Alzheimer’s Disease Signs and Symptoms

Written by 
Caroline Bodian
Article at a glance
  • Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting nearly 5.8 million people in the United States over the age of 65. For more on Alzheimer’s disease and its characteristics, read this section.

  • Signs of Alzheimer’s disease can differ from person to person, though the most frequent is memory loss. For more on common signs of Alzheimer’s disease, read this section.

  • Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease that involve memory loss include getting lost easily and repeating questions over and over. For more on common memory loss symptoms, read this section.

  • Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease associated with changes in behavior and personality might include depression and apathy. For more on behavioral symptoms, read this section.

  • Impaired judgment and difficulty thinking and reasoning are other symptoms of the disease. For more on how judgement and reasoning are impaired in those with Alzheimer’s disease, read this section.

  • While there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, habits like exercise and healthy eating can help reduce your risk of developing the disease. For more on preventative measures, read this section.

Alzheimers Disease Signs and Symptoms Oak Street Health

Forgetting a recent conversation or grasping for the right word while talking can be quite common: we’re only human after all, and our minds and memories are fallible. But when those incidents of forgetfulness or disorientation become more frequent, there may be cause for concern. Alzheimer’s disease affects tens of millions of people around the world. It’s a growing epidemic, with the number of cases expected to nearly triple by 2050. What’s more, Alzheimer’s care worldwide is estimated to cost over $1 trillion. While we haven’t yet found a way to stop the disease in its tracks, researchers have identified preventative measures to keep from developing Alzheimer’s in the first place, as well as some of the key signs and symptoms to look out for.

What is Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting nearly 5.8 million people in the United States age 65 and up. Signs of Alzheimer’s disease include changes in behavior, memory and thinking. In its later stages, it can affect the ability to carry out everyday activities.

An early sign of the condition is mild memory loss, which can include forgetting conversations and recent activities. There isn’t currently a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, though there are medications that can ease symptoms.

What makes Alzheimer’s different from other types of dementia? Brains with the disease have neuritic plaques, which are masses of degenerating nerve endings, and neurofibrillary tangles (fiber tangles inside nerve cells).

There’s a lot that’s not yet understood about Alzheimer’s disease, such as what causes it and how it can be cured. However, there are a few established facts about the disease. It’s known that age is a significant risk factor, genetics are involved in the development of the disease, brain changes begin years before first symptoms present themselves, and that healthy behaviors and lifestyles habits can help stave off cognitive decline.

What are signs of Alzheimer's disease?

Signs of Alzheimer’s disease can vary from person to person, though one of the most common signs is memory loss. Other signs can include:

  • issues finding the right words while speaking

  • spatial/​vision problems

  • difficulty doing daily activities (driving a car, paying bills, cooking a meal, etc.)

  • frequent word repetition

  • finding simple tasks confusing

  • getting lost easily

  • placing items where they don’t belong

  • general changes in mood, behavior or personality

Having some or even most of these signs isn’t necessarily an indication that you have Alzheimer’s disease, though you should visit your doctor if these issues persist.

Alzheimer's disease symptoms

Symptoms and their severity differ depending on the stage of the disease, though the most common symptom is memory loss. Forgetting things from time to time is completely normal, but memory loss caused by Alzheimer’s disease can be severe and worsen over time. Some of the symptoms associated with it include:

  • forgetting the names of family members

  • getting lost in familiar places

  • forgetting events, conversations and appointments

  • constantly repeating statements and questions

  • misplacing items

Another common set of symptoms can include changes in behavior and personality, such as:

  • depression

  • sleep changes

  • distrusting others

  • wandering

  • irritability/​aggressiveness

  • apathy

  • becoming socially withdrawn

  • a loss of inhibitions

  • delusions (e.g. thinking something has been stolen)

Another symptom is impaired judgment or decision-making. This might include making uncharacteristic decisions in social settings or wearing clothing not suited for the weather. It may become more difficult to respond to everyday challenges, like a burning meal on the stove.

Those with Alzheimer’s may also find it difficult to carry out activities that were once familiar, like dressing or bathing. Tasks with sequential steps, like playing a game or planning and cooking a meal, can be especially challenging.

Additionally, thinking and reasoning is often hindered. Someone with Alzheimer’s may have difficulty thinking about abstract concepts (e.g. numbers). Tasks like paying bills on time and balancing checkbooks can become unmanageable as the disease progresses.

The severity of symptoms will depend on the stage of the disease. Early-stage Alzheimer’s is generally marked by memory loss and other cognitive impairments. In the middle stage, a person usually experiences more confusion and may not recognize those close to them, such as family and friends. Finally, in its late stage, the individual will be unable to communicate and must depend on care from others.

In its late stages, Alzheimer’s disease can also lead to certain functional complications, like loss of bowel and bladder control, balance and swallowing issues, as well as dental problems, malnutrition, constipation or diarrhea, fractures, bedsores, falls, and the flu.

Alzheimer's disease prevention

Alzheimers Disease Signs and Symptoms senior man playing chess Oak Street Health

While Alzheimer’s disease cannot yet be cured, research shows that there are a few preventative measures that can be taken. Limited alcohol consumption, regular physical activity, a nutritious diet, and not smoking are all things that can contribute to reducing your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. A nutritious diet should consist of healthy oils, foods that are low in saturated fat and fresh produce (all components of the Mediterranean diet).

Reading, playing board games, dancing, playing an instrument, and participating in social activities have all been linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s as well.

For those who develop Alzheimer’s, there are medications available to help ease some of the more difficult symptoms, such as sleepiness, behavioral disturbance and depression.

If you think you or a loved one might have Alzheimer’s disease, visit your doctor, who can conduct a series of medical and problem-solving tests, perform brain scans, and ask questions about past medical problems, changes in personality and behavior, and overall health.

While there’s not yet a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, researchers are dedicating their careers to finding treatments that will slow its progression. In the meantime, we can strive to keep ourselves healthy and take preventative measures, such as exercising regularly, eating a healthy and balanced diet, and engaging in social activities can all help maintain your brain health. You should also keep in mind that if a family member has Alzheimer’s disease, this is not an absolute indication that you will develop it too. While you should be on the lookout for signs and symptoms, you shouldn’t panic over some lapses in memory, but rather, take any concerns to your doctor for further investigation.

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