By Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP
Alzheimer’s, a progressive disease in which the brain loses function, is most commonly associated with memory loss. As proteins build up in the brain and disrupt communication between nerve cells, memory can easily start to falter. Many people affected with Alzheimer’s lose newer memories first and then progressively lose old ones.
However, since the brain is such a dynamic and brilliantly complex organ, a disease that alters its tissue could manifest in a variety of symptoms, beyond memory loss.
These can include:
Difficulty completing once simple tasks
Misplacing commonly used objects
Lack of appropriate judgement
Issues with problem solving
Lack of understanding spatial and timing concepts
Hence if a family member appears to lose his way driving home, has difficulty dressing himself appropriately, avoids family gatherings, appears to get angry for no apparent reason, or even offers a young baby an object for a much older individual, these may be signs of a dementia such as Alzheimer’s.
In a recent study, researchers from Northwestern University’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center found four additional symptoms that may be early signs of Alzheimer’s. These include:
- Difficulty with speech, vocabulary pool, process and articulating what one wants to say (aphasia)
- Difficulty writing from a motor and conceptual standpoint
- Difficulty reading, including comprehension
- Displaying exaggerated confidence
The study authors state these signs may be overlooked and could be very telling of one’s early disease progression.
To diagnose Alzheimer’s, the medical provider may employ a variety of testing measures including basic history and physical, blood tests to rule out thyroid and vitamin deficiencies, lumbar puncture, CT Scans to rule out bleeds, masses, or stroke, MRI Brain scans, neuropsychological tests, and amyloid PET scans.
Although currently a cure for Alzheimer’s does not exist, there are many medications that may slow down the progression of the disease and a variety of environmental and behavioral interventions could allow the patient to navigate easier with their challenges.
The earlier Alzheimer’s is diagnosed, the easier it may be to manage, hence family members need to learn and look out for the above symptoms.
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network and board certified Family Physician