Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease

Memory loss is the earliest sign and the most common symptom of Alzheimer's disease. This doesn't mean occasionally forgetting something, as everyone does from time to time. Rather, people with AD have difficulty remembering things that took place minutes, hours, and days ago. This may mean that they forget that they already paid a bill and pay it again, or they may forget they were cooking something and leave the stove turned on. As people with AD become aware of their forgetfulness, they may become embarrassed or confused.

There are other early warning signs of Alzheimer's disease, although not everyone may have these same symptoms.

Signs, Symptoms, and Problems You Might Notice In Early Dementia

Inability to learn new things or cope with unexpected situations

Learning new names, faces, and environment becomes difficult. Public and unexpected situations may result in confusion, anxiety, and restlessness.

Mood swings

Expressing symptoms of depression, paranoia, fear, and/or anxiety.

Poor judgment/decision making

Giving money or personal items away to strangers, family members or friends without wanting to do so.

Speech difficulty

Trouble finding the right words, saying the same thing over and over, or gaps in speech.

Trouble with familiar tasks

Taking longer on routine tasks, such as getting dressed, combing hair, counting out money, etc.

Disorientation to time and place

Confusion about the location of familiar places, like finding their house or the time of day.

Later Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease

As AD progresses, your loved one may become more upset, agitated, and restless when he/she begins experiencing problems with communication (both speaking and understanding what is said), orientation (both to place and time), and recent and long-term memory. In the later stages of AD, your loved one will begin to have noticeable difficulty in public settings and completing activities of daily living.

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

Individuals with dementia may also need help with tasks that are called "Activities of Daily Living," or ADLs. ADLs are the basic activities that we must perform every day in order to take care of ourselves. Typically, ADLs refers to the following tasks:

  • Bathing (i.e., able to bathe without assistance in cleaning or getting into tub or shower)
  • Toilet Use (i.e., able to use the toilet and clean oneself afterward)
  • Control or continence of urine and bowels (i.e., able to wait for the right time and the right place)
  • Dressing and grooming (i.e., able to button a shirt, choosing appropriate clothing)
  • Moving about (i.e., able to move in and out of a chair or bed, walking)
  • Eating (i.e., able to eat without having to be fed by another)

Persons with dementia may be able to perform these tasks independently, with some difficulty, or with additional assistance. Their performance of these tasks is likely to change over time as well. It is a good idea to take notes on the abilities of your loved one and how he or she changes. The information can be shared with health professionals to help them better understand the progress of the disease in your loved one.

Also, he/she may have the following problems:

  • loss of interest in hobbies, clubs, or activities he/she previously enjoyed
  • forgetting the names of family members
  • loss of awareness of surroundings
  • loss of bladder or bowel control (incontinence)

Some of the behavioral problems that may occur later in the disease include wandering, suspicion, delusions, and compulsive or repetitive action, such as repetitively asking the same questions. In the final stages, the ability to eat, respond to the environment, speak and recognize speech, control movements, and perform basic life functions, such as breathing and swallowing, are completely impaired. For advice on helping your loved one with daily activities, visit the Caregiver Tips portion of this site.

Resources
Source: 
Alzheimer's Association
Description: 
This web page lists the 10 most common signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and compares each symptom to what is normal for an older person.
Source: 
HelpGuide.org
Description: 
This web page lists the typical signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and ways that people with Alzheimer's often respond to their own symptoms. There is a detailed description of signs and symptoms during the early, mid, and late stages of Alzheimer's disease.
Source: 
Alzheimer's Disease International
Description: 
This booklet lists 10 common early symptoms of dementia and provides a description of each one. It also provides a comparison of normal age-related changes and signs of Alzheimer's or dementia.
Source: 
Alz.org
Description: 
This web page includes a basic overview of the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and provides links to more information about the seven warning signs of AD and the different stages of the disease.
Source: 
The Alzheimer Society of Ireland
Description: 
This checklist offers a series of questions that may be useful in determining whether someone should seek advice from a doctor about possibly having Alzheimer's disease.
Source: 
Mayo Clinic
Description: 
This web page describes the symptoms that are experienced by most people with Alzheimer's disease. It also discusses the slow progression of symptoms and the fact that people with Alzheimer's may be able to keep their symptoms hidden for some time which can contribute to delayed diagnosis.