One of the ten warning signs of Alzheimer’s is not only misplacing things, but finding them in odd places where you don’t remember putting them. We all lose our keys or glasses from time to time, but when you find them in a strange place like the microwave, it can come as a bit of a shock. For caregivers who are familiar with dementia, a blip like this can be a considerable source of worry. Is this a sign of the beginnings of cognitive decline? Am I being too paranoid?

First, let’s explore the Alzheimer’s Association’s recognized warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • Problems with language
  • Disorientation to time and place
  • Poor or decreased judgment
  • Problems with abstract thinking
  • Misplacing things
  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Changes in personality
  • Loss of initiative

My father had Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and misplaced all kinds of things that I would eventually find in odd places. One time he put the pencil sharpener and stapler from our home office in his accordion case and then emphatically denied he did it. I didn’t yet have a full understanding of odd dementia-related quirks and behaviors, so I just thought he was trying to drive me crazy! But—and this is an important but—my father also had a number of other symptoms on the list above. And he had them pretty consistently.

If you’re caring for a loved one, especially someone who has AD or another form of dementia, it’s highly likely that you are busy and under a lot of stress. Sleep is also a luxury when caregiving. These factors alone could account for your being distracted and misplacing things. Chronic stress and limited sleep can actually affect one’s cognitive function and moods in ways that are similar to dementia.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, sleep deprivation can contribute to depression, irritability, anxiety, forgetfulness and fuzzy thinking. While short-term bursts of stress can help humans operate and complete tasks more efficiently, chronic exposure to stress can impair memory function and cognitive reasoning.

If these underlying issues are addressed and remedied early on, the effects can be reversed. However, when psychological strain and a sleep deficit are prolonged, they can cause permanent damage to one’s mental and physical health. In fact, researchers at the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Human Sleep Science have discovered evidence that consistently poor sleep may be associated with increased aggregation of amyloid-beta protein in the brain—a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

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Even if you are not concerned that your memory lapses may be due to developing dementia, it’s still vital for you to take care of yourself. Arranging some well-deserved respite and catching up on sleep should minimize your brain fog. A mental health professional can help you learn techniques for better managing stress, and your doctor can help you overcome sleep disorders.

Take these steps to safeguard your physical and mental health. Not only does your wellbeing and happiness depend on it, but your care recipient depends on it, too. Print out the list of AD warning signs above and keep track of any changes you notice in yourself. If you observe more of these red flags even though you are making an effort to meet your own needs, make an appointment with your doctor for a mini-mental state exam (MMSE) to evaluate your cognitive function. Regardless of the results, he or she will be able to recommend appropriate next steps.