There are many signs of Alzheimer’s disease that are well known including memory loss, inability to recognize loved ones, wandering and more. But there are other signs and symptoms that may emerge long before the disease advances. Recognizing them may help a loved one to be diagnosed earlier, allowing for earlier treatment and supportive lifestyle adaptations.
One recent study indicates that those who reported being more drowsy during the day or feeling the need to nap during the day may be more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease decades later. Participants for the study were part of one of longest ongoing neurological studies im the country, the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging Neuroimaging Substudy that began in 1948. Researchers studied 124 of the participants between the ages of 36 and 82 who reported being “excessively drowsy” or napping during the day. They were given brain scans. The results showed that they were nearly 3 times (2.75) times more likely to have beta-amyloid deposits in their brain 16 years later. Beta-amyloid deposits form plaque that prevent nerve endings in the brain from functioning properly and are thought to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.
One of the conclusions reached by the study was that although sleep problems are known to be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, excessive daytime sleepiness in cognitively normal adults may be an early indicator of the disease as well. Although excessive daytime sleepiness and napping is common in older adults, the connection with increased plaque in the brain needs to be further explored.
Another early sign of dementia may be apathy. A recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry reported that an increasing lack of interest in daily activities, friends and even personal hygiene may in fact be an early indicator of dementia.
Researchers reviewed 16 studies of 7,365 people between the ages of 69 and 82. They found that “Apathy was associated with an approximately 2-fold increased risk of dementia in memory clinic patients”, occurring in nearly 20 percent (17.1) of the patients studied.
Apathy is defined as “a lack of feeling, emotion, interest and concern; a state of indifference.” When seniors who were previously engaged, enthusiastic and interested in daily life, hobbies, friends and social events suddenly become disinterested and disconnected, it is something to pay attention to. Researchers underscored the importance of this saying, “Apathy deserves more attention as a relevant, cheap, noninvasive, and easily measurable marker of increased risk of incident dementia with high clinical relevance, particularly because these vulnerable patients may forgo health care.”
An article on the apathy study in U.S.News & World Report gave the example of 63 year old Kevin Keller, a retired computer professional who was always meticulous in cleaning his garage and tending to his vineyard. He was also extremely punctual. Suddenly he didn’t care about attending to those hobbies or arriving anywhere on time. Gradually he stopped paying attention to personal hygiene and grooming. It took years to get the right diagnosis but finally, specialists discovered that he suffered from a type of dementia that impacted his brain’s executive functioning, called “behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia” or bvFTD.
Mentioning the delay in diagnosis is not to fault clinicians. Rather, it is to point out that the signs and symptoms that family members and friends notice in an individual over the course of months and years are sometimes the most important clues to reaching a diagnosis. The people who know the individual intimately, his or her habits and preferences, are often the first to recognize changes in personal characteristics. If you notice your loved one changing in what can be abstract, but deeply important ways, discuss it with his or her physician. Insist that the symptoms be taken seriously and that brain scans and other neurological tests be conducted to diagnose, or rule out, dementia.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care, Bed & Wheelchair Transfer Assistance, Companionship, Housekeeping & Meal Preparation, Personal Care, Recovery Care, and Transportation.