The Worried Well: Am I Getting Early Alzheimer’s?

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“Some days I can’t remember a person’s name, and it really bothers me. I am afraid that I am getting Alzheimer’s.” This common worry plagues a large group of people, the “worried well”.

The reality is that everyone occasionally forgets names of people and places. These lapses increase as we age, or when we are distracted, under stress, or sleep deprived. Forgetting a word from time to time is not a sign of Alzheimer’s disease.


When Should You Worry?

Here is a quick overview of changes in cognition and activity that may signal a cause for concern.

  • Memory Loss. One of the more noticeable symptoms of Alzheimer’s is forgetting recently received information.  The memory loss is persistent and interferes with one’s ability to live normally. The person will repeatedly ask the same question. A person who occasionally forgets a word or name is not in this category. If you can recall the person’s name later, you are not in this category.
  • Sense of time. As we age, time tends to speed up. However, healthy people remain grounded in time, knowing the date and the year and being aware of major current events.
  • Sense of place. Most of us also have no difficulty in navigating to and from familiar places. It is a worrisome sign if someone starts to get lost in familiar territory.
  • Planning and Executing. We all have our own systems for organizing and completing tasks, albeit some seem to work better than others! These systems break down with Alzheimer’s. Signs include taking a long time to complete routine tasks, heightened disorganization, or inability to complete tasks, such as preparing a meal, putting together a “to do” list, or paying bills.
  • Misplacing items. It is common to misplace items, but people usually find them by looking in common storage spots, or retracing their steps. People with Alzheimer’s lack the ability to retrace steps. Further, their sense of judgment may be impaired, so they may place items in uncommon places. This tendency is why you hear stories of laundry being stored in the freezer.


Some Good News

Getting Alzheimer’s is not an inevitable part of aging. Try to ignore the drumbeat of the current suggestive messaging that is influenced by the desire to raise funds for research. In fact, there is increasing data from both the United States and Europe that indicate that the prevalence of Alzheimer’s is declining.


Take Action

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s. However, studies have shown that exercise, even moderate walking alone, and the adoption of a Mediterranean diet may protect against Alzheimers. Last, try to get some sleep, and stop worrying!

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