Forgetting which day it is and remembering later is a typical age-related change, whereas losing track of the date or the season is sign of dementia or Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Forgetting which word to use is a typical age-related change, but difficulty having a conversation is a sign of dementia or Alzheimer's. These are just a couple of ways in which to tell the difference between normal age-related memory loss and Alzheimer's disease, an area covered in an upcoming presentation titled, "Know the Signs," by the Alzheimer's Association.
The presentation will be held Wednesday from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. at the Minot Commission on Aging. Jodi Keller, regional care consultant with the Alzheimer's Association, will give the presentation, which is free and open to the public. It is supported by funding granted through the North Dakota Department of Human Services, Aging Services Division.
The main goal of the presentation is to clarify what's normal aging and what's an indication of early memory loss that could be related to dementia, Keller said.
"A common statement is that memory loss is part of aging and this presentation focuses on myths and facts," she added.
Dementia is a generally broad syndrome based on symptoms that are being presented, with different types dementia that fall under that umbrella, Keller explained. There are approximately 70 types of dementia and Alzheimer's is the most common, she added.
On the other hand, Alzheimer's is a fatal disorder that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior, according to the Alzheimer's Association website (alz.org). Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.
Keller's presentation is for caregivers and for those questioning memory concerns of their own.
"Because if you're living with someone going through memory changes, you might jump to conclusions," she noted. "Or if you're questioning your own memory because that can be scary to show up at places at the wrong time or repeat things."
There are several reasons for why Keller is giving a presentation on knowing the signs of Alzheimer's disease. One reason is for people to have clarification about what truly is a symptom of dementia or what could be a separate medical condition that could be preventable, Keller explained.
"That can ease some of the fear and misconceptions about the disease," she said.
She added that it's emphasized that people talk with their health care provider and get a good medical exam to rule out other conditions that may mimic dementia. Such conditions include depression, medication side effects or medication not taken as directed, metabolic conditions, vitamin deficiency, dehydration, malnutrition and infections.
"A common question is, 'Why get a diagnosis because there's no treatment or cure?'" Keller said. "But the earlier the diagnosis, the better the treatment options, and that's why we encourage early diagnosis."
According to the Alzheimer's Association, the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's disease include memory changes that disrupt 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; and changes in mood or personality.
There are, however, ways to prevent acquiring Alzheimer's disease. Keller said a healthy diet, a mentally and physically active lifestyle, following the doctor's orders with medications or recommendations, and socializing are some preventive measures.
"Socializing is a huge one," she noted. "People who are isolated and alone are at a higher risk, so the big stress is on staying active."
It also helps for people to be willing to talk about it and in turn that takes away the fear and the feeling of being the only one, Keller also said.
There are also challenging aspects that accompany Alzheimer's disease, like the progression of the disease in the person who has it, a resistance to having conversations about the disease, a hesitance to reach out for help, and feeling that you can handle everything alone, Keller explained.
The thought that significant memory loss is a normal part of aging is a common misconception about Alzheimer's disease, Keller noted. It's also a misconception that forgetting common, everyday things but remembering them later is a sign of the disease or making occasional financial errors when balancing a checkbook, she added. "The line in the sand is when memory loss is affecting everyday life, like driving and getting lost, forgetting to eat, or not being able to cook or manage the house or yard work," Keller said. "The task completion process isn't there."
Alzheimer's disease has always been around, Keller noted, but health care providers are able to diagnose people with the disease more accurately and earlier. What's more, the baby boomer generation has entered the affected age range so a larger population of individuals are presenting the disease more often, making it seem like it's increasing, she explained. The baby boomers are also more vocal about the disease and there's an increased awareness as well.
The most important message Keller said she could offer to people about Alzheimer's disease or to someone who has just been diagnosed with it is, "You are not alone. There are support and resources available statewide and the biggest step is to reach out and be open."
The Alzheimer's Association is a statewide project with five regional care consultants in North Dakota. They offer care consultations for individuals and families; education for communities, professionals and caregivers; provide a 24/7 information helpline; a nationwide emergency response service; and facilitate support groups. There are no charges for any of the services. Keller covers Minot, Williston and the surrounding areas and can be reached at 837-0062 or 340-6450, and the number for the helpline is 800-272-3900.