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Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia: Reduce Your Risk By Recognizing Warning Signs

Corey Remle, Community Health Worker

Many of us wonder if forgetting something, like where we left our glasses or keys, is a symptom of dementia or maybe Alzheimer’s disease. We may worry about losing our memories as we age, but dementia involves much more than forgetting small things from time to time.

Dementia is an umbrella term to describe several progressive brain diseases that affect an individual’s capability to remain independent and manage daily activities. An estimated 60-80% of dementia patients have Alzheimer’s disease. Other forms include frontal-temporal dementia, Lewy body dementia, and vascular dementia. An estimated 120,000 people over age 65 in South Carolina will have Alzheimer’s disease in 2025, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

One warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss that disrupts daily life. This would include forgetting important dates and events, forgetting recently learned information, and asking questions repeatedly. Often, this requires more reliance on family members to complete tasks that used to be easy to manage.

Another warning sign can be increased challenges in planning or solving problems. One reason for concern might be a person repeatedly being unable to keep track of monthly bills. Other concerns may be an inability to develop a plan for completing a complicated task, or trouble concentrating. Occasional math errors when managing finances or missing a step in a recipe may happen more often for older adults, but they are not signs of someone  developing Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.

Individuals with dementia may have difficulty completing familiar daily tasks – driving to a    well-known location, remembering the rules to a favorite game, or organizing a grocery list. As the disease progresses, someone with dementia forgets the rules of the road while driving and may become unable to read road signs correctly. Family and friends will face difficult decisions related to taking safety measures like restricting the person’s ability to drive.

Someone with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia may experience mood or personality changes. This is because memory loss and other symptoms can impact the person’s behaviors. They may suddenly become suspicious, confused, fearful or anxious, and may even accuse someone of stealing from them. They may become upset more easily with family or friends, particularly when doing something outside their comfort zone.

The risk for developing dementia increases after age 65, but there are things we can do each day to reduce our risk of cognitive decline. Mental and physical exercises are important for maintaining brain health as well as heart health. Tips for maintaining a healthy body are helpful for healthy brains as well: eat healthy, engage in physical activity like walking each day, stop smoking, and get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

Other important tips for brain health include playing games or doing puzzles, taking a class or learning a new skill, and engaging in social activities regularly. If you have concerns about memory loss or other signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, see your provider! An early diagnosis can be very beneficial for patients and their families.

Visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s website at alz.org/sc for more information and several online educational presentations about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

The Alzheimer’s Association has a help line available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for caregivers and family members of people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias: 800-272-3900.

Corey Remle is a Community Health Worker at HopeHealth and a Volunteer Community Educator with the Alzheimer’s Association of South Carolina.

To learn more about services for seniors, visit hope-health.org/services/senior-health-care.

 


HopeHealth

HopeHealth

HopeHealth educates its patients on the importance of having a health care home. As a primary care facility, HopeHealth’s medical team works to prevent and detect illness and the early onset of disease, provide routine physical examinations and promote overall healthy lifestyles.

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