Is it Alzheimer's, Or Are You Just Getting Older?

Leave the house without your car keys? Walk into a room and forget what you came there for? Mix up the names of your children? These are the brief, confused episodes so many of us laugh off as “senior moments,” but what if they were truly indicators of early stage Alzheimer's disease?

One in eight people aged 65 and older suffer from Alzheimer's disease, which accounts for 60 to 70 percent of all cases of dementia. It's a chronic neurodegenerative disease, which means it starts slowly and gets progressively worse. The early symptom is short-term memory loss, but does misplacing your car keys really “count?”

First, the bad news: There is no simple test for Alzheimer's disease. Some screening tests have been developed which purport to measure short-term memory, but the only hard evidence can be derived from “negative” testing, i.e., brain scans and neurological exams that rule out other problems.

The better news is that early stage Alzheimer's disease often encompasses other, more tell-tale, episodes besides memory loss. The affected individual is often given to mood swings, behavior changes, and poor hygiene. She will often get lost in familiar places, and may struggle to remember common words and phrases. One of the very first indicators of the disease is trouble balancing a checkbook.

There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, no known way to slow the progressive nerve damage, and not even any firm understanding of what causes it. If you believe that you (or, more likely, someone close to you) may have entered into the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, see your doctor. There is often anxiety and depression that accompanies the early-stage confusion and memory loss, and these can be treated.