Back to articles

Is it Alzheimer’s or am I just forgetful?

News

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, with more than 65 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s. About one in nine adults 65 and older have Alzheimer’s and nearly two-thirds of them are women.

What happens with Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is a brain disease caused by damage to nerve cells in the brain called neurons. Early symptoms include memory loss, language concerns (not recalling the “right” word) and lapses in critical thinking. Alzheimer’s is only one form of dementia and is a progressive disease.

Increasingly, individuals with Alzheimer’s will need help with daily living tasks and may develop mood, behavior and personality changes. Ultimately, those with Alzheimer’s demonstrate impaired communication, confusion and poor judgement. Eventually, they also have difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.

What are Alzheimer’s symptoms?

Some dementia symptoms may be caused by other conditions such as depression, untreated sleep-apnea, medication side-effects, Lyme disease, thyroid problems and certain vitamin deficiencies or excessive alcohol consumption. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis, and there are some differences to note.

Alzheimer’s is characterized by forgetting recently learned information or asking the same questions over and over. Typical forgetfulness often is accompanied by remembering those details later.

People with Alzheimer’s are challenged by planning and problem-solving, such as being unable to follow a recipe or paying monthly bills. Typical concerns may see an occasional error in managing household bills.

A person with Alzheimer’s may have difficulty completing familiar tasks or have confusion about time and place. They may be unable to understand something if it is not happening immediately. Typically, older adults may need extra help programming the microwave or the TV, or may be confused about which day it is, but will likely remember later.

Alzheimer’s is demonstrated when individuals have new problems with words or speaking, or trouble following a conversation. They may repeat themselves or struggle with vocabulary, using the wrong word for a familiar object. It is typical for someone to be unable to recall the correct word occasionally.

People with Alzheimer’s will misplace things and be unable to retrace their steps. They may put things away in the wrong place and may accuse others of stealing from them. Typically, forgetful adults will recall later where they left that item.

Are there risk factors for Alzheimer’s?

Some risk factors include older age, genetics and family history. However, Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. Older age alone is insufficient in causing Alzheimer’s. Individuals who have a parent or a sibling with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those without that genetic connection.

What should I do if I think I may have Alzheimer’s?

Ask your doctor. No, really. Effective communication with your provider is essential when you are looking for answers regarding memory loss. Be prepared with questions and be honest about your personal experiences. Here are some questions to ask your provider.

Q. How familiar is the provider with diagnosing dementia?

A. Some primary care providers will oversee the diagnostic process for dementia concerns, or they may refer you to a specialist. It may also depend upon your unique symptoms. In cases where symptoms are unclear, such as in individuals who are younger than 65, an evaluation my be completed by two or more specialists, such as a neurologist or a psychiatrist.

Q. What does the physician need to know in order to get an accurate diagnosis?

A. It is very helpful to bring a list of any changes in health, including mood, memory concerns and behaviors that you and your family have noticed. In addition, listing any past and current medical problems, and identifying any family members with memory issues will be instrumental in helping your provider with your specific situation. Be sure that your medication list is current; include all prescriptions as well as over-the-counter medications. If you take any vitamins or supplements, be sure you know the dosages and the brand you take.

Q. What tests will be performed and why?

A. Some tests will be performed in the physician’s office, but some procedures such as MRIs will likely need to be conducted elsewhere and be pre-scheduled. Be sure to ask what is involved with each test, the expected time the test will take and when you are likely to get the results.

Getting the help you need is important for you and your family. Families are often asked to support individuals with Alzheimer’s for personal daily living tasks as well as emotional support. Ensuring your personal health, safety and quality of life starts with the right diagnosis.