Most of us fail to recognize early signs of Alzheimer’s disease simply because the first signs of dementia are often attributed to “getting old” or due to experiencing an illness or particularly stressful time in our lives. Sometimes, by the time we realize something may be seriously wrong with a family member (or ourselves) the extent of damage done by the disease is accelerated by lack of timely preventative measures.
In fact, research has shown that changes in brain protein levels (specifically amyloid protein) may begin 10 to 15 years prior to initial signs of Alzheimer’s start to generate symptoms of cognitive impairment. These early chemical abnormalities within the brain may be helpful in presenting early diagnoses of Alzheimer’s so that the rapid progression of dementia indicative of Alzheimer’s can be averted by medications and lifestyle changes.
Other classic early signs of Alzheimer’s that are not manifested through loss of memory and behavioral changes is the high amount of chemical inflammation markers produced by the brain in response to elevated amyloid proteins. Doctors are considering the possibility that detection of inflammation markers could lead to giving special anti-inflammatory medications to people suspected of experiencing initial symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
These medications, along with changes in diet and exercise, represent the best methods in slowing or possibly stopping the massive neuronal destruction that provokes severe cognitive decline.
Diagnosing Early Signs of Alzheimer’s
Presently, doctors can diagnose Alzheimer’s with about a 90 percent accuracy rate. A 100 percent diagnosis of AD is only possible through autopsy and a thorough examination of the brain’s gray and white matter. However by having patients complete one or two standardized cognitive tests, undergoing blood and urine analysis and performing specific neuropsychological and motor reflex tests, doctors can determine whether you or a loved one is experiencing the first signs of dementia.
The top ten early signs of Alzheimer’s are:
- Inability to remember events or conversations that happened recently
- Increasing difficulty with managing finances (i.e., frequent checkbook errors that leads to writing bad checks or falling for obvious scams)
- Forgetting the names of everyday objects (someone with dementia often substitutes the correct word for an incorrect word to compensate for forgetting the word–calling a hairbrush a toothbrush or a fork a knife, for example)
- Inability to follow simple instructions ( a new recipe or previously unknown directions may be hard to absorb and understand)
- Getting disoriented in familiar places (getting lost in a large department store or failing to remember where the exit is)
- Misplacing keys, eyeglasses and important medications (you or a family member suffering from early signs of Alzheimer’s may put these items in unusual places, such as car keys in the freezer or eyeglasses in the spice cupboard and find them later, only to forget why or when you put them there).
- Behavioral changes in people who were always, for the most part, even-tempered and optimistic. An outgoing person may withdraw socially or someone who is usually talkative may become reticent.
- Irrational denial concerning the evidence that you or a family member is experiencing atypical loss of memory
- Feeling depressed and irritable over the realization that something is seriously wrong with brain functioning. Early dementia patients may lash out at those who are concerned about their welfare and accuse them of “being nosy” or even of wanting to deliberately put them in a nursing home.
- Increasing insensitivity to other people’s feelings.
Risk Factors Contributing to Early Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
Genetics, lifestyle and age are the three top risk factors determining whether you may develop Alzheimer’s at some point in your life. Having a parent, brother or sister who has been officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s raises your risk of also being diagnosed with the disease.
However, doctors are consistently gathering more evidence that positively shows how eating healthy foods, engaging in regular exercise, maintaining friendships and performing mentally stimulating tasks such as crossword puzzles, card games or learning a new language can dramatically inhibit the progression of Alzheimer’s.
Health conditions that appear to promote the onset of dementia-related cognitive impairment include hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes and other diseases that affect the cardiovascular system and blood flow to the brain.
Stress and Alzheimer’s
Evidence of the mind-body connection is clear-cut when researchers investigate the correlation between chronic stress and early signs of Alzheimer’s and find that stress increases the risk of suffering dementia. When the brain thinks it is in danger, it prepares the body by releasing large amounts of cortisol, a chemical that increases heart and breathing rate.
While stress is sometimes beneficial (especially if you need to flee from a dangerous situation), the body cannot handle the constant deluge of cortisol and will begin breaking down in all areas, including cognition. Thus, trying to keep stress levels at a minimum may also help reduce your risk of experiencing early symptoms of Alzheimer’s.