It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how or when Alzheimer’s disease (AD) starts to take hold. Initially, cognitive abnormalities may only be apparent on detailed neuropsychological testing. Eventually, however, problems with memory and reasoning can’t be ignored.
“The common warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease usually ‘sneak up’ on people and rarely occur all at once,” says neuropsychiatrist Brian S. Appleby, MD, of Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in the Neurological Institute.
Early warning signs
Here are some early warning signs to watch for:
- Forgetting recent conversations
- Repeating oneself or asking others to do so
- Learning new things, such as using a new remote control, becomes more difficult and frustrating
- Trouble finding words in conversation, like names of people or places
“It can be difficult for immediate family members to pick up on these changes,” Dr. Appleby says, “but more distant relatives or friends, who see the person infrequently, often can see them.”
If these symptoms surface, don’t hesitate to get further assessment. For memory complaints, you may want to seek out a neuropsychiatrist, neurologist, geriatric psychiatrist or geriatrician. See a specialist in a memory disorder center nearby, or get a referral from your primary care physician. Your local Alzheimer’s Association is another good source.
Dr. Appleby suggests three things to help prevent or delay AD:
1. Follow your heart
Think of everything you know to do to be “heart healthy,” such as not smoking or excessively drinking; keeping your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar under control; eating well; and exercising at least 30 minutes a day, four days or more a week.
2. Get your mind in gear
Boost your brain often by reading, playing board games, doing crossword puzzles — even video games.
3. Don’t be a shrinking violet
Schedule social engagements outside the home regularly. People who live more solitary lives are at increased risk of dementia, and those who have memory problems but remain social fare much better.
“Thinking of dementia as a chronic illness — for which we can take preventive steps — is something that we can all do right now,” he says.