Watching a friend or family member experience changes in memory loss, thinking or behavior can be troubling. It’s normal to not voice your concerns because then they seem “real,” but if you are having significant concerns about their health, it’s important to be proactive and take action to find out what is going on.
According to authorities on Alzheimer’s disease, normal aging can include not being able to remember details of a conversation or event that took place over a year ago or forgetting things and events occasionally. However, signs of dementia can include not being able to recall details, recent events or conversations or not recognizing and knowing the names of family members.
The first step is to assess your loved one’s situation. What are the specific changes that you have noticed? Write down anything you’ve observed that could be considered out of the ordinary. Various different conditions can sometimes cause short-term or long-term memory loss. Think of any health or lifestyle issues that could play a role in the symptoms your loved one is experiencing.
Dr. Emad Shoukry, board-certified gerontologist at the Center for Healthy Aging at UT Health North Campus Tyler, says if you think your loved one is experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, “Take your loved one to see their primary care provider, a neurologist or a geriatrician.”
According to Shoukry, there are several standout signs of someone developing Alzheimer’s disease when compared to normal aging. Shoukry explains, “Because of memory impairment, patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease usually repeat themselves. They sometimes have difficulty finding words.” He adds that the degree of functional impairment and the progressive nature of Alzheimer’s disease is what differentiates it from normal aging.
“Forgetting where you park your car outside your regular grocery store and finding it eventually may happen occasionally in normal aging, but not finding it every time you go there and asking for help is not (a sign of normal aging). Getting lost while driving to your regular barber shop or forgetting the names of people you knew for years is not normal aging. Hallucinations and delusions in the absence of history of mental illness is not aging but they tend to happen late in the course of Alzheimer’s disease,” Shoukry said.
Shoukry explains that basic blood workup, urine analysis and sometimes neuroimaging can be done to rule out any underlying conditions like electrolyte abnormalities, hypothyroidism, vitamin deficiency, infection, liver and kidney diseases and reversible causes of cognitive impairment.
“A memory test is subsequently administered and the patient is scored. It is important to rule out co-morbidities such as anxiety, depression and sleep deprivation that can impact memory and cognition. Additionally, some medications may worsen the memory and trigger a confused state,” Shoukry said.
If you are concerned your loved one is developing Alzheimer’s disease, Shoukry recommends several ways to take action.
“The first question to ask is whether the patient has dementia or not. Secondly, if they have dementia, what type of dementia is it? Even though Alzheimer’s disease is responsible for two thirds of dementia cases, there are other types of dementia, Shoukry said, noting how important it is to be aware of what type of dementia your loved one may have.
“The third question to ask is what can we do to slow the progression of the disease? Physical activity, and to a lesser extent mental activity, as well as social interactions may help in that regard,” Shoukry said. “Reorienting the patient to dates, places and keeping reminders are important as well. Keeping a daily routine and minimizing sudden changes in familiar surroundings are crucial.
“The fourth question is how to safeguard the patient’s assets. A legal consultation may be warranted,” Shoukry said.
“Finally, the fifth question is to discuss the patient’s living will and how aggressive they want their physicians to be in case they have a serious health condition,” Shoukry said.
Even though it might be uncomfortable to discuss such topics, it is important to have these conversations so that the patient and their family’s wishes are known and so that the patient can get the treatment he or she needs. If you have concerns about a family member, don’t wait until it is too late to begin the conversation.
Call Dr. Shoukry at 903-877-7911 to learn more about Alzheimer’s care at UT Health North Campus Tyler; https://uthealthnorth.com/services/internal-medicine.