What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?
- Memory loss. …
- Difficulty planning and solving problems. …
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks. …
- Difficulty determining time or place. …
- Vision loss. …
- Difficulty finding the right words. …
- Misplacing items often. …
- Difficulty making decisions.
What it is
In the simplest terms, dementia is a non reversible decline in mental function.
It is a catchall phrase that encompasses several disorders that cause chronic memory loss, personality changes or impaired reasoning, Alzheimer’s disease being just one of them, says Dan G. Blazer, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center.
To be called dementia, the disorder must be severe enough to interfere with your daily life, says Constantine George Lyketsos, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center in Baltimore.
It is a specific disease that slowly and irreversibly destroys memory and thinking skills.
Eventually, Alzheimer’s disease takes away the ability to carry out even the simplest tasks.
A cure for Alzheimer’s remains elusive, although researchers have identified biological evidence of the disease: amyloid plaques and tangles in the brain. You can see them microscopically, or more recently, using a PET scan that employs a newly discovered tracer that binds to the proteins. You can also detect the presence of these proteins in cerebral spinal fluid, but that method isn’t used often in the U.S.
How it’s diagnosed
A doctor must find that you have two or three cognitive areas in decline.
These areas include disorientation, disorganization, language impairment and memory loss. To make that diagnosis, a doctor or neurologist typically administers several mental-skill challenges.
In the Hopkins verbal learning test, for example, you try to memorize then recall a list of 12 words — and a few similar words may be thrown in to challenge you. Another test — also used to evaluate driving skills — has you draw lines to connect a series of numbers and letters in a complicated sequence.
The Seven STAGES of Dementia
In Stage 1 of dementia, there are no signs of dementia, the person functions normally, and is mentally healthy. People with no dementia diagnosis are considered stage 1. There are no signs or symptoms, no memory loss, behavioral problems, or anything else associated with the onset of dementia.
From there, the disease progresses into stage 2, also known as very mild cognitive decline. In this stage, there is normal forgetfulness that often attributed normal signs of aging. In this stage, caregivers may start to notice some level of forgetfulness, but symptoms of dementia are still not apparent to medical professionals or loved one’s. In this early stage, care giving is about finding a balance between independence and assistance. When in doubt, assume your loved one can accomplish a given task on his or her own, unless there is an immediate risk to safety.
The last stage in this category is stage 3, mild cognitive decline. At this stage, loved one’s may begin to notice signs of cognitive decline as their loved one experiences increased forgetfulness, decreased performance at work, speech difficulty, and difficulty focusing on everyday tasks. This stage is also known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and it crucial that caregivers recognize the signs of this stage for early diagnosis and intervention.
SYMPTOMS OF MILD COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT
- Decreased work performance
- Increased memory loss
- Trouble concentrating, problem solving, and managing complex tasks
- Driving difficulties
- Verbal repetition
STAGE 4: EARLY-STAGE DEMENTIA
Early-stage dementia has only one stage – stage 4, moderate cognitive decline. This stage lasts an average of 2 years and cognitive issues can be detected during a medical interview and exam. People in this stage will have difficulty concentrating, will forget recent events, and will have difficulty managing finances and traveling alone to new locations. Additionally, they may experience difficulty socializing and begin withdrawing from friends and family. In this stage, caregivers should make a concerted effort to actively engage the person with dementia. Caregivers will have a more involved role in this stage and subsequent stages. Caregivers should create a daily care plan and make adjustments to schedules as needed to provide the necessary level of care while also seeking physical and emotional support from other caregivers.
SYMPTOMS OF EARLY-STAGE DEMENTIA
- Misplacing items
- Forgetting recent conversations or events
- Struggling to find the right words in a conversation
- Losing track of the day, date, or time
- Loss of interest in other people or activities
- Unwilling to try new things
- Increased feelings of anxiety, irritability, or depression
- Trouble remembering names when meeting new people
- Increased trouble planning or organizing
STAGES 5 – 6: MID-STAGE DEMENTIA
Mid-stage dementia comprises two stages. Stage 5, moderately severe cognitive decline and stage 6, severe cognitive decline, or middle dementia.
Lasting an average of 4 years, a person in mid-stage dementia now needs assistance to complete activities of daily living. In this stage, signs and symptoms of dementia will be very easy to identify. Short-term memory will be mostly lost and confusion and forgetfulness will be more pronounced throughout activities of daily living.
In stage 6 of dementia, a person may start forgetting the names of close loved one’s and have little memory of recent events. Communication is severely disabled and delusions, compulsions, anxiety, and agitation may occur.
SYMPTOMS OF MID-STAGE DEMENTIA
- Problems sleeping and confusing day and night
- Behaving inappropriately in social settings
- Wandering or becoming lost
- Difficulty with perception
- Delusions and/or hallucinations
- Increased aggression and irritability
- Inability to recall personal history, address, and phone number
- Changes in sleep patterns may begin
STAGE 7: LATE-STAGE DEMENTIA
This final category of dementia includes one stage. Stage 7, very severe cognitive decline lasts an average of 2.5 years. A person in this stage usually has no ability to speak or communicate and requires assistance with most activities, including walking. During this stage, caregivers will focus mostly on providing comfort and quality of life. Care options may exceed what you feel you can provide at home since around-the-clock care will be needed.
SYMPTOMS OF LATE-STAGE DEMENTIA
- Difficulty eating and swallowing
- Considerable changes in weight (both loss and gain)
- Gradual loss of speech
- Angry outbursts due to confusion
- Increasingly vulnerable to infections, especially pneumonia
While the exact symptoms displayed in each stage can differ from person to person, this assessment can be used as an outline, helping families know what to expect and when to expect it. Have you seen the progression of dementia in your loved one follow a similar path? Share your experiences with us in the comments below.
There’s no definitive test; doctors mostly rely on observation and ruling out other possibilities.
For decades, diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease has been a guessing game based on looking at a person’s symptoms. A firm diagnosis was not possible until an autopsy was performed.
But that so-called guessing game, which is still used today in diagnosing the disease, is accurate between 85 and 90 percent of the time, Lyketsos says. The new PET scan can get you to 95 percent accuracy, but it’s usually recommended only as a way to identify Alzheimer’s in patients who have atypical symptoms.