The Alzheimer Society of Canada has announced that January is Alzheimer Awareness Month as part of a nationwide campaign to provide information for people who may be living undiagnosed or who are afraid of developing the disease. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and most often diagnosed in people over sixty-five years of age. Though there are many common symptoms, most cases of Alzheimer's develop differently in each individual and almost half of all Canadians with dementia wait too long to be diagnosed. While there is no cure, delayed diagnosis can mean losing valuable time in receiving treatment which can delay the onset of more serious symptoms.
There are numerous warning signs of potential Alzheimer's disease although many people ignore these signs which can often be mistaken for problems relating to stress, depression, or simple aging. These signs can include:
- Memory loss affecting daily functioning - along with forgetting dates and other important information, people can also have trouble absorbing new information
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks - forgetting how to do things you have been doing your entire life
- Problems with language - forgetting words, misusing words, or having difficulty following conversations (not to be confused with problems due to hearing loss)
- Disorientation in time and place - getting lost in familiar places or not knowing the right day or date
- Impaired judgment - Dressing inappropriately or making serious errors in tasks such as driving or preparing meals
- Problems with abstract thinking - Not understanding concepts that were once familiar, how to use a calendar for example
- Misplacing things - Not just forgetting where you left your keys but consistently doing things like leaving your watch in the freezer
- Changes in mood and behaviour - This can include severe mood swings and angry outbursts
- Changes in personality - Behaving out of character, etc. feeling paranoid
- Loss of initiative - Losing interest in doing many of the things you used to enjoy doing previously
Though many people experiencing these warning signs may feel frightened at what they could mean, proper diagnosis should only be left up to a qualified professional after careful testing. There can be different reasons for why these problems are occurring and prompt diagnosis and treatment can be essential in helping people cope. Even for progressive diseases such as Alzheimer's, there are treaments that can help people live active and productive lives as long as possible.
As serious as Alzheimer's disease and other dementias are today, the number of new cases is expected to rise dramatically over the next few decades as more baby boomers develop symptoms. In Canada alone, the health care costs to deal with dementia will likely rise from $33 billion dollars today to $293 billion dollars by 2030.
So see your doctor if you are an older adult who is experiencing some of the warning signs. Don't be afraid to ask questions or to request a referral. Use this checklist to describe your concerns and ask a family member to go with you for emotional support and to help your doctor understand your concerns.