Alzheimers disease and other senile dementias cause many problems for patients and their families, usually beginning with memory loss. Common symptoms are listed below, but not everyone has all of them.
Also, not everyone with these symptoms has Alzheimers or another senile dementia — prescription drugs interactions and other treatable causes often mimic dementia symptoms.
According to Consumer Reports on Health,
To see if medications could be the cause of your loved one’s symptoms, visit our page Prescription Drug Interactions and Side Effects.
— Most Common Symptoms —
Recent memory loss. Everyone forgets things for awhile, but remembers them later. Dementia patients often forget things, and never remember them. They might ask the same question repeatedly, each time forgetting that you already answered it. They don’t even remember they already asked the question.
Difficulty performing familiar tasks. Patients might cook a meal but forget to serve it. They might even forget cooking it.
Problems with language. Dementia patients may forget simple words or use the wrong words, making it hard to understand what they want, causing an outburst of anger directed at the person they’re talking to.
Time and place disorientation. Patients may get lost on their own street, forgetting how they got to a certain place and how to get back home.
Poor judgment. Anyone might get distracted and forget to watch a child closely for a short time. Dementia patients might forget about the child and just leave the house for the day.
Problems with abstract thinking. Anyone might have trouble balancing a checkbook from time to time; dementia patients can forget what numbers are and how to use them.
Misplacing things. Patients may put things in the wrong places — an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl. Then they can’t find them later.
Changes in mood. Everyone is moody occasionally, but patients may have fast mood swings, going from calm to tears to anger in just minutes.
Personality changes. Patients may have drastic changes in personality, often becoming irritable, suspicious or fearful.
Loss of initiative. Patients may become passive, not wanting to go places or see other people.
Important Note: Even if your loved one has some of these problems, they may not have Alzheimers. Many treatable health conditions have the same symptoms. For more information, visit our page Is It Alzheimer’s … or Something Curable?.
If your loved one does have one or more of these symptoms, take him or her to a doctor as soon as possible. Determining the cause usually involves a team of medical specialists under the guidance of a patient’s primary care doctor. For patients who are 65 or older, the tests and doctor charges are usually covered by Medicare.
The tests may involve some or all of the following, many of which are designed to rule out other possible causes for your loved one’s problems:
- An evaluation of memory and mental skills.
- A physical exam, including a review of family medical history, to detect other medical problems, including possible interactions between prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements, vitamins and/or mineral supplements. Many foods can also cause unexpected interactions with prescription medications.
- A nutritional evaluation to determine if dietary problems or improper eating habits may be causing the problem.
- Blood tests, including tests for vitamin B12 and folic acid deficiencies, thyroid hormone imbalances, anemia, etc.
- EEG (electroencephalogram).
- A neurological exam to rule out other disorders of the brain such as Parkinson’s disease, hydrocephalus (fluid accumulation in the brain), prior strokes and mini-strokes, brain tumors, etc.
- Brain Scan (CT or MRI).
Another Important Note: Even if a doctor has a lot of older patients, that doesn’t make the doctor an expert in the special problems of the elderly. If a doctor dismisses your loved one’s memory problems as “just a part of growing older” or decides that he or she has Alzheimer’s or senility without testing for other possible problems like those we’ve described, we recommend that you get a second opinion from another doctor.
- Alzheimers.gov — The U.S. Government’s website “For the people helping people with Alzheimer’s.”
- HealthyWomen.org — This excellent website includes a list of 11 very important questions to ask the doctors who are, or will be, treating your loved one. It also includes a detailed list of the behavior changes typically seen during the progression of the disease, stage by stage.