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5 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease can be challenging to diagnose, especially in its early stages. Learn about five common signs that distinguish it from common forgetfulness.

Over 30 million people worldwide are living with Alzheimer's disease. Use this list to help to distinguish between the normal memory loss that accompanies aging and early signs of Alzheimer's disease. Talk with your physician if you or a family member is displaying any of these symptoms:

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. This common sign of Alzheimer's includes forgetting important dates, events and recently learned information, as well as repeatedly asking for the same information and relying on others for completion of previously routine tasks.
  2. Planning and problem solving challenges. Common examples are taking a long time to complete familiar, simple tasks such as developing a plan, working with numbers, following directions (such as a recipe) or keeping track of monthly bills.
  3. Familiar tasks become unfamiliar. It may be difficult to complete daily, routine tasks such as driving to a familiar location, reciting much-used phone numbers, or remembering the rules of favorite games.
  4. Confusion about time or place. Losing track of dates, where you are or how you got there, and the general passage of time without recognition is a sign of Alzheimer's.
  5. Trouble understanding visual images, difficulty reading, judging distance, determining color or contrast, and confusion as to what is reflected in a mirror may affect some people with Alzheimer's.

3 Ways to Prevent Memory Loss

If you worry about your memory as you get older, here’s good news: there are ways to help minimize memory loss. Find out what they are, and make them part of your daily routine!

Does it seem your memory is getting worse with every passing birthday? It happens to some extent to all of us as we age, but a growing body of medical evidence suggests that lifelong stimulation is the key to building and maintaining brain cells, slowing memory loss and possibly lowering the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Research has found that doing interesting work (paid or volunteer), pursuing hobbies and engaging in an active social life can help. I recommend challenging yourself with music performance (playing or learning an instrument or singing), language lessons, learning a new computer program, or hunkering down with a good crossword puzzle. Be certain to try all of these with a smile - studies show that a positive emotional state is also good for your brain.

Remember that anything that makes you think in different ways is challenging for the brain and likely beneficial for your memory.


How Exercise Affects Memory

We've known for some time that regular aerobic exercise can give memory a boost, but now a new study from Georgia Tech has shown that 20 minutes of simple resistance exercise can also do the trick. Researchers recruited healthy young adults to either perform exercises or serve as controls. They first showed a series of 90 photos on a screen to all the participants. Then, everyone sat at a leg extension machine. Half the participants performed the leg exercises - extending and contracting each leg 50 times at their personal maximum effort. Those in the control group just sat at the machines while one of the researchers moved their legs passively. Two days later, all the participants returned to the lab and were shown 180 photos, half of which were those they had seen at the first session. Memory tests indicated that the participants who actively performed the exercises remembered about 60 percent of the photos, while those in the control group remembered only 50 percent. The research team now intends to look further into how resistance exercise affects memory in various populations, including older people with memory impairment.

My take? This study contributes to accumulating scientific evidence suggesting that physical activity helps keep your mind sharp and your memory from slipping. A related study at the University of Pittsburgh found that brain volume increased in areas associated with memory in seniors who took 40-minute walks three days a week for one year. And a study in mice at Columbia University found that exercise triggered blood flow and cell growth in brain areas linked to age-related memory decline. It's interesting to learn from the Georgia Tech study that resistance exercise can also affect memory for the better.