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Is It Simply Aging or Is It Alzheimer's?

June 21, 2019

Is It Simply Aging or Is It Alzheimer's?

You’ve misplaced your car keys—again. You can’t remember a word you’ve used many times, yet it’s right there on the tip of your tongue. Are memory slips like this early signs of Alzheimer’s disease?

The first thing to know is that mild forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging. Who hasn’t occasionally forgotten someone’s birthday or an easy word we always use? The concern is when memory problems become serious—you can’t retrace your steps and find those car keys, for instance, or you don’t eventually come up with the right word.

 

Know the signs

Alzheimer’s is a disorder of the brain that affects memory, thinking, and reasoning. It gets worse over time. Most people display their first signs and symptoms when they’re in their mid-60s. Signs and symptoms can include:

  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Having trouble paying bills or managing money
  • Misplacing things in odd places, for example, putting mail in the freezer
  • Taking longer to complete normal, daily tasks
  • Losing track of the day or year
  • Having trouble following a conversation or recognizing familiar people
  • Having difficulties carrying out multistep tasks, such as getting dressed
  • Engaging in impulsive behavior, such as undressing at inappropriate times or places or using vulgar language

 

Kenneth Pugar, DO, a neurologist at the Dayton Center for Neurological Disorders who works at Kettering Health Network, says the most prominent risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is age.

“While we can see some cases early on, sometimes as early as late 30s and early 40s, the vast majority of people with the disease are over 65,” explains Dr. Pugar. By age 85, people have as much as a 40 percent chance to progress into the disease.

 

Get help

If you or a loved one has memory problems, or you’re concerned about changes in memory and behavior, your first step is to talk to a doctor. Something other than Alzheimer’s may cause these signs and symptoms, and the right care could improve or reverse the symptoms.

“If there’s a concern, see a neurologist to get it evaluated,” Dr. Pugar says. “There is definitely an advantage to being diagnosed early.”

Dr. Pugar notes that early diagnosis allows patients to take advantage of available treatments, participate in clinical trials and better prepare for the future.

“A lot of studies show lifestyle modifications like staying physically active, keeping a robust social network and cognitive stimulation may help slow down the development of mild dementias,” says Dr. Pugar.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But there are medications that might delay the progression of the disease symptoms. By identifying symptoms, talking to a doctor and starting treatment early, you or your loved one may keep up with daily activities for a longer time.