A Special Report by Jim Erskine, Homeway Press

Quick Links:
1. What is Alzheimer's Disease?
2. Nine Symptoms of Early Alzheimer's
3. How to predict who will develop Alzheimer's Disease
4. What to do if you suspect a problem

If you are concerned about the condition of an older family member or loved one, you are likely asking yourself the same questions thousands of others have asked before:

“I know there's something wrong.... Could it be Alzheimer’s?”

“What symptoms should I be looking for?”

“Is there anything we do about it?”

“How can I tell if we need help?"

You aren't alone. Many folks share these "silent" fears and concerns about loved ones or family members who show signs of memory lapses or have difficulty performing routine tasks.  They fear Alzheimer's Disease -- a terrible, progressive brain disorder that slowly strips away one's mental and physical capabilities.

Today, there are more than 4 million Americans over age 65 suffering from Alzheimer's. And bad as it is, that number is expected to double within the next 25 years. The toll taken by this heartbreaking disease is terribly high: The costs of long term health care for those afflicted by the disease can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. It can -- and often does -- wipe out a lifetime of
dreams, plans and savings -- draining loved ones and caretakers physically, emotionally and spiritually.

What is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia in older people. A dementia is a medical condition that causes loss of memory or intelligence. However, AD is not a normal part of aging.

* An estimated 8% to 15% of people over age 65 suffer from Alzheimer's.

* By the time you reach age 72, you have a one in five chance of developing this disease.

The onset of Alzheimer's disease is usually very slow and gradual, seldom occurring before age 65. Over time, however, it follows a progressively more serious course. Among the symptoms that typically develop, none is unique to Alzheimer's disease at its various stages. It is therefore essential for suspicious changes to be thoroughly evaluated before they become inappropriately or negligently labeled Alzheimer's disease. Every day, scientists learn more about AD, but right now the cause of the disease still is unknown, and there is no cure.

9 Symptoms of Early Alzheimer's

How can you tell if a loved one is suffering from this disease? Here are nine classic  symptoms you should be on the lookout for:

1) Short Term Forgetfulness:  Short Term Memory loss is a major sign of Alzheimer's disease, and is usually the first noticed symptom. This will often show itself very subtly.  Signs to watch for include:

 * Asking the same question repeatedly.

 * Forgetting something that was just said.

 *Forgetting names of relatives and neighbors.

 * Repetition of the same stories and statements.

 * Repeating the same actions (for instance, the person may make several phone calls to the same person on the same day and not remember).

 * Misplacing objects around the household. Often the individual will blame someone else for losing or hiding the item.

 * Blaming their forgetfulness on other persons or on improbable causes.

At first, the person is aware of the loss of memory and the errors he is making, and will attempt to “hide” or cover them up. But over time, it becomes evident to friends and family that there is a problem.

2) The “whatchamacallit” syndrome: Another common sign of Alzheimer's disease is difficulty with word finding. Often the person will have a name or word right on the tip of their tongue, but can't seem to find it. Because of this, a microwave may become a “thingamabob”, or a visiting friend may be called “Whats-his-name”.

3) Wrestling with Numbers: The ability to manage household financial affairs and  tasks such as balancing a checkbook is impaired. Often family members have to intervene and take over these tasks.  Any mathematical calculations become increasingly difficult.

4) Changes in behavior and personality: It is often commented by family members that the individual  doesn’t seem to act like themselves anymore. People who were once easy going may become quite argumentative and irritable. They may become unreasonably suspicious.  They might lose some of their inhibitions and have inappropriate emotional outbursts. They may exhibit uncharacteristically abnormal sexual behavior or antisocial conduct. They may be subject to mood swings and seem depressed, restless or passive much of the time. Often family members try to make excuses for this behavior, blaming it on stress or lack of rest.

5) Loss of Orientation: The individual may develop difficulty driving or navigating his or her way when shopping or running simple errands. They may get lost when driving or walking in formerly familiar neighborhoods, and may even not recognize the street their home is on.

6) Difficulty with previously easy tasks:  Routine tasks such as getting dressed, cooking a meal, or driving a car can become a source of  confusion and frustration.  Names and faces get mixed up.  They may forget how to operate the TV remote control, or be unable to tie their shoes, or other simple tasks. This confusion becomes progressively worse and more noticeable as time goes on.

7) Need of prompting: Sometimes the individual is unable to complete a task without direction or cueing. This can affect simple, routine tasks such as cooking, grocery shopping and taking medication.

8) Poor Judgment: Lack of good judgment, especially in personal hygiene habits may become apparent. Patients tend to bathe less frequently and are more inclined to wear soiled clothing.

9) Out of focus: Because Alzheimer’s patients often have difficulty performing simple, everyday tasks, they often abandon activities and interests that they once thrived on. For instance, they may say they are no longer interested in going to club meetings -- but in actuality, they can‘t remember the names of some of their friends. They may say they have lost interest in their woodworking hobby -- but the truth is, they can no longer understand how to operate the machinery. Their ability to concentrate on a specific subject or task usually declines as time goes on.

How to predict who may develop Alzheimer's Disease

Is there a way to actually predict who may develop Alzheimer's problems?

Yes. The fact is, in most cases you CAN tell if there is potential risk for Alzheimer's to develop -- often YEARS before clinical symptoms appear. Researchers have pinpointed at least FIVE "markers" (or "early warning signals") that indicate Alzheimer's or other possible dementia problems, and each of these can be detected using simple home testing procedures. They are:

1) Unusual Fingerprint Patterns: Researchers have found that fingerprints can provide an early marker in identifying Alzheimer’s, years before any other sign or symptom is noticed.  Normal fingerprint loops on the pointer and index fingers (known as radial loops) either point toward the thumb or straight toward the end of the finger. However, the presence of  multiple ulnar loops that point toward the little finger and away from the thumb often indicates early Alzheimer’s. 72% of Alzheimer’s patients studied in one clinical test has eight or more ulnar loops on their fingertips, while only 26% of the control group displayed this pattern.

2) Loss of the sense of smell: This is another very early sign that problems are developing that could be leading to Alzheimer’s. A loss of ability to distinguish or recognize odors can take place up to two years before memory loss is noticed. This loss is due to damage to nerves in the olfactory area of the brain, which controls the sense of smell.

3) Depression is another early sign of Alzheimer’s that can begin up to two or more years before clinical symptoms are observed. Approximately 50% of all Alzheimer's patients suffer from bouts of depression, well before other personality changes are noticeable.

4) Spatial Perception problems: Because of insufficient blood supply and nerve damage to the occipital area of the brain, another early marker is difficulty comprehending visual / spatial information.

5) Loss of hearing: This occurs in a high percentage of early Alzheimer's patients. A study at the University of South Florida revealed that 49 out of 52 patients had a significant hearing loss. Most individuals affected by this are unaware of their hearing loss.

What should you do if you think
your loved one has signs of Alzheimer's?

Don’t ignore tell-tale signs and just hope they will go away. It is important to take charge of the situation. Contact your personal physician and arrange for a thorough evaluation, including a physical exam and mental status screening. Sometimes what might seem to be Alzheimer’s can be another condition entirely. Many other conditions have symptoms similar to AD, including thyroid problems, depression, stroke, and vitamin deficiencies. Only a thorough screening by your local physician can determine if your loved one‘s condition is indeed Alzheimer‘s.

There IS help and hope for Alzheimer’s victims and their families.  While there is presently no cure for the disease,  early detection, diagnosis and treatment can delay the progression of the disease sufficiently to allow the patient to lead a much longer, fuller, healthier life.



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