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21829681_lIt can be challenging determining whether a momentary mental fog is just the result of normal aging or a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. AD can affect people in their 30s, 40s and 50s, although we tend to think of it as an older person’s condition because it most commonly happens around age 65, with the risk doubling every five years after that.

According to new research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, scientists say symptoms of AD can appear nearly 20 years before it is clinically diagnosed.

In the study, one symptom that stood out was a person getting lost. The study had 71 people completing a virtual maze over 20 minutes to assess cognitive map skills. They were then tested on their ability to recreate the route or find specific landmarks in the environment. Results showed those who had difficulties navigating new surroundings had Alzheimer’s-related changes in the brain – so-called cerebrospinal fluid — even though they were preclinical.

The researchers hope future studies can help to identify those at risk of developing the progressive, neurodegenerative disease long before symptoms can be diagnosed by a battery of medical examinations. This is important because the earlier the brain disorder is found, the most effective treatments can be. Having plenty of time also gives the affected senior time to put their financial, legal and medical affairs in order with family.

Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the US, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. In the early stages, which can last for years, a person may function independently despite experiencing changes in the ability to think and learn. No two people experience the condition alike, but Birmingham seniors with early-stage Alzheimer’s may need help with keeping appointments, remembering names, managing money, keeping track of medications, and planning or organizing.

The middle stages reveal changes in behavior as the person with Alzheimer’s display depression, anxiety, irritability, suspicion, and repetitive acts. Wandering becomes a greater concern. In the later stages, the person with Alzheimer’s may have difficulty eating and swallowing, need assistance to walk, lose the ability to communicate with words, and become more vulnerable to infections like pneumonia. Difficulty with bowel and bladder function are typical.

Since care needs are extensive during the late stage, they may exceed what a family member can provide in the home. At Regency Retirement Village, we offer Regency Reflections, a secure area where seniors can receive love, support, understanding, security, and a sense of dignity. A communal living arrangement may be the best option to manage issues such as nutrition, care planning, recreation, and medical care. Someone whose Alzheimer’s is mild can move through different levels of care within the community as his or her needs change. That brings peace of mind to families and a comforting familiarity to the affected senior.

The Alzheimer’s Association has a lot of helpful information on its website that can help families recognize the warning signs and symptoms, as well as research possible treatments and find support. Visit http://www.alz.org/ for more.

To learn more about Regency, call us at (205) 942-3355.