Alzheimer’s: unkempt clothing, improper parking and swearing are signs of an illness

Memory loss, confusion and disorientation are the three well-known signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

However, there are dozens of subtle behavioral changes that can also indicate the cruel life-stealing condition.

Before the disease’s most devastating symptoms even appear, sufferers may experience a change in humor and start wearing scruffy clothes.

And scientists this week uncovered another possible sign.

Researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) found that older people who were more willing to give money to a stranger were at higher risk of being hit down.

Alzheimer’s affects around 850,000 people in the UK and 5.8 million in the US, but the charity figure fears charitable rates will rise in the coming decades as the world population ages.

Here, MailOnline reveals some of the other unusual signs that you or a loved one might have Alzheimer’s.

While memory loss, confusion, and disorientation are well-known signs of Alzheimer’s disease, experts have also uncovered dozens of subtle behaviors that could indicate the condition. Graphic shows: Six signs of Alzheimer’s disease

spend money

Older people are known to be at greater risk of fraud.

But the latest research also shows that handing out money could potentially be an early sign of Alzheimer’s.

Researchers from USC and Bar-Ilan University in Israel found that financial altruism was significantly related to the early stage of the disease.

The researchers gathered 67 older adults, around the age of 70, for the study.

Each participant was paired with another person they had never met before in a lab setting and handed US$10 (£8) to split between them and the other.

The older participants also underwent neurological testing to assess their current cognitive status and potential risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

The researchers found that those who were willing to give more money to a person they had never met before were also often in poorer cognitive states, suggesting they had a higher risk of Alzheimer’s.

The findings, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, suggest the disease’s impact on the brain could have a domino effect, making people more prone to spending cash.

dr Duke Han, a professor of neuropsychology at USC who led the research, said, “Trouble managing money is thought to be one of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and this finding supports that notion.”

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative brain disease in which the buildup of abnormal proteins causes nerve cells to die.

This disrupts the transmitters that transmit messages and causes the brain to shrink.

More than 5 million people have the disease in the US, where it is the sixth leading cause of death, and more than 1 million Britons have it.

WHAT HAPPENS?

When brain cells die, the functions they provide are lost.

These include memory, orientation and the ability to think and reason.

The course of the disease is slow and insidious.

On average, patients live five to seven years after diagnosis, but some can live 10 to 15 years.

EARLY SYMPTOMS:

  • loss of short-term memory
  • disorientation
  • behavior changes
  • mood swings
  • Difficulty handling money or using the phone

LATER SYMPTOMS:

  • Severe memory loss, forgetting close family members, familiar objects or places
  • Anxious and frustrated with inability to understand the world, leading to aggressive behavior
  • Eventually lose the ability to walk
  • May have trouble eating
  • The majority will eventually require 24-hour care

Source: Alzheimer’s Association

Changes in humor

Being a big fan of Mr. Bean could be another sign of Alzheimer’s, according to research.

Researchers from University College London (UCL) found that people with the disease were more likely to enjoy slapstick over satirical or absurd comedy shows than healthy adults of the same age.

Friends and relatives of 48 people with Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) — an unusual type of dementia that causes problems with behavior and language — were given questionnaires about their loved one’s preferences for different types of comedy.

They were asked if people liked slapstick comedy like Rowan Atkinson, satirical comedy like South Park, or offbeat comedy like The Might Boosh.

Family members were also asked if their relative had changed their preferences over the past 15 years and if they had ever noticed inappropriate humor recently.

The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2015, found that people with Alzheimer’s began favoring slapstick jokes about nine years before the onset of typical dementia symptoms.

People with FTD were also more likely to laugh at tragic events in the news or in their personal lives, or events that others would not find funny, such as a poorly parked car or a barking dog.

The researchers said more studies are needed to determine the exact cause of the changes in humor, but most behavioral changes after developing Alzheimer’s are caused by the brain shrinking in the frontal lobe.

Worn out dress

People with Alzheimer’s also may have difficulty choosing clothes that go well together and wearing weather-appropriate items when left unassisted.

Researchers at the Universities of Kent and York described how people with dementia – most commonly caused by Alzheimer’s – were less able to dress themselves.

The study, published in Sociology of Health and Illness in 2018, looked at 32 people in three care homes and 15 regular homes in Kent.

In addition, 29 family carers and 28 nursing home staff were surveyed to get their opinions on the clothing worn by people with dementia

Melissa, a family caregiver cited in the study, described her distress after her father started changing his clothes when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

She said: “I’ve never seen my father unkempt. Never. To this day I’ve turned up at the home and he’s sitting there in rumpled clothes, which really hurt me because I’m not used to it – not at all.’

Carers also described difficulties in getting people with advanced dementia dressed, having to guide and encourage their arms.

Changes in clothing can be caused by a variety of Alzheimer’s effects, from forgetting to change clothes to muscle stiffness and sudden jerky movements that make it difficult to get dressed.

Bad parking

Studies show that driving with Alzheimer’s patients can also become significantly worse if the disease affects their motor skills and thought processes.

The disease slows people’s reactions, makes them worse at parking and eventually forces them to hand over the keys to their car.

Stopping driving can often cause people with the memory-stealing disorder to become stressed and agitated because of the perceived sacrifice in autonomy.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis studied the driving habits of 139 people for over a year to see how the disease was affecting them. Half were diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s and the other half were not.

The study, published in Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy in 2021, found that people with the disease were significantly more likely to make abrupt changes in direction and drive more slowly.

The changes were so severe that the researchers were able to create a model to predict whether people will develop Alzheimer’s based solely on their driving.

The model accurately predicted cases in 90 percent of people.

Curse

Another sign of Alzheimer’s can be becoming more potty-trained, especially in inappropriate situations.

The filter people typically use to stop themselves from swearing in front of children, for example, isn’t as strong anymore, leading to more profanity.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles found that 18 percent of people with FTD used the word “f**k” when asked to name words beginning with “f.” This compares to none of those who had Alzheimer’s.

The 70-patient study, published in Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology in 2010, asked patients to name as many words that began with the letters “f,” “a,” and “s” that they could think of in one minute.

While the study didn’t provide raw data, it did show that six of the 32 dementia patients said the swear word when asked to list words for “f,” and more said the word “s**t” for “s.”

Without filter

Similar to swearing, Alzheimer’s sufferers’ brains tend to filter what they say and how they behave when the brain changes.

People may become rude, say inappropriate things, undress in public, or talk to strangers more often than they used to.

Experts say patients can also lose their sexual inhibitions under certain circumstances, such as inappropriate touching in public.

They believe the change is caused by brain shrinkage in the frontal prefrontal cortex in the frontal lobes of the brain — the part that controls our filter.

The Alzheimer’s Society said: “These situations can be very confusing, distressing, shocking or frustrating for people with dementia and their loved ones.

“The person with dementia may not understand why their behavior is considered inappropriate. It is very unlikely that they are intentionally inappropriate.’

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