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Is it simply aging or is it Alzheimer's?

You've misplaced your car keys—again. Or you cannot remember a word you've used many times, yet it's right there on the tip of your tongue. The older you get, the more likely you are apt to wonder: Are memory slips like this early signs of Alzheimer's disease?

“Alzheimer’s disease does not just affect the patient. It affects everyone in their lives as well,” said Jason Bombard, DO, psychiatrist for Aspirus. “Not everyone will be affected the same way, but early identification of problems is the best way to ensure everyone gets the help they need.”

The first thing to know is that mild forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging. The concern is when memory problems become serious—you cannot retrace your steps and find those car keys, for instance. Or you do not eventually come up with the right word.

Alzheimer's is a disorder of the brain that affects memory, thinking and reasoning. It gets worse over time. Most people display their first signs and symptoms when they are in their mid-60s.

During World Alzheimer’s Month, Bombard shares some signs and symptoms to look for:

  • Getting lost in familiar places.
  • Having trouble paying bills or managing money.
  • Misplacing things in odd places. For example, putting mail in the freezer.
  • Repeating questions.
  • Taking longer to complete normal daily tasks.
  • Losing track of the day or year.
  • Having trouble following a conversation or recognizing familiar people.
  • Having difficulties carrying out multistep tasks, such as getting dressed.
  • Engaging in impulsive behavior, such as undressing at inappropriate times or places or using vulgar language.

Get help

If you or a loved one has memory problems, or you're concerned about changes in memory and behavior, your first step is to talk to a doctor. It's important to know that these signs and symptoms may be caused by problems other than Alzheimer's, and the right care could improve or reverse them.

“There is currently not a cure for Alzheimer’s,” Bombard said. “There are medications and other therapies that can help to make it more manageable for the patient and the caregivers.”

Early detection and initiation of treatment can make a difference in how both the person with the illness and all of those around them cope with this very difficult diagnosis. Do not be afraid to ask for help and do not wait to reach out if you have concerns about a loved one. Working together and working early is the key to the best possible outcome for all those involved. 

For more information about Alzheimer’s and other services at Aspirus, visit aspirus.org.