First Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Though we all become more forgetful as we grow older, sometimes a decline in memory and reasoning isn’t just a consequence of old age. At some point, you may have wondered if someone you know is showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Over time, Alzheimer’s will affect a person’s ability to recall events, think clearly, recognize people, and even speak. If you are concerned you or someone you love may have Alzheimer’s, here are some of the first signs that may mean it’s time to see a doctor. An early diagnosis can increase the chances of slowing the progression of the disease.

Short-term memory loss

It’s normal to forget names or even appointments occasionally, but someone with Alzheimer’s may be completely unaware of prior commitments and even forget where he or she is. A person may repeatedly ask for the same information or need memory aids on a frequent basis. You may also notice that the person relies on a spouse or friends more than in the past.

Trouble performing familiar tasks

If someone is having difficulty following a favorite recipe or paying monthly bills, it can be a warning sign of Alzheimer’s. If tasks are being neglected or if the person seems to take much longer to complete a routine activity, it can also be a cause for concern, as can forgetting the rules to an often-played game or the route to a frequent destination. 

Losing track of the passage of time

Getting wrapped up in a book or conversation and running late is common, but if you notice someone is unaware of the correct day or month, it could be the kind of memory lapse that comes with Alzheimer’s. Or, if someone has trouble understanding something that will happen in the future–for instance, if your mother doesn’t seem to comprehend that a loved one’s birthday is next month--that can be an early warning sign too. 

Lack of awareness and understanding

Someone who has trouble reading signs or does not seem to recognize colors may be showing early signs of Alzheimer’s. If your loved one seems confused about distances, it can also be a serious matter. These symptoms can impair someone’s ability to drive or operate machinery safely, so it’s important not to ignore these signs. 

Difficulty conversing

Many of us have favorite anecdotes that we repeat, and we don’t always pay attention when someone is talking. However, a person with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or participating in a conversation, or may tell the same story, using the same words, over and over again—without realizing it. If an individual repeatedly calls things by the wrong name or can’t seem to remember words on a regular basis, it could be a symptom of the memory loss that comes with the disease.

Misplacing items

Many of us forget where we put our keys or phones, but if you notice your loved one keeps losing frequently used items or puts them in unusual places–like placing keys in the refrigerator–that’s a warning sign. People with Alzheimer’s may even accuse others of stealing, because missing objects are confusing to them, as well as to you.

Changes in decision-making

If someone seems to be losing rational judgment, such as making poor financial decisions or taking up a dangerous hobby, it can be a sign of Alzheimer’s. Lack of judgment can make these patients vulnerable to scams or shady practices, so it’s important to set up safety nets to prevent someone with early Alzheimer’s from being taken advantage of.

Withdrawal

As memory and reasoning begin to fade, a person who used to be gregarious may stop seeing friends, going to work, pursuing a favorite hobby, or keeping up with a beloved sports team. You may also notice a lack of attention to personal grooming like bathing and brushing teeth. Anyone can go through a non-social phase, but if there is a distinct and sustained change, it may be a warning sign.
Alzheimer’s is a complex disease that can be confused with normal aging. If you notice several of the above signs and symptoms in someone you know, it may be time to get in touch with a healthcare provider. There are medications and other treatments that can help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. With good planning and plenty of information, you can help ease the impact of Alzheimer’s.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 6
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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