Caring for an elder

Cognitive Clues

Catching Cognitive Changes Early

I was lucky to spend an entire day away from the clinic with my Solcere team where we could really talk about how things are operating, our immediate and long-term goals, and how we can support one another. My eyes got a little watery listening to one of the doctors at Solcere and Marama share how much she cares for her patients. She described a moment that impacted her deeply — a non-verbal Alzheimer’s patient managed to form the words “thank you” because the treatment she was receiving improved her quality of life greatly.

This shows that the practices we use can make a difference no matter what the stage of cognitive decline. The best results are easier to achieve if we start as early as possible. Often the early signals are hard to detect and by the time memory loss becomes apparent, the disease is in full swing. 

Diagnostic symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

According to the National Institute on Aging, mild Alzheimer’s disease is often diagnosed when there symptoms appear:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Poor judgment, leading to bad decisions
  • Loss of spontaneity and sense of initiative
  • Losing track of dates or knowing current location
  • Taking longer to complete normal daily tasks
  • Repeating questions or forgetting recently learned information
  • Trouble handling money and paying bills
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Wandering and getting lost
  • Losing things or misplacing them in odd places
  • Difficulty completing tasks such as bathing
  • Mood and personality changes
  • Increased anxiety and/or aggression

But are there warning signals we can sniff out even earlier? 

Sniffing out cognitive decline

Some studies suggest that losing your sense of smell could be an indicator of cognitive decline.

Damage to the olfactory nerve can be a piece of overall Alzheimer’s damage to the brain. It’s important not to jump to conclusions with a loss of smell because there are many factors that can cause a stuffy nose and inflammation of the olfactory nerve. 

Eyes on Alzheimer’s

We can also take a look at the eye as an early indicator. The eye has been a popular area of cognitive research and recent results were published this year. The largest study to date of retinal samples and dementia was published this February. It found retinal accumulation of beta-amyloid, a key marker of Alzheimer’s disease, suggesting that non-invasive testing of the eyes could be used for early detection. Another study published early this year utilizing advanced imaging techniques was able to find thinning layers in the optic tract that are associated with Autosomal Dominant Alzheimer’s Disease (ADAD) and potentially late-onset Alzheimer’s. 

A new dementia risk calculator

There’s still no single factor to indicate the likelihood of developing cognitive decline. In the UK, a new risk calculator was developed that utilizes multiple factors: age, education, parental history of dementia, material deprivation, a history of diabetes, stroke, depression, hypertension, high cholesterol, household occupancy, and sex. A study reported that this UK Biobank Dementia Risk Score (UKBDRS) outperformed three other widely used risk calculators from Australia, Finland and the UK. 

This research is exciting and gives us hope for tools that are affordable and easy for early detection of cognitive decline. There is so much we can do with changes to our diet, lifestyle, environment and mental health that will reduce our risk of developing cognitive issues.

Dr. Heather Sandison

P.S. – Blood sugar regulation is yet another health concern linked to Alzheimer’s. In my talk with Dr. Beverly Yates of the Reversing Type 2 Diabetes Summit, I explain why Alzheimer’s is referred to as “Type 3 Diabetes.” Today is the last day to watch my talk and view the summit for free. Register now to get instant access

P.P.S. – You’re invited! If you will be in the San Diego area, I am hosting an open house at Marama on November 4. I would love to meet you and share in person just how special Marama is. Event is free with RSVP. Click here to view the invite flyer or Facebook event page