11 Signs of Alzheimer's Disease: Or Are You Just Getting Older?
Medically reviewed on May 20, 2017 by L. Anderson, PharmD.
Early Stage: Slow, Progressive Loss of Memory
We all forget things from time to time. Where's my keys? Did I close the garage door? What about that coffee pot? But Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is different. Alzheimer's is a progressive form of dementia that gradually gets worse over time. It affects memory, thinking, and behavior.
In the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease (AD) one may have difficulty remembering new or recent memories, and it may be hard to retain memories from the recent past. In the later stages, one may not recognize the faces of their spouse or children. Follow along to learn about the top 10 most common signs of Alzheimer's disease.
Memory Loss That Affects Your Daily Life
Very early-stage Alzheimer's may not be an interference with daily life, but tapping into family and health care support is important at this stage. Why? Because as Alzheimer's progresses, the signs and symptoms become more apparent. Forgetting recently learned information, forgetting names of people and places, repeatedly asking for the same information, and an increased need to rely on memory aids like notes - when they weren't needed before - can be early signs of Alzheimer's disease.
In contrast, with typical age-related memory loss, you might forget a name or directions, but you can usually remember it later.
Challenges in Problem Solving
Organization and problem-solving skills can be lost in those with Alzheimer's. For example, paying bills on time, following a recipe in the kitchen, or being able to concentrate on a set of directions can be signs that Alzheimer’s disease is setting in. Managing money can be an especially difficult and problematic task, where family members may need to intervene to protect hard-earned assets.
In contrast, if you occasionally make a math error while balancing the checkbook, you probably don't have early-onset Alzheimer's.
Challenges With Completing Familiar Tasks
Familiar tasks learned later in life can often be difficult as Alzheimer’s progresses. For example, getting lost while driving to commonly visited locations, missing regular appointments, or regularly forgetting how to play a favorite board game might suggest Alzheimer's symptoms. Items may get misplaced, like the keys may get placed in unusual places on a regular basis and can't be found later.
On the other hand, occasionally forgetting how to record a television show on the DVR or set a message on the cell phone may just be due to age-related memory lapses. And you can always ask the younger generation to help with these kinds of tasks!
A Sense of Time and Place is Lost
Losing one's sense of time or place can be frightening. Someone with Alzheimer's may not remember how they got to a certain place or why they are there. Understanding the details of a past or future event may be difficult. Losing track of times, dates and seasons can be a telltale sign.
Alzheimer's disease can alter the brain's ability to interpret environmental cues and understand one's surroundings. Eventually, getting lost in familiar places can lead to frequent wandering away, which may become a hazard for personal safety. However, just forgetting the day of the week on occasion is a common event in older age.
Trouble With Visual and Spatial Relations
Taking away the car keys from a senior loved one is certainly a heart-wrenching event. As a caregiver, knows, it affects one's final independence. But Alzheimer's disease may alter the brain's ability to interpret what someone sees, making it difficult to understand their surroundings. For example, reading, judging a stopping distance, or understanding a color contrast can create difficulties with driving. Couple this with a loss of time or place and there is a recipe for disaster.
Alternatively, if vision while driving becomes difficult or blurry, especially at night, it could be due to cataracts or glaucoma, common in the elderly. Be sure to schedule an appointment with your eye care professional on a yearly basis.
Trouble With Speaking or Joining in a Conversation
Verbally expressing a thought is a challenge for those with Alzheimer's disease. They may not be able to join in on a conversation, may stop talking in mid-stream, or may not be able to restart a sentence after they stop talking. People with Alzheimer's can frequently repeat statements or questions over and over. They may struggle with finding the right vocabulary word or they may invent a new word to describe everyday items.
However, conversation can also be a problem in older age people not affected by Alzheimer's. They may struggle to find the right words, but will not have other signs or symptoms of Alzheimer's.
People with Alzheimer’s may frequently lose their possessions by placing them in illogical places over and over again. In addition, they may not able to retrace their steps to find the lost items. Alzheimer's disease can lead to a sense of suspiciousness and accusations of others stealing their items may surface. The frequency of this problem may get worse over time. In nursing home situations, suspiciousness can be directed towards other residents or even health care providers.
As one ages, misplacing possessions like keys or eyeglasses is a common event, but usually steps can be retraced to find the item.
Personality Changes May Surface
With Alzheimer's, personality changes, like irritability, anxiety, aggression or depression, may take hold. In late stages, delusions or hallucinations may occur. Suspiciousness can occur, and confusion or fearfulness may frequently appear. In unfamiliar settings, those with Alzheimer's disease may be easily upset when taken out of their comfort zone. Other changes that may be seen include altered sleeping patterns, loss of inhibitions, and social withdrawal.
Older people without Alzheimer's may also become very set in their ways and not want to adjust their routines. Depression is common in seniors without Alzheimer's so it is important to be watchful for symptoms of this, too.
Poor Judgement, Worrisome Outcomes
Making appropriate decisions can become a challenge for those with Alzheimer's. Poor judgement may arise with money decisions. Seniors with Alzheimer's might even become obsessed to give money to telemarketers or ad promotions. They may lose interest in daily personal hygiene, or be physically unable to complete it. The inability to use good judgement when doing dangerous chores like cooking or mowing the lawn can lead to hazardous situations, too. Being able to respond to a burning pot on the stove or abrupt driving changes becomes increasingly challenging.
On the other hand, occasionally everyone makes a bad decision, but usually these aren't repeated time and time again in dangerous situations.
Withdrawal From Social Involvement
Someone with Alzheimer's may no longer enjoy social activities. Hobbies, projects, and group gatherings may become a thing of the past. They may no longer enjoy watching sports and cannot keep up with their favorite teams progress. Difficulties with conversation may interfere with their ability to keep up with the group. Depression or anxiety can set in and affect the desire to be social at all.
Loneliness can be a major problem for elderly people without signs or symptoms of Alzheimer's too, and we all should be mindful of the need to be kind and generous with our time to this important, yet at risk, group of our society.
Quality Of Life In Alzheimer's
While Alzheimer's can be a difficult illness for both patient and family, there are some bright spots as we learn how to handle this progressive disease. A few important skills may remain until late in the disease, as information learned early-on are often the last abilities to go. The love of dancing, exercise, pets, singing old songs, laughing, listening to music, telling stories, and reminiscing may remain for some time. Whatever activity the senior enjoys should be emphasized to enhance the daily quality of life.
For caregivers who must place their loved ones in a health care setting or nursing home, it is important to be sure these needs can still be met on a daily basis for the Alzheimer's patient. Frequent visits with your family member is important.
If you'd like to converse with others, consider joining the Drugs.com Alzheimer's Disease Support group to ask questions, keep up with the latest Alzheimer's news, or lend support to others yourself.
Finished: 11 Signs of Alzheimer's Disease - Or Are You Just Getting Older?
- Alzheimer's Association. 10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's. Accessed 5/20/2017 at http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_10_signs_of_alzheimers.asp#signs
- Alzheimer’s Disease Organization. Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures. Accessed 5/20/2017 at http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_facts_and_figures.asp
- National Institute on Aging. Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center. Accessed 5/20/2017 at https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers