It’s a common source of lighthearted humor, the so-called “senior moment” when a well-known name stays on the tip of the tongue, car keys hide in plain sight or the key ingredient of a traditional holiday dessert is left unused on the kitchen countertop.
But when these moments start to happen too frequently, it inevitably leads to the dreaded question: Could it be Alzheimer’s?
Now estimated to affect 5.4 million Americans, Alzheimer’s is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that causes memory loss in its earliest stages. People with this degenerative condition eventually lose the ability to carry out the simple tasks of everyday living.
“Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a term used for a group of brain diseases that cause the loss of intellectual and social skills that interfere with everyday life and self-care,” said Dr. David Dumont, hospitalist at Penobscot Valley Hospital in Lincoln. “While the cause of Alzheimer’s is currently unknown, we believe it may involve a combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors. Current medications and treatment approaches can improve symptoms for a time and help patients preserve their independence.”
Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in America. The disease is not a normal part of aging, but it occurs more frequently in older people. In 90 percent of cases, Alzheimer’s is diagnosed in people over 60 years old. However, the disease can be diagnosed at a young age, sometimes as early as 30, which is referred to as early-onset Alzheimer’s.
The bulging baby boomer generation is causing alarm as the number of people 65 and older is expected to grow from 40 million to 72.1 million by 2030. Also, people are living longer due to medical advances and personal fitness.
Recognizing the challenge that Alzheimer’s researchers are up against, Congress unanimously passed the National Alzheimer’s Project Act in December 2010. The act called for a national plan to accelerate research and improve care and service for Alzheimer’s victims and their families.
“The societal impact of Alzheimer’s disease in America already is staggering,” said Dumont. “The disease costs $200 billion annually, with more than 15 million unpaid caregivers using their time and resources to support affected friends and loved ones.”
If you’re concerned that you or someone you know may be developing Alzheimer’s, watch for these 10 early signs and symptoms as identified by the Alzheimer’s Association, and check with your physician if they persist:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- 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
Keep in mind that these symptoms can be caused by other disease conditions or life influences that can get better with medical or mental health interventions. Undergoing an expert medical assessment can assure that your “senior moments” aren’t signaling a more serious condition.
Contributed by Penobscot Valley Hospital and Quorum Health Resources.