Signs of Alzheimer’s or other dementia versus typical age-related changes

While there are noticeable changes that can be related to the onset of Alzheimer’s or other dementia, there are also typical age-related changes that can be misconstrued for dementia. Our 2020 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report lays out some of the differences as well as how to move forward if you are concerned about behavioral changes that do not seem age-related. 

 It is important to understand which changes call for extra attention, and which are to be expected. Some causes of dementia-like symptoms include Lyme disease, sleep apnea, depression, side effects of medications, thyroid problems, delirium, vitamin deficiencies and excessive alcohol consumption. These problems may be reversed with treatment, unlike Alzheimer’s disease. 

Typical age-related changes in memory/behavior:

  • Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remember them later.
  • Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.
  • Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or record a television show. 
  • Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later
  • Vision changes related to cataracts, glaucoma or age-related macular degeneration. 
  • Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.
  • Misplacing things from time to time and retracing steps to find them.
  • Making a bad decision once in a while.
  • Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations.
  • Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted. 

These changes are common as a person ages and are not always cause for concern or extra attention. Some memory loss and changes in behavior are to be expected. There are some shifts in conduct, however, that may be more notable than the typical changes listed above. For an in-depth explanation of each sign of Alzheimer’s or other dementia, visit our full 2020 Facts and Figures report.

Signs of Alzheimer’s or other dementias include:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems.
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure. 
  • 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. 

Understanding the difference is important, that’s why here at the Alzheimer’s Association we are committed to always bringing you the facts. If you have questions or concerns, our helpline is available 24/7 at 800-272-3900. 

Indoor Activities to Keep You Entertained During Shelter-In-Place

Shelter-in-place can be difficult to navigate for the 230,000 people living with Alzheimer’s in Illinois. Aside from the concerns of wandering, keeping occupied and entertained can also be a burden. Here are a variety of ideas to stay engaged and bonded with loved ones when staying indoors: 

Play a game. Dominoes, checkers, cards or board games engage multiple senses at once. Some friendly competition can strengthen your relationship and be a good way to have fun between just two people.

Spend time in the kitchen. Cooking or baking a loved one’s favorite dish or trying a new recipe can be a fun adventure together. Ask your loved one if they have a cherished recipe or use the internet to experiment. 

Test your knowledge. Try identifying all the states on a map or listing the presidents. Try to complete the list as a team, or turn it into a friendly competition with the prize of picking the next activity. 

Get personal. Look at family photo albums and share stories or make a family tree poster board. Reminisce about past times together, it can bring up memories that you realize you haven’t yet shared. 

Enjoy some self care. Brushing a loved one’s hair, a hand massage with lotion, or giving a manicure can generate a feeling of closeness. Discuss what types of personal care are relaxing to you and find the best way to enjoy it together. 

Read together. Relax and unwind by reading aloud. Find a good novel, a classic favorite tale or an autobiography of someone you’ve always admired

Arts and crafts. Unleash your imagination by creating a piece of art. Model with playdough, color in a coloring book, or even draw freehand on a blank canvas. 

No matter what activity you choose, indoor bonding can make even the coldest days feel a bit warmer. Use these tips as a reference next time the Illinois weather keeps you inside! 

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s and other dementia

There is no single way to test and officially diagnose Alzheimer’s or dementia. Physicians and physician teams instead use a series of steps and other factors to determine a living diagnosis. Oftentimes these steps can help physicians diagnose a person with dementia, however, they do not always explain the cause. 

Physicians combine the following tools to administer a diagnosis:

  • Reviewing medical history for both the individual and family. This includes psychiatric history and history of behavioral or cognitive changes.
  • Conducting blood tests and brain imaging to rule out other potential causes of dementia symptoms. 
  • Speaking with a family member to learn about changes in skills or behavior. 
  • Conducting cognitive tests as well as neurological examinations. 
  • Brain imaging to detect high levels of beta-amyloid, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Though Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, there are other possible causes. Different symptom patterns often indicate different causes of dementia. Physicians will use the series of tests to try and determine the single or mixed sources of dementia symptoms. The better they understand the sources, the more comprehensively they can design a treatment plan. 

Though no exact test exists for living individuals yet, understanding the process can help you know what to expect when going in to be seen by a physician regarding memory loss. If you aren’t sure where to start, we have resources designed to help you find a provider, understand your diagnosis, and decide how to move forward. Call our 24/7 Helpline for assistance at any stage: 800.272.3900.

For more from our Facts & Figures 2020 Report, click here.

Walk to End Alzheimer’s Volunteer Jackie Marco

Jackie Marco is a Walk to End Alzheimer’s Volunteer from Sandwich, Illinois. She has raised over $4,000 in support of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s over the course of two years. She is currently employed at Financial Plus Credit Union in Ottawa, Illinois. She comes from a family of farmers, owning over 800 acres of farmland with her siblings and father. Her connections across the community make Jackie an impactful leader for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s Illinois Valley. To learn more about getting involved with Walk to End Alzheimer’s, click here. 

“I am 22 years old and currently live in Sandwich, Illinois. I work in the banking industry as well as help on my family’s farms. Pictured is myself in the middle along with my parents Jeff & Patty. I have one fur baby Lizzy who is a purebred Border Collie. I got involved with the Illinois Valley Walk two years ago.

This is something that hits very close to home for me. All three of my grandparents who I grew up with have battled Alzheimer’s. I lost my grandma (my mom’s mom) in August of 2018, my grandpa (dad’s dad) in August of 2019 and most recently my other grandma (dad’s mom) in January of 2020. It had been very hard to watch all of them go through and battle this horrible disease. With the help of our families and a live-in full-time caretaker, we were able to care for all three of them and keep them in their homes. Having been through all of this and now losing all of them makes this walk mean so much more to me. 

I do believe that one day there will be a cure. I am so excited to play a role in planning and putting this walk together this year and cannot wait to work with everyone!”

Volunteer Support Group Facilitator Mary Sanko

Mary Sanko is a volunteer support group facilitator for the Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter. A support group is a regularly scheduled in-person or virtual gathering of people with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, family, friends or caregivers who interact around issues relating to dementia. Groups can have social, educational and/or support components and are facilitated by individuals who have received training from the Alzheimer’s Association. Find a support group near you here: Illinois Chapter Support Groups

“In the early 1990’s, my mother lived in a small town in the state of Oregon and I was 2,000 miles away in Illinois.  When she began to tell me her memory was failing, I dismissed it and tried to reassure her. However, it soon became obvious that she was right.  She had a friend named Eileen, a retired Army nurse, who became her “guardian angel,” helping with her medications and errands. The responsibility became too great for her, and since there were safety concerns, my brother and I decided to move her to Portland near where he lived.  She resisted the move, but we knew that we needed to “keep her close.” Becoming her caregiver and doing it with the dignity she deserved was very difficult. She passed away late in 1997.

I attended a local support group during the later stages of her disease and found it reassuring and helpful.  Early in 1998, I was asked if I would consider becoming a support group facilitator. I still wonder why I was chosen.  After all, I had a mathematics degree and had worked as a computer programmer. No social work education here! The local office staff trained me and I became a co-facilitator for the group I had attended a few months earlier.  I found that helping others through their Alzheimer’s journey eased my grief.

It wasn’t long before my co-facilitator moved out of the area and I was on my own. Lurinda, whose mother also had Alzheimer’s and had been a member of the group, joined me in 2004.  We have been a team ever since. We have a two-pronged approach to our meetings – education and support. The education segment is usually a DVD, but occasionally, we’ll have a guest speaker.

Twenty years later, I still find the support group meeting to be the most rewarding hours of my month.  My mother, in her illness, gave me a wonderful gift, and I hope that through her, I have been able to help others.  Facilitating a support group can be very challenging at times; but it is wonderful to see caregivers who come because they are desperate for help eventually begin to help others.

 When I was growing up, my mother took sewing classes so she could help me with my 4-H projects.  Sewing, and later quilting, became an important part of my life. In 2002, I made a small quilt that still hangs in the local office.  It is dedicated to all caregivers with the inscription, “In honor of support group members who help and encourage each other through difficult times.”  And it is also a tribute to my mother.”