Alzheimer's disease: Spotting the warning signs

More than 5 million Americans have the disease

ORLANDO, Fla. - Chances are -- you know someone, probably someone you love, with Alzheimer's disease.

Nearly half a million people in Florida have the disease -- and that number is only expected to grow.

That's why the first to step to getting your loved on the help they need is to spot the warning signs.

"I knew I had problems, forgetting things," says Tommy Roberts, a 72-year-old who's fighting severe memory loss. "What I get a lot of times from people is, 'You already said that once.' Well, you might know that but I don't know that."

He tries to stay positive and feel better. That's why he goes to the Brain Fitness Club at the First United Methodist Church in Winter Park.

Everyone in the program has early-stage Alzheimer's and each week, to spark their minds, they're given brain games, like memory tests and group exercises.

"Everybody here has a memory impairment, they know they have a memory impairment, and they want to do brain healthy activities," says Peggy Bargmann, who started the Brain Fitness Club five years ago.

Bargmann says that keeping your mind sharp can slow the effects of the disease.

"What we want to do is challenge the brain without frustrating," says Bargmann. "And if nothing else, if we can improve quality of life."

Doctors said that Alzheimer's is one of the most mysterious, unpredictable conditions out there.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, more than 5 million Americans have the disease -- a number that's expected to triple in three decades.

"It changes lives dramatically," says Dr. Ira Goodman, a neurologist at the Compass Clinic in Orlando.

He has some advice about spotting the warning signs in your loved one:

"Forgetting where you put your keys, forgetting why you walked in the kitchen, forgetting a person's name, that's all normal," says Dr. Goodman. "But if a person is having difficulties figuring out how to use the key, if a person consistently asks the same question, and puts things away and is losing things, put shoes in the refrigerator, for example. Those behaviors show a more significant cognitive impairment."

Other signs including paranoia, agitation and a drastic change in personality or behavior.

So, what are your options?

First, there are several drugs on the market that can slow the progression of Alzheimer's but only for a short time.

After that, Dr. Goodman recommends in-home care, where your loved one moves in with you.

It's that kind of comfort and closeness that can give everyone a better quality of life.

"It's not about getting the diagnosis and preparing for the end, it's about getting a diagnosis and saying, what am i going to do to make the best of my life?" says Peggy Bargmann with the Brain Fitness Club.

The key here is to keep your mind sharp.

Dr. Goodman says you can lower your risk of Alzheimer's by learning something new every day, and by being social.

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