorder.
Once the onset has started, we will gradually get worse and will suffer even more memory loss and critical mental skills. The decline is very individual, however, and if any of the following signs and symptoms emerge in your beloved elder: it is time to get an evaluation for early intervention to slow this process as much as possible.
1. Loss of recent memory
With Alzheimer’s-related dementia the loss of recent memories is pronounced and is often accompanied by an increased ability to remember events of the past – especially childhood or several decades previously. When an elder begins to forget what they did yesterday or last week – it’s time to pay attention.
A Rutgers University clinical study reveals that an estimated four-percent of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74-years old have Alzheimer’s Disease. This percentage only rises steadily as we grow in numbers.
According to the clinicians, this research estimates that roughly 50 percent of all Americans that are now over 85-years of age - already suffer with Alzheimer’s Disease. What is also true is that more than half of all dementia cases are misdiagnosed and are actually a form of Alzheimer’s Disease.
2. Steady decline in motor function
Even when an elder begins to have difficulty with coordination and motor function, the onset of decline can take years. It really becomes noticeable when the elder begins to lose the physical ability to perform routine activities such as going to the washroom, driving to the grocery store or properly operating the kitchen stove. At this point – families begin to realize a need for 24-hour care for simple safety.
In a clinical research study published by the U.S. National Institute of Health, clinicians found that age-related cognitive and/or motor decline often shares a common cause. This means that the reach of Alzheimer’s Disease can often represent the very “tip of the iceberg” of a cascade of cognitive and motor dysfunction events that are currently dubbed “normal aging” in older persons without Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia.
3. Steadily increasing disorientation
When the issues of disorientation begin, you will start seeing your elder getting lost on a routine trip to the same doctor’s office they have been going to for years. Any individual who suffers with Alzheimer’s disease is undergoing a very gradual death of the nerve cells.
Over a period of years, this causes a big struggle to think, make decisions or access recent memories. Naturally, this makes their world really confusing and scary. It is a major cause of our elders beginning to withdraw from normal day-to-day life.
This means the elder is now becoming confused or even lost anytime they go out on their own. Once they are no longer able to remember where they are, or how they got there, or how and where to return home – they will likely also be forgetting familiar people, places, facts, what day it is, what time it is or what year it is.
4. Changes in behaviors
Personality changes can be very disturbing. These often include the opposite of the mannerisms or personality traits the elder may have displayed all their lives. An example of this might be seeing your loved one suddenly becoming cranky when before they were always easy going.
They can become blissful when previously they may have been a big curmudgeon or it can be flagged by simply being inappropriate in public. Any of these symptoms can signify the onset of dementia.
Most of the families who have a relative with Alzheimer’s will usually quickly admit that the behavioral and psychiatric changes are the most startling, challenging and disturbing aspect of the disease.
With the onset of the earlier stages, an Alzheimer’s sufferer will commonly grow anxious, depressed and irritable. This is a natural response to finding oneself in a state of confusion and fear. In the later stages, Alzheimer’s sufferers can display paranoia and emotional distress that shows up in physical or verbal outbursts, in the increase of destructive behavior, abusive behaviors and even with delusion and hallucinations.
5. An onset of paranoia
Another really difficult behavioral and psychiatric symptom of Alzheimer’s is paranoia. It continues to rate at the top of one of the most disturbing changes. Triggered by feelings of lack of control – especially when an elder has a caregiver or who lives in a skilled nursing facility - paranoid and suspicious behaviors are usually linked to these upsurges in feeling like they are losing control.
Alzheimer’s patients can become increasingly delusional and suspicious of those around them. They will often become accusatory and make charges that caregivers, doctors and co-residents are committing theft, or infidelity, or are simply lying. As caregivers and relatives, these accusations will often feel extremely hurtful. The fact that this behavior is disease driven – is essential to remember.
6. Early detection through increased disorganization
When a formerly competent elder is having difficulty with planning and organizing, this is obviously a common early warning sign for dementia. Examples of this will include when an elderly person suddenly has difficulty making a grocery shopping list or is suddenly having a challenge finding glasses that are always put in the same location.
Scientists still don’t know the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease. The reasons for dementia are also not always totally clear. The disease damages and kills brain cells, which leads to fewer cells and even fewer healthy brain connections among the thriving cells.
This steady deterioration of the brain cells for our elders with Alzheimer’s causes significant brain shrinkage. Unfortunately, this is only seen in the patient after death. Autopsy’s show plaque in the form of clumps of protein which has formed in a manner that causes the destruction of brain cells.
Once this has started happening, there is a significant disruption in cell-to-cell communication, which also disrupts nutrient transportation into healthy brain tissues.
Alzheimer’s disease currently is believed to develop due to varieties of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that ultimately affect the brain.
7. Increases in events of agitation
For most people, agitation is triggered by a variety of things. This can include environmental factors or a simple frustration over the inability to complete a task. For a person with Alzheimer’s or Dementia - the inability to communicate clearly, combined with fatigue or fear as a trigger comes with a big change such as when a driver’s license is taken away or a move from home has happened.
In most cases, this agitation change will be gradual. At first the elder realizes they are having difficulty remembering dates, times, details and thoughts. However, once these changes are really noticed - the changes are usually also noticed by friends, coworkers and family members.
This naturally leads to embarrassment, anger and agitation. Unfortunately, there is also often some lashing out and social withdrawal once it gets to this stage.
8. Recognizing the onset of hallucinations
Hallucinations and delusional thoughts are common with dementia patients. Some of the most commonly noticed visuals include seeing things that aren’t there - or with auditory functions such as hearing noises that aren’t there. It is not at all uncommon for a patient to cultivate a belief that a caregiver is out to get them without reason.
A delusion is characterized as believing false things; i.e. people, memories, details and events. Hallucinations are different. When suffering a hallucination, the individual experiences a false perception.
This false perception can be of any activity or a person’s behavior, an event or of objects that are sensory in nature. This means that the Dementia or Alzheimer’s patient can feel, hear, see, taste and smell things that do not exist.
9. Inappropriate sexually-related acts
It is very common for a dementia patient to suddenly become sexual with no awareness that their actions are inappropriate. An example of this would be the removal of clothing or exposing oneself in public. They have been known to touch inappropriately and say tasteless things to strangers or caregivers. For many family members and caregivers - this inappropriate sexual behavior can be embarrassing and even frightening.
Unfortunately, this inappropriate and often aggressive sexual behavior is simply part of the disease. People with Alzheimer’s may become sexually dis-inhibited and even bold - as the brain damage becomes more severe in the brain’s frontal and temporal lobes, which are the areas that manage a person’s control response.
10. Ongoing cognitive declines
Cognitive decline is marked by an inability to reason. A more drastic decline affects even more cognitive functions including thinking, reading, learning and retaining information. It also includes problem solving, language and speech.
Clinical research from the New York University School of Medicine’s Silberstein Aging and Dementia Research Center, have shown that individuals never experience the same rate of cognitive decline. Many people in the earlier stages of dementia show no memory loss - or decrease in decision making abilities.
Cognitive decline will enter anywhere from the mid - to later stages of the disease. This results in troubles involving memory, performance of ordinary tasks, losing things, using the right words and forgetting names, people and planning.
Alzheimer’s Help Line:
Santa Rosa Alzheimer’s
San Rafael Office:
Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’s love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.