As we’ve discussed on this blog, film can beautifully capture the challenge and beauty that comes along with aging. Many of you may be familiar with the recent film Still Alice, where the lead role played is by acclaimed actress Julianne Moore. In the movie, Moore portrays linguistics professor Alice Howland, who begins to forget words and other mundane items. Eventually, Howland is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. The story then follows Howland and her family as they attempt to cope with this devastating news.
Early-onset Alzheimer’s typically affects those in their forties and fifties (incurring the disease at age sixty-five or older means it is not considered “early-onset”). Of course, the costs of delayed diagnosis can be high at any age. However, it’s believed that up to 5% of Americans have the early-onset variation, meaning that approximately 200,000 people are affected nationwide.
Help for dementia in all its forms is available, but first, see if you or someone you love has one or more of the ten common symptoms of early-onset Alzheimer’s.
You might need help for dementia if the following symptoms look familiar
There are ten symptoms that are prevalent in people with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Although each individual may have one or more of these to different degrees, consider if any of them seem familiar:
Many people fear that any memory loss (such as forgetting where you put your car keys) is an indication of Alzheimer’s. However, memory loss that disrupts daily life is actually a key sign of the disease. With Alzheimer’s, you may forget recently-learned information or ask for the same information several times within a short period.
Problems with planning or problem-solving
Alzheimer’s doesn’t only affect your memory – it leads to changes in the brain that affect other areas of cognition. Consider whether you have troubling making and following simple plans (such as creating menus for the week and following recipes), or take longer to do things than you did before.
Problems doing once-familiar tasks
Do you have difficulty with tasks you once did with ease? These can include driving, making budgets, or playing your favorite game.
Disorientation to time and place
Those with Alzheimer’s can easily lose track of time. Sometimes, they don’t remember why they’re in a particular location or how they got there.
Difficulty interpreting images and distance
Vision problems are very common in Alzheimer patients. Issues with reading, judging distances, and discerning subtle differences between colors are all possible symptoms.
Problems with language
Language problems associated with Alzheimer’s include trouble following or joining a conversation, stopping in the middle of a conversation, or frequently repeating ideas. At times, patients may struggle to find the right word, or call things by the wrong name.
Putting ordinary things in unusual places is another behavior exhibited by Alzheimer’s sufferers. Do you frequently lose items and have to retrace your steps to find them?
Judgment and decision-making is harder for people with Alzheimer’s. They may give away large amounts of money for no reason, or decide that personal grooming isn’t important anymore.
Alzheimer victims often withdraw from work, hobbies, social engagements, and community involvement. This may be because they are trying to prevent others from spotting the symptoms of their illness.
Mood changes are frequently part of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis; confusion, suspicion, depression, and anxiety are all common emotions. Patients may become especially distraught and frustrated when they are in new or unfamiliar situations.
Help is available for early-onset Alzheimer’s
Those with early-onset Alzheimer’s often have full and busy lives, like Julianne Moore’s character from Still Alice. If you think you have the disease, call your physician. He or she can make an assessment or referral to look into your concerns further. If it turns out you do need help for dementia, look for your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association for support. You might also consider hiring a home health aide to assist you and your family during this difficult time. There is no way to predict the journey you’re about to undergo, but one thing is certain: you are not alone.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home senior care. Contact us to find out more.