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Warning Signs and Treatment of Alzheimer's Disease

Should my dad be this worried? Let's try to put this in perspective. About four million people have Alzheimer's disease in this country. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 3 percent of people between the ages of 65 and 74 have Alzheimer's. This incidence dramatically increases with advancing age; nearly half of the population over 85 years has the disease. Most people live an average of eight to 10 years from the onset of symptoms. Yes, it is something to be on guard for, especially as your parents enter their mid-80s, but it certainly isn't something that every older person has to fear lurking around the corner.

Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease

Dementia is actually an umbrella term (literally meaning “without mind”) that refers to the progressive loss of thinking, judgment, ability to focus, and ability to learn. More than half of the dementia cases are caused by Alzheimer's, a disease named after German physician Alois Alzheimer who discovered it back in 1906. No one is exactly sure what causes Alzheimer's, but genetic factors are definitely in the mix.

The second leading cause of dementia is multi-infarct dementia caused by the death of brain cells due to mini-strokes that block blood supply. These small, successive strokes often go unnoticed as they chip away at the brain. People with high blood pressure and diabetes are at considerable risk for this type of dementia.

The Warning Signs

Everybody gets distracted. Everybody forgets a name, and everybody has misplaced their keys at one time or another. And some of us have even forgotten where we parked the car. So if all this is normal, how do you know when forgetfulness slides into the world of dementia?

The Alzheimer's Association has developed a list of the top 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's. If Mom or Dad experiences several of these symptoms, it's time to get him or her to a doctor. One way you can be very helpful when you've scheduled your parent for a checkup for dementia is to make a copy of this list and write up the behaviors exhibited by your parent under each symptom. The behaviors that you cite should not be typical lifelong behaviors of your mom or dad. (My kids, for instance, certainly wouldn't list losing car keys as a sign for me!)

The Top 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer's Disease
(from the Alzheimer's Association)

  1. Memory loss affecting job skills. Frequently forgets assignments, colleague's names; appears confused for no reason.
  2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks. Easily distracted; forgets what he or she was doing or why. Might prepare a meal and then forget to serve it, or that he or she even made it.
  3. Problems with language. Forgets simple words or substitutes inappropriate words; doesn't make sense.
  4. Disorientation to time and place. May become lost on his or her own street; doesn't know where he or she is, how he or she got there, or how to get back home.
  5. Poor or decreased judgment. Usually exhibited through wearing inappropriate clothing, or poor grooming. Forgets to wear a coat when it's cold; wears a bathrobe to the store.
  6. Problems with abstract thinking. Exhibits trouble with numbers; can no longer make simple calculations.
  7. Misplaces things. Not only loses things, but puts things in inappropriate places, such as putting a purse in the freezer or a wristwatch in a sugar bowl. Has no idea how the items got there.
  8. Mood and behavior changes. Exhibits more rapid mood swings for no apparent reason.
  9. Changes in personality. Dramatic change in personality; for example, someone who was easygoing now appears extremely uptight. Becoming suspicious and fearful are commonly reported.
  10. Loss of initiative. Becomes extremely disinterested and uninvolved in areas that he or she used to enjoy.


More on: Aging Parents

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Caring for Aging Parents © 2001 by Linda Colvin Rhodes, Ed.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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