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In my former career, I was a teacher in a special education classroom.
I depended heavily on my teacher’s assistant to prepare lesson materials, guide students, and generally help run the classroom.
When my usually competent and pleasant teacher’s assistant became irritable and resistant to my directions, I wondered if she was going through some life difficulties.
But when she began having to write down even the simplest of directions I gave her, and even then couldn’t carry them out, I knew something was seriously wrong.
At 53 years old, she was falling victim to early-onset Alzheimer’s dementia.
It’s important to know the signs so that you or a loved one can seek help immediately if you believe this is happening.
How early is early?
Most people with dementia first experience symptoms around age 65 or older. However, some people develop symptoms earlier in life — sometimes as young as their 30s.
Matthew Cohen is an associate professor of communication sciences and disorders at the University of Delaware and associate director of the Delaware Center for Cognitive Aging Research.
He says that many symptoms of early-onset dementia are the same as dementia that occurs later in life, with one exception.
In early-onset dementia, a person is more likely to show noticeable changes in their mood, personality, behavior, or communication abilities.
This is what I first noticed in my teacher’s aide.
10 signs of early-onset dementia to watch for
Professor Cohen notes that it’s normal for the brain to make mistakes at any age, but especially as it ages.
But when do those mistakes add up to something worrisome?
He offers 10 signs and symptoms that might suggest there’s something more going on…
1. Daily problems with thinking and/or memory. Asking the same question over and over again, not just once, is a sign. So is relying more heavily on memory aids or on other people to remember simple things, as occurred with my teacher’s aide.
2. New difficulty handling financial affairs. Difficulty balancing a checkbook or paying bills, when before it was simple, could be a sign of dementia. Also, falling for scams is a clue that something’s wrong that wasn’t before.
3. Familiar tasks become challenging. Driving to a familiar location, or remembering the rules of a favorite game, suddenly aren’t easy anymore.
4. Losing track of dates and places. Missing appointments when someone was always punctual is a warning sign.
5. Changes in visual perception. Suddenly, someone has trouble understanding visual images, like road signs, or judging spatial relationships, like distances when driving.
6. New problems with spoken or written language. We all have trouble finding the right word sometimes. But if it’s constant, or notably worse than most people your age, it’s worth getting checked. Also, if you find yourself suddenly working harder to follow a conversation, this could be a sign.
7. Misplacing things. Everyone misplaces things from time to time. But if someone is unable to retrace their steps, or accuses others of stealing the item, it could be a sign of dementia.
8. Making uncharacteristically bad decisions. Doing things that are dangerous, or unhealthy, when this does not fit with a person’s typical personality or behavior, is worth noting.
9. Paying less attention to personal care. If someone becomes noticeably sloppy, poorly dressed, or ungroomed who was not this way before, it’s worthy of attention.
10. Changes in mood and personality. For example, if someone is often confused, suspicious of others, or depressed; if they show a loss of empathy (not showing concern for other people’s feelings); or if they just seem to have forgotten how to act in public (make rude comments, take food from someone else’s plate, etc.), this should definitely be checked out.
What to do about signs of early-onset dementia
If you notice these signs talk to a doctor or another health care provider you’re comfortable with and trust.
But the first steps may actually begin years before these symptoms…
Managing medical conditions like high blood pressure can also play a role. It’s been speculated for years that high blood pressure may lead to dementia, but just recently, using new research techniques, researchers were able to see areas of the brain damaged by the condition.
And avoiding one vitamin deficiency, in particular, is worth paying attention to: The University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute has found people who took vitamin D supplements had 40 percent fewer dementia diagnoses than those who did not take the supplements.
Editor’s note: While you’re doing all the right things to protect your brain as you age, make sure you don’t make the mistake 38 million Americans do every day — by taking a drug that robs them of an essential brain nutrient! Click here to discover the truth about the Cholesterol Super-Brain!
Spotting Early Signs of Dementia — Neuroscience News