The Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease
Dr. Diane Bovenkamp
Dr. Diane Bovenkamp, Science Communications Specialist from the BrightFocus Foundation, discusses the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
Sarah DiSandro: Hi, I’m Sarah DiSandro, with Alzheimer’s Disease Research, a program of the BrightFocus Foundation; the BrightFocus Foundation is a nonprofit organization leading the fight to save sight and mind.
First, I’d like to caution that the information we are providing today is a public service of the BrightFocus Foundation and is not intended to be medical advice, so please consult your physician. All medications and supplements should only be taken under medical supervision and the BrightFocus Foundation does not endorse any medical product or therapy. Today we are talking about the challenge of determining whether you or a loved one, may be experiencing signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Diane Bovenkamp, Science Communications Specialist, is here to help us understand how to identify the symptoms of the disease.
Dr. Diane Bovenkamp: Hello Sarah. You used the word “challenge” here, which is truly appropriate. It can be difficult for people to know if a decline in their own or their loved ones’ day-to-day functioning are symptoms of dementia, or perhaps Alzheimer’s.
Sarah DiSandro: What is the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?
Dr. Diane Bovenkamp: Dementia isn't a specific disease. Instead, Dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting brain functions severely enough to interfere with daily living. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia—it accounts for an estimated 60 to 80 percent of cases. Every 68 seconds, someone in the United States is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Sarah DiSandro: Wow. So what are some of the signs that point to Alzheimer’s disease?
Dr. Diane Bovenkamp: Some of the signs can include:
- Profound memory loss.
- Inappropriate behavior or behavior swings, including neglect of personal care and safety.
- Apathy and depression.
- Apparent confusion and agitation.
- Repeatedly asking the same question.
- Failure to recognize or identify common objects and getting lost in places that had always been familiar.
- Difficulties with spoken or written language and communication.
- Difficulty with routine tasks, such as paying the bills.
- Problems with vision and understanding spatial relationships.
- A reduction in the sense of smell.
- Problems with muscle control, movement, and balance.
- Signs of impaired judgment, reasoning, or loss of the ability to think abstractly.
- Over time, people with Alzheimer’s tend to become disoriented to time and place and may eventually suffer from hallucinations and paranoia.
Please remember that having one or even two of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean that you have Alzheimer’s disease. It’s certainly time to seek help if the frequency of the symptoms increases, friends and family notice, and these behaviors interfere with daily activities, employment, and social interactions.
Sarah DiSandro: So it’s really a matter of severity...when problems arise that disrupt normal functioning?
Dr. Diane Bovenkamp: Right. Alzheimer’s is not mild forgetfulness or memory delays in recalling names, dates, and appointments. For example, it’s common to forget where you placed your car keys, but with Alzheimer’s, people may forget the purpose of keys.
Sarah DiSandro: I understand that there may be other causes for some of those behaviors. How can someone know with some certainty that it’s Alzheimer’s disease?
Dr. Diane Bovenkamp: Alzheimer’s-like symptoms may be present due to other, potentially treatable reasons and should be ruled out by a physical examination, and blood and urine tests. For example, Dementia and Alzheimer’s-like symptoms are associated with vitamin B12 deficiency, infections, drug interactions, a metabolic or nutritional disorder, a brain tumor, a series of small strokes, depression, or another progressive disorder, like Parkinson’s disease. Some symptoms can be reversed if they are caused by treatable conditions.
Once other diseases have been ruled out, the healthcare provider can refer the patient to a specialist, typically someone with extensive knowledge and experience in Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and memory problems. The specialist can perform a thorough examination to determine whether the person has the disease, including a recent history of mental and behavioral symptoms, neuropsychological tests, and more physical exams.
Sarah DiSandro: Diane, to whom should people “go” for such help? What kinds of doctors or services?
Dr. Diane Bovenkamp: The primary care physician may refer the patient to a specialist. There are many medical professionals who may be able to diagnose and treat memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease. Each is trained in different specialties, including those called a Neurologist, Neuropsychologist, Gerontologist, Geriatrician, Geriatric Nurse Practitioner, Geriatric Psychologist, or Geropsychologist.
A good place to start a search would be with the American Medical Association’s web-based “DoctorFinder.” The American Academy of Neurology’s “Patients & Caregivers” website has a search called “Find a Neurologist.” Other options are the American Psychological Association’s “Psychologist Locator Search” and the American Geriatrics Society’s “Find a Geriatrics Health Care Professional.”
Sarah DiSandro: Thank you again for this information, Diane.
Dr. Diane Bovenkamp: You’re welcome Sarah, thank you for letting me share this information with you today.
Sarah DiSandro: For more information about Alzheimer’s disease or to get involved to end this degenerative brain disease, visit brightfocus.org, or call 1-855-345-6ADR. That’s 1-855-345-6237.