Struggling with questions about Alzheimer's Disease?
11/19/2020 by Kyle McKenzie, M.D.
Alzheimer's disease is the best known and most common type of dementia. It is a degenerative brain disease that progresses over time. While the hallmark symptom is memory loss, there is more to be aware of and watch for.
Learn more in this Q&A:
What are the signs of Alzheimer's dementia?
There is some degree of memory change that we will all experience as we age. When memory loss is significant enough that there is suspicion for Alzheimer's disease, it is typically being brought up by a spouse or loved one.
While memory loss is the symptom most commonly associated with Alzheimer's disease, other changes to be aware of include:
- Difficulty with directions or tasks, problem-solving, planning and organizing.
- Mood. With increased confusion, difficulty with day-to-day tasks and trouble keeping track of time, people can become more depressed, anxious and socially withdrawn.
- Difficulty with speaking and writing, which increases isolation.
- Increased suspicion.
These changes may happen slowly over a period of months to years. If changes are abrupt, another cause is possible, and these changes should be evaluated immediately.
When is it time to talk to a health care provider?
If there are concerns with a change in memory, difficulty with routine tasks or mood changes, it is important to visit with your health care team. Often, a family member is the one looking to set up a visit for these concerns. During that visit, a health care provider will collect a history of memory concerns, review how daily tasks are completed, assess mood, and, with permission, obtain additional input from loved ones. The health care provider will perform a memory test that will take five to 10 minutes. Also, the provider often will check blood work and may arrange a brain scan using a CT or MRI.
Your provider will assess for many potential causes for memory and mood issues beyond Alzheimer's disease. Some of these issues are manageable conditions, such as low thyroid level or depression. Therefore, it is always good to bring these concerns to your health care team.
What comes next?
If the evaluation with your health care team fits with a dementia diagnosis, such as Alzheimer's disease, it is an important time to review and plan. It is a difficult disease with no cure, and it is stressful to face. However, since many patients and family members often come to the appointment suspecting some underlying cause for the changes they have seen over months to years, it can be helpful just to put a name to it and talk about it. Discussing goals and wishes, as well as thinking about long-term safety are important. Health care providers also can provide information on community resources, such as support groups, which continue to find new and safe ways to continue during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the senior population at an increased risk for COVID-19 and the added steps many have taken for their safety, it may be more difficult to notice changes this year. It is never a bad idea to reach out by phone to loved ones, and just check in and make sure they are managing well. We all could use that at this time.
Dr. Kyle McKenzie is an internal medicine physician and geriatrician in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Division of Community Internal Medicine (CIM). His primary focus is care for the geriatric population and specifically working with those in long-term care settings. He is medical director for several skilled nursing facilities in surrounding communities, including Dodge Center, Hayfield, Pine Island and Plainview, Minnesota.