Think you’re losing your mind? You might be. Alzheimer’s Disease rates could triple by 2050, according to a new study published in the journal Neurology.
The study—based on the current and projected U.S. population, the rate of Alzheimer’s, death rates, and other stats—suspects that the 4.7 million people with the disease as of 2010 could jump to 13.8 million in 30 years as the baby boomer generation ages.
But while you can—and should—actively sharpen your mind, Alzheimer’s is still more likely to affect your parents than you or your friends. (Click here for 27 Ways to Power Up Your Brain.) Cases younger than age 55 are rare, says Gary Small, M.D., director of the UCLA Longevity Center, and coauthor of The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program. “At age 65, your risk is still only 10 percent, but by age 85 it’s more than 40 percent.”
Since Alzheimer’s and dementia are diseases of cognitive impairment, they start with signs of mild cognitive impairment first, says Dr. Small. The good news: Some of those signs can be spotted—which is important considering “it’s easier to protect a healthy brain than repair damage once its extensive,” he adds.
Could your parents be on the path to Alzheimer’s? Watch out for these five signs.
1. They’re canceling their plans.
Social withdrawal—canceling plans, staying in when the person usually goes out, or simply acting more distant—can be a big warning sign, says Dr. Small. How come? In the beginning stages of cognitive decline, your brain automatically recruits additional brain cells to compensate for the ones that aren’t functioning as well as they should, he says. “Even with this recruitment effort, mental errors slip in and people are aware of those errors, which can cause stress. Avoiding challenging situations, like social activities and conversations, is a way to avoid that stress.”
2. They’re down in the dumps.
A study published in the Journal of American Geriatric Society found that 2 years before diagnosis of Alzheimer’s dementia, 40 to 50 percent of people become more socially withdrawn or show symptoms of depression. While a change in mood could be something else—a thyroid problem, a mood disorder, or other diseases—it could also point to a deteriorating brain, Dr. Small says.
3. They’re repeating their stories.
Everyone forgets things once in a while, but how do you know if it’s problematic? “It’s a matter of degree,” says Dr. Small. If someone has forgotten where they parked a couple of times in the past month—not just once—or tells you the same stories over and over forgetting that they’ve already told you them, that’s a red flag.
4. They’re showing up late.
If mom or dad is usually on time, but suddenly they’re rolling in half an hour late every time you see them, don’t blame the traffic. In the early stages of dementia, you can still get out of the house, but it may take longer because you’re checking or forgetting things, which makes you late, says Dr. Small.
5. Their style is slipping.
Don’t overlook sloppiness: Dad used to be a sharp dresser, but now he’s showing up to lunch in a dirty shirt or a tie with stains on it—and cognitive decline could be to blame, says Dr. Small. “People with Alzheimer’s can’t take care of themselves,” he says. “People with mild cognitive impairment can—but they are struggling.”
If you liked this story, you’ll love these: