Is it the first sign of Alzheimer’s Disease or just memory loss?
Public awareness of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is reaching new heights and treatment is most effective in the mild stages of disease. Therefore, there is great emphasis on diagnosing AD in its earliest stages. Most are aware that the first symptom of AD of often a slow gradual impairment of memory. Not all memory loss, however, is destined to progress to a full-blown dementia syndrome, such as AD.
As we age, changes in cognitive functioning are inevitable. In fact, normal aging is associated with a characteristic pattern of cognitive changes. Typically, older adults experience a general slowing of intellectual and physical performance. There is a mild decrease in the ability to recall the names of people and places, and impaired ability to concentrate over prolonged periods of time. The degree of impairment is quite variable, but the underlying theme is that this mild impairment is not dysfunctional and is consistent with a continued productive life. So don’t panic or “jump to conclusions” if you have difficulty locating your parked car or misplace your keys!
The earliest stage of pathological memory loss is often called Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). The essential evidence that triggers suspicion of MCI is a change in cognitive abilities that renders an individual less able to carry out complex activities of daily living, such as managing finances.
One of the most common signs of a dementia problem is repetition of questions and statements. In cases such as this, the individual is unable to store new information and, thus, recall recent conversation. Other signs that may signify more serious trouble include memory loss affecting job performance, social withdrawal, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, difficulty in performing familiar tasks (i.e. following a recipe, paying bills, balancing a checkbook, shopping for food or clothes), or getting lost in familiar places.
Early detection will increase the likelihood of timely diagnosis and the potential of preserving meaningful function with treatment. The assessment may also uncover an imminently treatable condition, such as medication-related cognitive impairment, depression, hypothyroidism, infection, or vitamin deficiency, among others.
There is no marker (i.e. blood test) currently available to diagnose early AD/dementia. Thus, one needs to be acutely aware of and understand signs that may signify trouble so that treatment may begin at the earliest stages and cognition preserved.
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