As loved ones age there are certain illnesses, like Alzheimer’s disease, that become concerns. Some of the worry comes from uncertainty about what the symptoms are, and how the disease is diagnosed.

Often, the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s are mistaken for the normal side effects of aging. This can make diagnosis harder. However, there are tests that a doctor can do to assess whether or not your senior loved one is developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Are you concerned a loved one has Alzheimer’s?

The early stages of Alzheimer’s are often very easy to miss. This is made harder by the fact that some seniors struggling with forgetfulness will hide symptoms from family members and friends. However, if a senior loved one seems to be having problems with their memory, or has unexplainable behavior changes, it’s very important to discuss this with a doctor.

Share your Concerns with a Doctor

If you’re worried that a senior loved one may have Alzheimer’s, set up an appointment with their primary care physician. Explain to the doctor the symptoms and changes you’ve noticed. In order to assess your loved one for Alzheimer’s, the doctor may do the following:

  • Review your loved one’s complete medical history
  • Ask questions about behavior and personality changes
  • Conduct a physical exam, often including blood and urine tests to help rule out other conditions
  • Do a neurological exam, which could include brain scans
  • Perform cognitive tests to see if there are issues with language, problem solving, or memory

As the Mayo Clinic points out, getting a prompt and accurate Alzheimer’s diagnosis is very important. Although there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, an earlier diagnosis is very helpful. It allows more time to plan for the future, and a better chance of trying out some of the newer medications that have been shown to slow the progression of the disease or reduce the impact of symptoms in some people.

Alzheimer’s has Several Stages

Although every person who develops Alzheimer’s has a slightly different experience, the symptoms tend to follow a similar sequence. Some experts, like the Alzheimer’s Association, use a simple three phase model to describe the progress of the disease:

Early Stage: Mild Alzheimer’s: There are changes that happen in the brain long before the first symptoms are visible. However, the early stages of Alzheimer’s usually show up as memory lapses. This could include:

  • Forgotten names
  • Trouble remembering newly learned details
  • Losing or misplacing valuables
  • Increasing trouble staying organized

Middle Stage: Moderate Alzheimer’s:  This is usually the longest stage of the disease, often lasting for years. During this stage people forget more information, including details about their own lives and personal history, and struggle more with daily activities. This usually includes:

  • Personality changes, including increased suspiciousness or delusions
  • Confusion about the time or date
  • Difficulty remembering personal information that they always knew before
  • Trouble with bowel and bladder control

Late Stage: Severe Alzheimer’s: The final stages are where people usually need help with almost every aspect of daily life and personal care. This may include:

  • Struggling with, or inability to perform daily tasks
  • Reduced physical abilities, like walking, or sitting upright
  • Losing the ability to respond to surroundings
  • Inability to carry on conversations

Being familiar with the different stages and the common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can help you be prepared.

If you want to know about the kind of care your senior loved one needs as the disease progresses, we would be happy to answer your questions about specialized memory care services.

Be Prepared to Answer Questions

When you go with your senior loved one to their doctor’s appointment, the doctor will want to know a lot of information. They will probably ask about health, memory and mood changes, and whether they happen at a certain time of day. They may also ask about recent medication changes, and past health concerns.

In order to be prepared, take some time to write down all of the details you can think of about your loved one’s medical history beforehand. This will help to make sure that nothing important is overlooked during the visit.

It’s important to keep in mind that having trouble with memory doesn’t mean your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease. There are many other conditions and illnesses that have similar symptoms. Many of these are treatable. Ruling out other conditions is an important part of getting the right diagnosis. So don’t delay seeking professional help if you suspect there is a problem.