There are 10 key early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia. It accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. This condition typically affects people 65 and older, though it can start sooner. It’s a progressive degenerative disease, which means it continues to worsen and eventually leads to death.
Alzheimer’s disease isn’t curable. However, early intervention can help manage symptoms, slow the progress of the disease, and extend life. That’s why it’s so important to know the signs and symptoms to watch for if you or a loved one are in the senior years.
The trickiest part of spotting Alzheimer’s is dismissing signs and symptoms as a normal part of getting older. And it’s true that the warning signs resemble challenges people encounter with aging. But there are also ways to differentiate between what’s normal and what’s cause for concern.
Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
- Experiencing disruptive memory loss – Memory problems are the most familiar symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. Everyone forgets things from time to time, but when forgetting names, dates, times, and other information (especially recently acquired information or major things known for a long time) starts interfering with the ability to complete normal daily tasks, it points to dementia.
- Having difficulty planning and/or problem solving – Often with Alzheimer’s, a person has an increasingly hard time making and following through with plans, including things like scheduling appointments, following recipes or other instructions, paying bills, or working with numbers. The ability to concentrate and think logically or in steps becomes impaired.
- Struggling to complete familiar tasks – This is another significant sign. Are you or a loved one newly challenged to do normal things at work, around the home, as part of the routine of daily living, or for leisure? Suddenly having a hard time with things that were second nature is definitely a reason to see a doctor about the possibility of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Getting confused about time, dates, and/or places – People with Alzheimer’s are often prone to losing track of the time, the date, or even where they are or how they got there. They may also have difficulty grasping concepts or events that aren’t happening in the moment, and with following the passage of time, even on a bigger level like months or seasons.
- Developing vision problems – The eyes tend to get weaker as we age, but Alzheimer’s disease can cause a variety of new problems processing visual information. It may get hard to read, to distinguish colors or contrast, to understand images, or to properly grasp distance and other spacial relationships (which poses a particular danger when driving).
- Having trouble with language and communication – If it’s getting harder for you or a loved one to follow and participate in conversations, this is cause for concern. Also, Alzheimer’s frequently leaves people struggling to come up with the words they want, or using the wrong words. They might lose their train of thought easily and often, or repeat themselves a lot, too.
- Losing items and not knowing how to find them again – We all misplace objects, but this usually becomes a real problem for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Things don’t just get lost, but often put in strange places (e.g., the TV remote in the refrigerator). Beyond this, sufferers may not be able to retrace their steps or otherwise figure out where they put the item.
- Experiencing lapses in judgment – Alzheimer’s can cause poor judgment and decision making. This may manifest in all sorts of ways, some of which can be risky and lead to serious consequences. People might discontinue personal hygiene, dress inappropriately, buy things they don’t need, succumb to scams, commit dangerous or illegal acts, and so on.
- Withdrawing from social interactions – Decreased sociability and interest in the people and activities you or your loved one once enjoyed is a red flag for Alzheimer’s disease. Going out less, skipping social events, no longer pursuing hobbies, distancing from friends and family, doing less at work, and stopping personal development efforts are all common signs.
- Undergoing mood swings or personality changes – This condition typically causes mental, emotional, and psychological changes. Mood swings are seen a lot, as are increasing bursts of frustration, anger, suspicion, and hostility—often resulting from many of the above signs and symptoms. Anxiety and depression are likely, as well.
If You Notice Early Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
It’s not always easy to spot these signs and symptoms in yourself, but it’s certainly possible in the early stages of dementia. Often, though, it’s up to loved ones to pick up on the warnings and push for a medical evaluation.
The earlier treatment begins, the better and the longer the disease can be managed in many cases. But Alzheimer’s progresses differently and at a different pace in different people.
If you notice any of these warning signs in yourself, please bring up your concerns with your doctor as soon as possible. If you see them in a family member or a friend, be supportive and understanding, but also firm in encouraging them to talk to their doctor right away.