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How Do I Know If It's Alzheimer's?

Written by Dana Larsen
 about the author
4 minute readLast updated May 24, 2019

Has your loved one been losing things, having trouble remembering words and phrases, or experiencing difficulty navigating familiar places? To an extent, memory changes can be a normal part of aging. Alzheimer’s disease, however, is not. Learn the differences between Alzheimer’s symptoms and normal aging, understand other potential causes of memory loss, and get tips on how to keep track of your loved one’s cognitive concerns to help prevent further decline.

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Every 65 seconds, someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s disease. With more than 5.8 million people in the U.S. living with the disease in 2019, there’s no better time to learn about the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Forewarned is forearmed when it comes to the disease and knowing how to spot the signs of potential illness and how to know if it’s Alzheimer’s is a critical line of defense in the fight against age-related cognitive diseases.

How to Know If It’s Alzheimer’s Disease

Most people are unaware of how Alzheimer’s and dementia actually attack the human body.
Research has shown that there are plaques that first attack the brain and these plaques not only physically deteriorate it, but also inhibit normal nervous system functioning to the rest of the body. These physical changes are what determine whether someone actually suffers from the disease or not.

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But how do we know whether we are having a “senior moment” or whether there’s actually cause for concern? Here are some tell-tale signs:

1. Alzheimer’s or neurological symptoms?

Neurological problems can be a warning sign for Alzheimer’s and dementia. After all, our brains are part of the nervous system. So if you’re having these sorts of problems with your motor skills, it’s definitely worth visiting a doctor:
  • Major changes in personality:Big changes in from financial decision-making to personal grooming
  • Physical changes:Whether reading is suddenly difficult, or judging distance or discerning color seems a challenge
  • Trouble speaking or writing:Including struggles with following a conversation or repeating oneself

2. Alzheimer’s or “senior moments?”

We can all have a bad day, but there’s definitely a difference between a minor episode or two compared to frequent issues with the following:
  • Brain freeze: Forgetting the rules of a game, losing your train of thought or forgetting where you’re going are part of normal human experience, but the frequency and severity of these episodes can foreshadow a problem
  • Confusion: Forgetting an appointment is normal, but forgetting the appointment location — or how to get there — can signal a warning
  • Losing things: We’ve all misplaced our keys, but misplacing objects on a daily basis may be cause for concern

3. Dementia or depression?

Often depression can be confused for dementia. If feeling overwhelmed or overwrought, your brain is often overloaded (and “over” anything can’t be good). Here are some signs that you could be suffering from either depression or dementia — and a doctor is the best person to distinguish the difference:
  • Difficulty concentrating: Where you’re having trouble following plans and recipes, or having problems keeping track of bills
  • Disruptions in everyday life: Such as forgetting recently learned information or needing to rely more on other people for daily tasks
  • Mood swings: Such as unusual anxiety, confusion, fear, paranoia, suspicion or recognized depression
  • Social withdrawal: Including removal from hobbies, sports and work activities

4. Is it Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia?

While Alzheimer’s and dementia are related, they are still very different diseases. While they resemble each other in many ways, there are still distinct mental and physical differences that make them two very different beings. While it is usually a straightforward task for a physician to determine whether someone has dementia, the cause is not always easy to pinpoint. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, memory loss can be caused by a number of treatable conditions, such as:
  • Brain tumors
  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • Malnutrition
  • Thyroid problems
  • Vitamin deficiencies
As well as by other dementia-causing illnesses. Vascular dementia, for instance, is the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s, but it is more likely to present itself in impaired judgment than in the memory loss characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.

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Once it is determined whether someone has Alzheimer’s or dementia — the treatments can be very different.

How Doctors Test for Alzheimer’s

It is imperative to have your parent or senior loved ones get an appropriate medical evaluation if they show any of the above warning signs.
If the condition is treatable, then they may not need to worry about Alzheimer’s at all. If they do have Alzheimer’s and dementia or another dementia-causing condition, a timely diagnosis can help you plan for the future.
OurParents Senior Care Advisors can help you learn more about Alzheimer’s and dementia care facilities and explore care options for your loved one.


Meet the Author
Dana Larsen

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between OurParents (A Place for Mom, Inc.) and the reader.  Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site.  Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not recommend or endorse the contents of the third-party sites.