Alzheimer’s Disease – How to Spot the Signs

By: Helen Bolstad

June 06, 2019

Alzheimer's patient being comforted by friend

Alzheimer’s disease is not normal forgetfulness as we age. Instead, it is a specific form of mental decline. And according to the Alzheimer’s Association it accounts for nearly 80 percent all dementia cases. Natasa Dragicevic, MD, PhD., behavioral neurologist and Alzheimer’s disease specialist with Renown Institute for Neurosciences, weighs in on diagnosing it and the importance of early medical action.

How to Diagnose Alzheimer’s Disease

In general, the signs of Alzheimer’s disease occur slowly, getting worse over time. For example, forgetfulness is a daily search – for shoes, keys and other misplaced items. Not only is memory affected, but also speech patterns and behavior.

There is no single test for Alzheimer’s disease. “Specifically, a neurologist should be the one to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease given differences in presentation,” clarifies Dr. Dragicevic. “And ideally a behavioral neurologist (Alzheimer’s sub-specialist) will be managing the treatment,” she adds.

Brain Imaging

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease involves multiple approaches and medical providers. In short, medical history is reviewed along with a physical exam, lab tests and other diagnostic testing. “A medical workup includes a variety of tests. These include MRI and other brain imaging, as well as neurological and psychological testing. Furthermore, a lumbar puncture is performed to look for markers of the disease,” she states.

What Causes Alzheimer’s disease?

Although no one knows the cause, researchers think many factors play a role. Uncontrollable risk factors include your genetics and having a family member with the disease. However, the controllable risk factors include: reducing the risk of head injury and keeping your heart healthy. It’s important to realize that high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke and diabetes play a role in brain health. Blood loss to the brain causes vascular dementia, leading to long-term blood vessel damage.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

Generally speaking, the signs of this disease differ in each person. Yet noticeable behaviors include:

• Losing the way to familiar places
• Forgetting to pay bills
• Trouble finding the right words when talking
• Repeating questions
• General confusion
• Social withdrawal

Alzheimer’s Disease – Benefits of Early Diagnosis

Equally important, spotting Alzheimer’s disease early allows more time to benefit from medications and possible clinical trials. Likewise, nutrition and exercise changes can be made, increasing blood flow to the body, and perhaps delaying symptoms. Early diagnosis also allows for personal health decisions and quality-of-life conversations to take place.  

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, these benefits include:

1. Medical advantage
2. Emotional and social comfort
3. Time to plan ahead
4. Cost savings

A Brain Supporting Lifestyle

“At the present time, treatment is limited,” explains Dr. Dragicevic. “Usually Alzheimer’s is a progressive ongoing disease – any management at this time is purely symptomatic.”

However, she states the following lifestyle changes can help support brain health:

• New hobbies such as painting, pottery, music classes or learning a new language
• Crosswords, puzzles and playing games, such as Scrabble
• Brain challenging mobile apps, such as Luminosity
• 30-45 minutes of mild to moderate physical activity per day, such as walking
• Eating a Mediterranean diet (primarily plant based foods)

 

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