When does it become a problem?
Everybody misplaces their keys or just can't place a name with a face occasionally, and as we age it becomes more common. The brain deteriorates over time just like the rest of the body and nearly everyone will experience some cognitive decline as they age.
Forgetting the occasional appointment is just a part of life, but at what point does cognitive deterioration go from being a normal part of life to something more serious?
When an individual begins forgetting things they've just learned or heard? When they begin having difficulty recognizing long-time friends and loved ones? When they lose track of where they are?
All of these things can be signs of something much more serious than just the normal effects of aging, they can be signs of dementia.
According to a 2012 report by the Alzheimer's Association criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders guide physicians in diagnosing when an individual is exhibiting signs of dementia and not just normal cognitive decline.
According to the manual, to be diagnosed an individual must exhibit a decline in memory and a decline in at least one other cognitive area that is severe enough to interfere with normal, daily life.
Cognitive abilities used to evaluate individuals for diagnoses include;
Ability to generate coherent speech or understand spoken or written language.
Ability to recognize or identify objects, assuming intact sensory function.
Ability to execute motor activities, assuming intact motor abilities and sensory function and comprehension of the required task.
Ability to think abstractly, make sound judgments and plan and carry out complex tasks.
The most common type of dementia, comprising between 60 and 80 percent of cases, is Alzheimer's Disease and it affects approximately five-and-a-half million people in the United States.
But what are the symptoms of Alzheimer's?
Alzheimer's affects different people in different ways but a gradual worsening of the ability to remember new information is common and the condition does present some common warning signs including;
Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
Challenges in planning or solving problems.
Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.
Confusion with time or place.
Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
New problems with words in speaking or writing.
Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
Decreased or poor judgment.
Withdrawal from work or social activities.
Changes in mood and personality.
The onset of Alzheimer's is believed to happen as much as 20 years before any symptoms present themselves. However, once symptoms begin to present themselves, individuals progress at varying rates from mild, to moderate and finally to severe symptoms.
In the mild stage, individuals exhibit increased memory loss and evident changes in other cognitive abilities including getting lost, trouble handling money and bills, repeating questions, increased time required to complete normal tasks, poor judgment and mood and personality changes.
In the moderate stages of the disease areas of the brain controlling conscious though, such as those controlling language and sensory processing, break down. People with moderate Alzheimer's may experience further loss of memory and confusion, trouble recognizing family and friends, an inability to learn new things or carry out simple, multi-step tasks like dressing, hallucinations and paranoia. Individuals may need help with basic living tasks such as bathing and eating.
In the most sever stages, Alzheimer's patients can no longer communicate, fail to recognize loved ones and are confined to bed, leading to a need for constant care. In this state, the individual is more prone to infections and, eventually, the body will shut down and the individual will die.
There is no cure, but early diagnoses can allow management of Alzheimer's to begin sooner, which can significantly improve quality of life.