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Early Stage Symptom: Planning & Problem Solving Issues

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, you may experience a variety of symptoms that may seem like normal aging, at the outset. As these symptoms appear more often, you or your close family members or co-workers might suspect there might be something else going on. Deficits in executive functioning is one of these symptoms. Executive functioning can encompass a wide range of things, but some of the things it can include are planning and problem-solving.1 People who have Alzheimer’s disease often experience difficulty with planning and problem-solving in even the early stages of the disease.

Symptoms

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, you might start to have trouble with regular tasks that you had at work, trouble problem solving with minor issues, or difficulty planning a schedule or planning long-term. While some memory loss is typical of old age, impairment in problem-solving or with planning is not. These are not minor age-related symptoms, but rather, indicate a larger problem with higher-level cognitive skills.1 As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, these difficulties with planning and problem solving become more and more pronounced, requiring more and more assistance and supervision.

Seeing a doctor about planning or problem-solving issues

If you’re having difficulties with planning things or with problem-solving, see your doctor as soon as possible for an exam. There are a variety of ailments that could be causing impairment, and it’s important to get a proper diagnosis so the appropriate treatment can be started. To evaluate your planning abilities or problem-solving skills, you might participate in some tests called mental cognitive status testing.2 These are just tests that provide a more detailed picture of your problem-solving abilities and where you’re at with memory and thinking. Knowing where your strengths and challenges are can help your treatment team suggest appropriate adaptations and treatments for you.

Treatment

There are medications for cognitive difficulties with Alzheimer’s disease, and these drugs might help with thinking and reasoning, as well.3 These drugs don’t stop the symptoms, and don’t slow the progression of the disease at all, but they do help to minimize and reduce cognitive symptoms, at least for a short time. Other things that can be done are establishing a routine. Sometimes these difficulties can manifest in a person not knowing what to do during the day; if there is a routine, this is something they can follow. Other adaptations you can make include making your environment as accessible as possible, helping to minimize the possibility of difficult problem-solving issues. Talk with your caregiver about the progression of symptoms and how you’d like things to be handled, when the time comes, regarding planning and problem-solving. Putting together a treatment plan for the future can help you feel empowered in your care. As Alzheimer’s progresses, difficulties with planning and problem-solving become more severe, and more adaptations will be necessary, along with more supervision and care.

If you’re noticing difficulties with planning things, either long-term or short-term, or trouble with problem-solving, see your doctor. These are not a “normal” part of getting older, and could be signs of Alzheimer’s disease or another serious issue. Getting a complete medical exam and accurate diagnosis as soon as possible can help you get the right treatment sooner, which can help provide you with relief or minimization of symptoms and improved quality of life.

Written by: Jaime Rochelle Herndon | Last reviewed: June 2019
  1. UCSF Memory and Aging Center. Executive Functions. 2019. https://memory.ucsf.edu/executive-functions Accessed April 15, 2019.
  2. Alzheimer’s Association. Choosing a Doctor to Evaluate Memory and Thinking Problems. 2017. https://www.alz.org/national/documents/topicsheet_choosingdoctor.pdf Accessed April 15, 2019.
  3. Alzheimer’s Association. Medications for Memory. 2019. https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/treatments/medications-for-memory Accessed April 15, 2019.