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3 Lesser-Known Early Signs Of Alzheimer's Disease

Forgetting common words. Losing or misplacing important items. Getting lost on a walk in one's own neighborhood. These are all recognizable signs that someone you love may be suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

However, there are other signs that are more subtle and less well known that may signal that a person has Alzheimer's disease before they reach the point of struggling for words or getting lost on a walk. The earlier Alzheimer's disease can be detected, the better the chance that it can be treated effectively. Take a look at some of the lesser-known signs early signs of Alzheimer's disease.

Loss of Smell

As strange as it sounds, one of the early signs of Alzheimer's disease may be a reduction in the patient's ability to smell. A University of Florida study showed that patients with a confirmed diagnosis of early Alzheimer's disease had difficulty smelling a spoonful of peanut butter. Groups of patients with no cognitive decline or with non-Alzheimer's dementia did not have the same difficulty.

Another interesting wrinkle-specific to Alzheimer's patients is that their ability to smell the peanut butter was worse with their left nostril than with their right nostril.

A separate study by the Mayo Clinic found that the when testing the sense of smell of seniors, the ones who had the worst scores were more than two times more likely to have cognitive decline.

The smell test isn't a definitive diagnosis for Alzheimer's disease, of course. But there does appear to be a link between a reduction in the ability to smell and Alzheimer's disease and cognitive decline. If someone you love is losing their sense of smell, that's something worth paying attention to.

Loss of Sleep

People who've worked with Alzheimer's patients have known for a long time that sleep and dementia are linked. One common characteristic of Alzheimer's is "sundowning", a term for the restlessness and irritability that many Alzheimer's patients experience in the evening. Alzheimer's patients may also sleep too little, too much, or at odd times of the day or night.

However, new research suggests that the sleep problems may start much earlier than previously thought. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Neurology describes how study participants in an Alzheimer's research program kept sleep diaries and wore sensors in their sleep.

The study participants who slept the worst were found to be five times more likely to have preclinical signs of Alzheimer's disease than the participants who slept well.

Researchers don't know yet whether the sleep problems increase the risk of Alzheimer's or the Alzheimer's increases the risk of sleep problems, or some of both. However, they do believe that sleep loss may be one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer's disease.

Loss of Balance

Falling is a risk for all older adults. However, seniors who will go on to develop Alzheimer's disease may be at greater risk of falling than other seniors.

A study of the connection between falls and Alzheimer's disease looked at a group of adults, some of whom had preclinical signs of Alzheimer's disease and some who didn't. All were cognitively normal at the time of the study.

The research showed that the adults who had the preclinical markers for Alzheimer's disease were more likely to fall. This is thought to be a result of noncognitive changes to the brain that precedes the cognitive decline of Alzheimer's. These noncognitive changes may affect things like the person's ability to balance, making them more prone to falls. This means that frequent falls may be a very early indicator of Alzheimer's disease.

Due to the progressive nature of Alzheimer's disease, even an early diagnosis can't prevent eventual declines in health and self-sufficiency. Alzheimer's patients need constant care that is often difficult for families to provide. A compassionate, well-run assisted care facility can provide your loved one with the safe, caring environment that they need.

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