Handwriting can indicate ‘first signs of Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer's: Dr Chris discusses the early signs of condition

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One of these could appear in how someone signs their name, writes a date, or even makes a note on a post-it.

Although most of the world has gone digital, there are still many times when we handwrite, a skill learnt during childhood.

According to a study published in 2020 in the Wiley Online Library, how someone writes could indicate the presence of Alzheimer’s disease.

The authors wrote (or rather typed): “Alteration handwriting is one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease.” But that’s not all they said.

They continued: “The handwriting gets shaky, due to loss of muscle control, confusion, and forgetfulness.

“The symptoms get progressively worse. The handwriting becomes illegible and phonological spelling mistakes become inevitable.”

The reason for the spelling mistakes is not because of loss of muscle control, but all areas of neurological control. Alzheimer’s disease affects not just how someone moves, but how they think, feel, and behave.

And it is this that makes it so difficult for those around them.

What do you mean?

Although Alzheimer’s and all forms of dementia result in the death of the patient, some consider those with dementia to suffer not one, but two deaths.

The second death is the death of the patient, when they physically pass away, but they suffer a neurological death too when neither they nor their loved ones can recognise in the other the person they once loved.

What makes dementia so torturous for so many is its gradual nature, it’s not instantaneous, but a long process of watching the one you love fade from view. This is one of the drivers behind the uptick in research for the disease and the search for a cure.

Since there is sadly no cure, the only thing is to try and spot the symptoms as early as possible so what treatments there are can be administered as soon as possible.

While handwriting can indicate the presence of Alzheimer’s, it is not one of the recognised early symptoms of the condition.

The NHS has listed examples of the early signs of Alzheimer’s:
• Forgetting about recent conversations or events
• Misplacing items
• Forgetting the names of places and objects
• Having trouble thinking of the right word
• Asking questions repetitively
• Showing poor judgement or finding it harder to make decisions
• Becoming less flexible and more hesitant to try new things.

Other signs of Alzheimer’s can include mood changes such as anxiety or periods of confusion.

While Alzheimer’s is a scary condition to think about, there are ways people can reduce their risk or delay the onset.

The NHS recommends:
• Quitting smoking
• Drinking the minimum amount of alcohol
• Eating a healthy and balanced diet
• Exercising for at least 150 minutes a week
• Controlling blood pressure.

Alongside physiological actions, there are psychological steps people can take too.

On this the NHS also has some tips: “There’s some evidence to suggest that rates of dementia are lower in people who remain mentally and socially active throughout their lives.

“It may be possible to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia by reading, learning foreign languages, playing musical instruments, volunteering in your local community, taking part in group sports, such as bowling trying new activities or hobbies, [and] maintaining an active social life”

As well as providing life with colour, vim, vigour, and reason, these activities can importantly help maintain neurological health and give you more time to enjoy the same activities keeping you and your mind safe.

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