2017-07-05 / OnCall

If Memory Serves

Kathleen Schaefer, MD

Q: Lately I’ve been misplacing my keys, and I’m wondering if this is simply age related or a possible sign of Alzheimer’s. What are some signs and symptoms to look out for?

A: Everyone has occasional memory lapses, and it’s normal to forget where you put your keys or why you walked into a room in your house. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease that starts slowly and gets progressively worse. The rate at which symptoms worsen can vary from person to person. There are three main phases of Alzheimer’s — mild, moderate and severe. And there are a variety of symptoms with each stage.

Symptoms of mild Alzheimer’s, which usually lasts 2-4 years, include:

  • Mood swings and depression; having less energy and motivation to do activities
  • Spending more time watching TV and sleeping, and having less interest in work or social activities
  • Forgetting recent memories, conversations and events that have just occurred
  • Having difficulty conversing or understanding others, following a recipe or balancing a checkbook, and trouble driving like getting lost in familiar areas

In the moderate stage, which lasts 2-10 years, memory loss is worse and problems can occur in daily life. Symptoms include:

  • Rambling speech or using the wrong words while speaking
  • Forgetting a wedding date or where they attended high school
  • Not recognizing family members or friends
  • Trouble sleeping and wandering around, not knowing where they are or how they got there
  • Getting angry and lashing out at family members or thinking caregivers are trying to hurt them

The third stage is the most severe and typically lasts 1-3 years. Some symptoms include:

  • Confusion about what’s in the past and what’s happening now
  • Inability to process information or express themselves
  • Weight loss, seizures, problems swallowing and control of bladder and bowels
  • Mood swings and hallucinations

If you think someone is exhibiting these signs, make an appointment with a doctor — the sooner, the better. With early detection, there may be more treatment options that may help maintain one’s independence longer.

Kathleen Schaefer, MD
Geisinger Scenery Park

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