How Alzheimer’s Disease Begins
Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t appear all of a sudden: it begins with small changes in memory and thinking that may go unnoticed for some time. Recognizing these early changes can help you make decisions about your life and take action to prevent or delay further decline.
Fight Back Against Alzheimer’s Disease Through Clinical Trials
Forgetfulness: Short-Term Memory Loss
Memory loss is often the first sign that brain function has begun to worsen. That’s because memories are largely processed in the temporal and parietal lobes of the brain – where Alzheimer’s disease typically begins.
Short-term memories are usually the first to go. People with cognitive decline may remember events from their youth for a long time, while forgetting what happened yesterday or an hour ago. In the earliest stages of the disease, these changes in short-term memory may be difficult to distinguish from the normal forgetfulness that happens with age.
It is important to emphasize that nobody has a perfect memory, and even young people misplace their wallets or forget what someone just told them. Occasionally forgetting where you put your keys isn’t cause for concern. An increasing pattern of forgetting, however, may indicate cognitive decline and signal future dementia. You may find that:
- You forget where you put things more often: perhaps twice a day instead of once a week.
- Your sense of direction isn’t as sharp: you don’t necessarily get lost, but it takes you longer to create a mental map of your route or your rely more on your GPS.
- You have more trouble retrieving words from your memory bank.
You repeat yourself in conversation; you may notice this yourself or others may point it out.
- Does your memory loss affect your daily life?
- Has your memory changed significantly from what it was before?
- Have other people noticed a change in your memory?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, take action now: get a memory assessment, take steps to prevent further decline if you already have early Alzheimer’s disease, and consider joining a clinical trial.
Awareness By Loved Ones or Care Partners: In people who started out with excellent memories, early memory loss may be hard to detect, because by most standards these individuals still have good memories. Other people, embarrassed about their failing memories, develop strategies to mask their memory loss or other early dementia symptoms so that loved ones won’t notice.
Along with memory loss, early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can include:
- Personality or mood changes: Irritability, apathy, or depression, especially if not a previous issue, may signal early cognitive decline.
- Decline in computing ability: mental calculations may take longer.
- Difficulty with planning or multi-tasking: it may be harder to plan or keep track of several tasks at the same time.
As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, it begins to impact all aspects of brain function and earlier symptoms become more pronounced. Early symptoms include:
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks: Forgetting (sometimes temporarily) how to carry out routine tasks, such as working your microwave oven.
- Confusion with time or place: Losing track of the passage of time or forgetting where you are.
- Communication problems: Difficulty following or joining conversations, or using the wrong names for things (e.g. “small clock” instead of “watch”).
- Misplacing objects: Placing objects in unusual or inappropriate places, like keys in the refrigerator.
- Changes in personality and behaviour: Suspiciousness or anxiety in a previously calm, trusting person, withdrawal from social interactions or volunteering activities.
Signs of Alzheimer’s/Dementia
- Pattern of poorer decision making than previously
- Inability to manage a budget as well as before
- Losing track of the time of year
- More difficulty carrying on a conversation
- Inability to retrace one’s steps to look for lost objects
Typical Age-related Changes
- Occasionally making a bad decision
- Missing a payment once and a while
- Temporarily forgetting the date
- Sometimes forgetting a word
- Occasionally losing things
The Importance of Early Diagnosis
Alzheimer’s disease is underdiagnosed: we are still missing 50% of cases. People with early symptoms often go from doctor to doctor, increasingly frustrated as they fail to get answers. Others get an inaccurate diagnosis of anxiety or depression. Some doctors may hesitate to bring up Alzheimer’s because they don’t want to upset patients or believe they have nothing to offer. When people do get a diagnosis, it often happens at a later stage of the disease, when dementia treatment and prevention strategies are less likely to help.
As a member of Canadian society, you are entitled to know the truth about your health. Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease also gives you the opportunity to:
- Make changes that could prevent or delay further decline (e.g. healthier eating, physical activity, brain exercises).
- Take medications that improve symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease; these medications are much less effective in people with more advanced disease.
- Join a clinical trial for people with early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, which gives you access to medications that may prevent or delay further decline.
- Participate in memory enhancement programs or support groups for people with dementia symptoms.
- Ask for accommodations or modifications at work, if you are still at work.
- Inform yourself about available resources on dementia symptoms.
- Make decisions about your future care.
If you’re worried about your memory or other symptoms, don’t take no for an answer. Take action instead: get tested, get treatment, join a trial. Get in touch with Toronto Memory Program at 416-386-9606 or [email protected] to find out more.
You may or may not be an accurate judge of your own memory. In either case, an assessment of your short-term memory can add objective information to your own perceptions.
Toronto Memory Program offers various options for short-term memory testing:
- Memory screening events: We schedule these free events throughout the year.
- Short-term memory loss test: More detailed than screening, this test will accurately assess your current short-term memory. Available in shorter or longer versions, the free test requires a referral from your family doctor. If you don’t have easy access to a family doctor, we can help arrange referrals.
- Cognigram: This computerized test is performed under supervision in the office. It does not depend on word knowledge, making it suitable for non-native English speakers.
Once you take a test, we can compare your results with those of people of the same age. This lets us know whether your memory falls within or outside the normal range for your age. Contact Toronto Memory Program at 416-386-9606 or [email protected] to schedule a memory screening or test.
Move The Needle Forward: Join an Alzheimer’s Clinical Trial
When you join an Alzheimer’s clinical trial, you not only help yourself, but you help advance science and society. Alzheimer’s trials explore different interventions and determine which ones work best. This knowledge can help you preserve your memory and cognition for a longer time – and help the next generation of people with memory loss and declining brain function.
Toronto Memory Program participates in a large number of international trials for people with symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers are launching new studies all the time, ranging from prevention of memory loss to treatment of dementia symptoms, and one of them may be a good fit for you. Here is a list of all current trials involving Toronto Memory Program. To learn more, contact us at 416-386-9606 or [email protected].