Sunday 22 September 2019

How to spot the signs of Alzheimer's

As Barbara Windsor's husband reveals that she is living with the disease, Tome Morrissy-Swan highlights the symptoms to look out for in your loved ones

Diagnosis: Barbara Windsor has been suffering from Alzheimer’s since 2009. Photo: Getty Images
Diagnosis: Barbara Windsor has been suffering from Alzheimer’s since 2009. Photo: Getty Images

Tome Morrissy-Swan

When it was revealed last week that Barbara Windsor has Alzheimer's disease, there was an immediate outpouring of support for the EastEnders and Carry On actress. Her husband, Scott Mitchell, broke the news after growing rumours of her worsening health.

Windsor was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2014, and the symptoms have gradually deteriorated.

"Since her 80th birthday last August, a definite continual confusion has set in, so it's becoming a lot more difficult for us to hide," said Mitchell.

"I'm doing this because I want us to be able to go out and if something isn't quite right, it will be okay because people will know that she has Alzheimer's and will accept it for what it is."

Alzheimer's is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that gradually builds up over time. It is the most common form of dementia (an umbrella term for brain diseases which affect the ability to think, remember and function), making up 62pc of cases.

According to the Alzheimer Society, there are 55,000 people in Ireland living with dementia, and one in three people over the age of 65 will develop the disease.

There is no cure for Alzheimer's, but early diagnosis can help ease the symptoms, which include behavioural changes and memory loss.

Mitchell says he first detected signs of Alzheimer's in his wife back in 2009 when she began finding it tough to remember her lines. After rigorous tests on mental agility and a brain scan, doctors diagnosed the disease.

The early signs of Alzheimer's centre around forgetfulness, which means that often loved ones - whether partners, family or friends - are best-placed to notice behavioural changes. Encouraging your partner to see his or her GP as early as possible is advisable.

Early symptoms

The symptoms of Alzheimer's can be divided into three main stages. It can take years to progress from mild to serious and each person will develop them at a different rate.

Early symptoms tend to speak of memory loss:

  • forgetting recent conversations, events or whereabouts of household items;
  • forgetting place or object names;
  • regular repetition or asking the same question several times;
  • poor judgement and finding it tough to make decisions;
  • becoming less flexible or resistant to trying new things;
  • there may also be mood changes, increased anxiety or confusion.

Middle-stage symptoms

As the disease develops, memory deteriorates further, with names of loved ones harder to recall. Even recognising friends and family can become difficult.

By now, a sufferer will generally need support to get on with their daily lives - with eating, washing, getting dressed and going to the toilet.

There may also be:

  • increased confusion and disorientation - getting lost or not knowing what time of day it is;
  • obsessive, repetitive or impulsive behaviour;
  • delusions, paranoia or suspicion of family, friends or carers;
  • speech and language problems;
  • disturbed sleep;
  • frequent mood swings, depression, anxiety, frustration and agitation;
  • difficulty in performing spatial tasks like judging distances;
  • hallucinations.

Late symptoms

The symptoms get more serious in time, and living with Alzheimer's can become distressing for both the sufferer and their family and friends.

Hallucinations and delusions can increase, and people with Alzheimer's can get violent and more suspicious. Full-time care with eating, moving and using the bathroom is required.

Late-stage symptoms include:

  • finding it hard to eat and swallow;
  • difficulty in moving without help;
  • weight loss (or weight gain);
  • urinary or bowel incontinence (finding it tough to control);
  • speech loss;
  • short- and long-term severe memory problems.

Irish Independent

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